What is an adjustable rate mortgage?

Animate interest rate As the term suggests, an adjustable rate mortgages (also known as a variable rate loans) are subject to interest rate adjustment. Consequently your loan payment can go up when interest rates increase, however, if interest rates go down, the monthly payment will decrease with adjustable rate mortgages.

The letters “ARM” are often used instead of Adjustable Rate Mortgage

Here’s an example, let’s say you borrowed $100,000 from the bank to buy a house and the bank offered you an adjustable rate mortgage. The interest rate on the loan during the first year is 5%.

Loan Amount Interest Rate Term Monthly Payment
$100,000 5% 30 Years $ 536.83

Now let’s say the interest rate goes down after one year and your interest rate “adjusts” downward to 4%. Now look at your monthly payment:


Loan Amount Interest Rate Term Monthly Payment
$100,000 4% 30 Years $ 477.42

YIPPI! But then again, if the interest rate increases one percent to 6%, here’s your new monthly loan payment:

Loan Amount Interest Rate Term Monthly Payment
$100,000 6% 30 Years $ 599.55

Confused emoticonNow you might be thinking, “why would anyone get involved with a loan with a variable interest rate? The reason for many home buyers is the lower interest rate for the 1st year. A lower interest rate means prospective home buyers can borrow more money from the bank or mortgage broker and thus purchase a more expensive home.

Another reason home buyers choose ARM’s is because they believe interest rates will be going down, and consequently, their payment will decrease. In 1982 mortgage rates were 18%. So a prospective homeowner who took out an adjustable rate mortgage in 1982 would have seen their monthly loan payment decrease as the years rolled along.

Home buyers who believe they will remain in the home for a few years are attracted to adjustable rate mortgages because of the lower initial interest rate and the belief that even if the interest rates do increase, they will have moved on to another house or will be transferred by their employer.

Sadly, many sub-prime mortgages were structured with an adjustable rate mortgage and millions of homeowners were not able to keep up with the increasing interest rate adjustments.

Adjustable rate mortgages can be a good choice if you absolutely, positively know you’re going to live in the home for only a few years. Adjustable rate mortgages enable prospective home buyers to purchase homes during times of high interest rates, but with interest rates at an all time low, gambling on a slightly lower interest rate doesn’t make sense.

What is a hybrid arm loan?

A hybrid arm combines a fixed rate mortgage with an adjustable rate loan. You may see lenders advertising a 1/1, 3/1, 5/1, 7/1 or 10/1 year ARM. With a 1/1 ARM, the interest rate is subject to adjustment every 12 months. With a 3/1 ARM, the interest rate is “fixed” for the first three years, actually, for the first 36 months; the interest rate is then subject to annual adjustments. The 5/1 ARM is the same as the 3/1 adjustable rate mortgage, except, the interest rate is “fixed” for the first 5 years (60 months). The interest rate is subject to an annual adjustment every year thereafter. Learn more about hybrid loans

ARM Types Interest Rate Adjustment
1 year adjustable rate Lowest Interest Rate Every 12 months
3/1 arm mortgage Interest rate is higher than a 1/1 ARM Fixed rate for 3 years (36 months), then subject to adjustment
5/1 arm mortgage Interest rate is higher than a 3/1 ARM Fixed rate for 5 years (60 months), then subject to adjustment
7/1 arm mortgage Interest rate is higher than a 5/1 ARM Fixed rate for 7 years (84 months), then subject to adjustment
10/1 arm mortgage Interest rate is higher than a 7/1 ARM Fixed rate for 10 years (120 months), then subject to adjustment

Frequently Asked Questions About Adjustable Rate Mortgages

Can an adjustable rate mortgage go down?

Yes. Assuming the adjustable rate mortgage is not in it's fixed period (i.e. 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, etc.), and is subject to adjustment, the interest rate can go down if the underlying index decreases. During the 1980's when the interest rates where in the double digits, many homebuyers took out adjustable rate mortgages to finance their home. As the interest rates decreased, the adjustable rate on their mortgage also decreased.

Can you prepay an adjustable rate mortgage?

Probably. Read the loan papers you signed at settlement to determine whether there is a prepayment penalty for an early payoff. Typically, if there is a prepayment penalty, it is for the first 3 to 5 years. For home mortgages issued after January 10, 2014, mortgage lenders are only permitted to charge prepayment penalties for the first three years of the loan; with a maximum penalty of 2%.

Loan estimate prepayment penaltyDo adjustable rate mortgages have prepayment penalties?

Prepayment penalties were often a condition of sub-prime mortgages. Since the passage of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, prepayment penalties have largely gone away. Fortunately, the required loan estimate that must be provided to the borrower(s), states whether the proposed mortgage carries a pre-payment penalty.

Does FHA offer adjustable rate mortgages?

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), permits adjustable rate mortgages. Prepayment penalties are prohibited with FHA adjustable rate mortgages.

The interest rate cap structure provides some protection from large interest rate swings. There are two types of caps: (1) annual, and (2) life-of-the-loan. The annual cap restricts the amount your interest rate can change, up or down, in any given year, while the life-of-the-loan cap limits the maximum (and minimum) interest rate you can pay for as long as you have the mortgage. FHA offers a standard 1-year ARM and four "hybrid" ARM products. Hybrid ARMs offer an initial interest rate that is constant for the first 3-, 5-, 7-, or 10 years. After the initial period, the interest rate will adjust annually. Below are the different interest rate cap structures for the various ARM products:

1- and 3-year ARMs may increase by one percentage point annually after the initial fixed interest rate period, and five percentage points over the life of the Mortgage.
5-year ARMs may either allow for increases of one percentage point annually, and five percentage points over the life of the Mortgage; or increases of two percentage points annually, and six points over the life of the Mortgage.
7- and 10-year ARMs may only increase by two percentage points annually after the initial fixed interest rate period, and six percentage points over the life of the Mortgage. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

How high can an adjustable rate mortgage go?

Most adjustable rate mortgages have a "cap". A cap is an interest rate limit. The cap rate is typically 5% over the start rate. For example, if the start rate is 4% and the cap rate is 5%, then the maximum interest could go as high as 9%. Ouch!

How often do adjustable rate mortgages change?

The interest rate change depends on the type of arm. One year arms, change every 12 months. Three year arms are fixed for 36 months. After 36 payments, the interest rate is subject to change every 12 months thereafter. Five, seven and ten year arms are subject to annual changes after the initial term.

Should I get a fixed or adjustable rate mortgage?

Adjustable rate mortgages can save you a lot of money if you will be paying off the mortgage before the rate changes. For example, if you know that you will be transferred during the "fixed" rate period, an adjustable rate mortgage can save you money. Do you believe that the interest rates will be going lower? If so, then an adjustable rate mortgage would be your choice. Ask a lender to calculate the (highest) adjustable rate mortgage payment, year over year and compare the payment to the fixed rate mortgage.

What are adjustable rate mortgage caps?

Most adjustable rate mortgages have rate caps. This means that the interest rate is "capped" during the rate change. For example, the FHA adjustable rate mortgages can increase a maximum of one percent with one and three year arms, and the maximum interest rate is capped at 5% over the initial interest rate over the life of the mortgage..

What is an arm mortgage?

The word "arm" is short for adjustable rate mortgage.

What is the difference between a fixed rate and an adjustable rate mortgage?

The fixed rate mortgage will guarantee you the same principal and interest payment over the life of the mortgage. If you take out a thirty year mortgage, the 1st payment (principal and interest) will be the same as the 360th payment.