What You Need to Know About Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM) – Loan Modification Help Center

Monday, February 23, 2009 Everyday we read about the worldwide financial crisis and, specifically, about the U.S. banking and housing crisis. To understand the challenges facing borrowers during the Housing crisis, it is critical to understand adjustable rate mortgages – how they work and how they can impact you.ARMs offer both advantages and disadvantages. Unlike a fixed-rate mortgage, an ARM provides interest rates that change periodically – and payments that go up or down accordingly.  At first, lenders generally charge lower interest rates for ARMs and this makes an ARM easier to afford initially.  If interest rates remain steady or move lower, this can work to your long term advantage. It is important, however, to weigh the risk that if interest rates increase in the future, so will your monthly payments.The initial rate and payment on an ARM will remain in effect for a limited period–ranging from several months to 5 years or more. After this initial period, the interest rate and monthly payment may change at regular intervals – every month, every year, every 3 years.   This period between rate changes is called the adjustment period.The interest rate on an ARM is determined by two things: the index and the margin. The index is usually a standard measure of interest rates and the margin is an extra amount that the lender adds. If the index rate goes up, so does your interest rate and monthly payment.  On the other hand, if the index rate goes down, your monthly payment may go down. Not all ARMs adjust downward, however so be sure to read the details about any loan you are considering.Lenders base ARM rates on a variety of indexes. You should ask what index will be used for your ARM, how it has fluctuated in the past, and where it is published. The margin may differ from one lender to another, but it is usually constant over the life of the loan. The fully indexed rate is equal to the margin plus the index. For example, if the lender uses an index that is currently 4% and adds a 3% margin, the fully indexed rate would be 7%.Some lenders base the amount of the margin on your credit record – the better your credit, the lower the margin. In comparing ARMs, look at both the index and margin for each program.An interest-rate cap places a limit on the amount your interest rate can increase. Interest caps come in two forms: A periodic adjustment cap, which limits the amount the interest rate can be adjusted up or down from one adjustment period to the next, and a lifetime cap, which limits the interest-rate increase over the life of the loan. By law, virtually all ARMs must have a lifetime cap.In addition to interest-rate caps, many ARMs limit, or cap, the amount your monthly payment may increase at each adjustment.  A payment cap can limit the increase to your monthly payments but also can add to the amount you owe on the loan. This is called negative amortization.If you are considering an ARM, ask yourself:

  • Is my income enough–or likely to rise enough–to cover higher mortgage payments if interest rates go up?
  • Will I be taking on other sizable debts, such as a loan for a car or school tuition, in the near future?
  • How long do I plan to own this home?  If you plan to sell soon, rising interest rates may not pose the problem they do if you plan to own the house for a long time.
  • Do I plan to make any additional payments or pay the loan off early?

Golden Rule:  Before you consider any loan, ask questions and read the details. For information and news please visit Loan Modification Help Center

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