The Conventional adjustable rate mortgage (or ARM) is also a conforming loan product. They offer a fixed period of time that the interest rate will not change and can adjust periodically after the initial fixed period expires. These mortgages are also backed up by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and have the same national maximum loan limit of $417,000 as their fixed rate counterparts.


Guidelines and Parameters

Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, differ from fixed-rate mortgages in that the interest rate and monthly payment fluctuate based on market interest rates. Most have an initial fixed-rate period during which the homeowner’s rate doesn’t change, followed by a much longer period during which the rate changes at preset intervals. Rates charged during the initial periods are generally lower than those on comparable fixed-rate mortgages.

An ARM has two components—the first number represents how long the interest rate will remain fixed, or will not change for that period of time of the loan. The second number tells you the length of time and frequency the loan will adjust once the variable portion kicks in. ARMs use predetermined caps and margins that work in concert with monetary fund indexes to establish the interest rate when the loan adjusts.
10/1 ARM: Your interest rate is set for 10 years then adjusts for 20 years.
7/1 ARM: Your interest rate is set for 7 years then adjusts for 23 years.
5/1 ARM: Your interest rate is set for 5 years then adjusts for 25 years.
3/1 ARM: Your interest rate is set for 3 years then adjusts for 27 years.

Who Is It Right For?

Who Is It Right For?

ARMs are ideal for homebuyers who:

  • Understand that their rate may increase after the initial period.
  • Don’t anticipate holding on to the property for the full term of the mortgage.
  • Expect their income to increase in the next couple of years.
  • Want the benefit of a lower initial rate and monthly payment.

Features

All ARMs contain these first three features and occasionally the fourth:

An adjustment schedule

This schedule is indicated in the mortgage contract and changes in the rate charged on an ARM loan—occurring at the end of each adjustment period. Adjustment periods occur in equal intervals depending on the kind of ARM selected (1 year, 3 year, 5 year, etc.).

Index

Every ARM is linked to an index that increases or decreases in tandem with the overall movement of interest rates. The index is what’s used to determine the new loan rate for each adjustment period.

An adjustment margin

While the loan rate and index rate move together they are not the same. The margin is the percentage amount that a lender adds to the index rate when calculating an ARM’s new interest rate at each adjustment period.

Teaser Rates

Some ARMs have a starting rate that is below the fully indexed rate (index rate plus margin). These teaser rates last for a varied amount of time depending on the mortgage contract but can be active for as few as two months. After the teaser rate expires it is converted to a fully indexed rate and can lead to payment shock for borrowers who have not prepared for a significant increase in their monthly payment.

Qualifying for an ARM

Qualifying for an adjustable rate mortgage may vary based on the term of the ARM that you choose.  Speak to one of our mortgage experts for more information on this and the programs it affects.

Fixed Rate  

Pros
Predictability. Homebuyers know how much interest there is to pay over the term of the loan.
Monthly payment is fixed and in early years consists primarily of tax-deductible interest.
Mortgages without prepayment penalties permit homebuyers to shorten the term of the loan at will by making periodic payments against principal—and, ultimately, lowering interest costs.
Cons
Stability comes with a price; interest rates on fixed rate loans are generally higher than starting rates on ARMs.
If you choose a low down payment option you may have to pay for mortgage insurance, which adds an additional monthly fee to protect the lender from risk of loss.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage  

Pros
Lower initial rate and payment amount, this means you may be able to buy a larger home than you originally believed.
If mortgage rates fall borrowers need not refinance to take advantage of them, instead they are automatically lowered.
If borrowers choose an ARM and save money it creates a way to invest more. If a borrower saves $100 a month in an account rather than putting it towards a mortgage payment it yields a higher investment interest.
If a borrower does not plan on living in one place for long an ARM can offer an inexpensive way to purchase a home.
Cons
Rates and payments can increase drastically over the life of the loan. A 6 percent ARM could end up at 11 percent in just three years if rates continually increase.
The initial adjustment can come as a surprise

Long Term  

Pros
Predictability. Homebuyers know how much interest there is to pay over the term of the loan.
Monthly payment is fixed and in early years consists primarily of tax-deductible interest.
Mortgages without prepayment penalties permit homebuyers to shorten the term of the loan at will by making periodic payments against principal—and, ultimately, lowering interest costs.
Cons
This stability comes with a price; interest rates on fixed rate loans are generally higher than starting rates on ARM's.
If you choose a low down payment option you may have to pay for mortgage insurance, which adds an additional monthly fee to protect the lender from risk of loss.

Short Term  

Pros
Principal balance is reduced relatively rapidly compared to longer-term loans.
Permits outright home ownership in half the time with half the cost of interest of a 30-year fixed.
May have lower interest rates than a 30-year fixed and therefore offers a useful financial planning tool.
Cons
Higher monthly payments than those on a 30-year fixed make these loans more difficult to qualify for.
Choosing a loan with a shorter amortization period reduces the number of homes an individual can afford to buy.
Monthly payments are roughly 15%-30% higher than they would be on a comparable 30-year fixed.

Bi-weekly fixed rate  

Pros
Biweekly payment schedule speeds up amortization, interest costs, and shortens the loan term generally to between 18 and 22 years. Homeowners make 26 biweekly payments (13 annual).
Conversion to a 30 year fixed is generally permitted.
Lowers interest expense.
Cons
There is generally an additional charge for this service thus making it a very costly way to shorten the life of the loan and lower the interest expense.
The same effect can generally be achieved by obtaining a 30 year fixed mortgage and simply making an additional payment or two each year or by applying an additional sum to principal repayment when homeowners make a monthly payment.
As with other rapid-payoff mortgages homeowners trade total interest-cost reductions for reduced tax benefits.