Interest Only Mortgage Loans / Payment Option ARMS

Note:  Since the housing collapse after the Great Recession of 2008, interest only mortgages are no longer approved by many, if any, home mortgage lenders.  This article is presented for informational purposes only.

Owning a home is part of the American dream. But high home prices may make the dream seem out of reach. To make monthly mortgage payments more affordable, many lenders offer home loans that allow you to (1) pay only the interest on the loan during the first few years of the loan term or (2) make only a specified minimum payment that could be less than the monthly interest on the loan.

Whether you are buying a house or refinancing your mortgage, this information can help you decide if an interest-only mortgage payment (an I-O mortgage)--or an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) with the option to make a minimum payment (a payment-option ARM)--is right for you. Lenders have a variety of names for these loans, but keep in mind that with I-O interest only mortgages and payment-option ARMs, you could face "payment shock."  Your payments may go up a lot--as much as double or triple--after the interest-only period or when the payments adjust.

In addition, with payment-option ARMs you could face negative amortization. Your payments may not cover all of the interest owed. The unpaid interest is added to your mortgage balance so that you owe more on your mortgage than you originally borrowed.  Be sure you understand the loan terms and the risks you face. And be realistic about whether you can handle future payment increases. If you're not comfortable with these risks, ask about another loan product.

What is an I-O interest only mortgage payment?

Traditional mortgages require that each month you pay back some of the money you borrowed (the principal) plus the interest on that money. The principal you owe on your mortgage decreases over the term of the loan. In contrast, an I-O interest only payment plan allows you to pay only the interest for a specified number of years. After that, you must repay both the principal and the interest.

Most mortgages that offer an I-O payment plan have adjustable interest rates, which means that the interest rate and monthly payment will change over the term of the loan. The changes may be as often as once a month or as seldom as every 3 to 5 years, depending on the terms of your loan. For example, a 5/1 ARM has a fixed interest rate for the first 5 years; after that, the rate can change once a year (the "1" in 5/1) during the rest of the loan.

The I-O (interest only) payment period is typically between 3 and 10 years. After that, your monthly payment will increase--even if interest rates stay the same--because you must pay back the principal as well as the interest. For example, if you take out a 30-year mortgage loan with a 5-year I-O payment period, you can pay only interest for 5 years and then both principal and interest over the next 25 years. Because you begin to pay back the principal, your payments increase after year 5.
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What is a payment-option ARM?

A payment-option ARM is an adjustable-rate mortgage that allows you to choose among several payment options each month. The options typically include a traditional payment of principal and interest (which reduces the amount you owe on your mortgage). These payments may be based on a set loan term, such as a 15-, 30-, or 40-year payment schedule; an interest-only payment (which does not change the amount you owe on your mortgage); and a minimum (or limited) payment (which may be less than the amount of interest due that month and may not pay down any principal). If you choose this option, the amount of any interest you do not pay will be added to the principal of the loan, increasing the amount you owe and increasing the interest you will pay.
Interest Rate. The interest rate on a payment-option ARM is typically very low for the first 1 to 3 months (2%, for example). After that, the rate usually rises to a rate closer to that of other mortgage loans. Your monthly payments during the first year are based on the initial low rate, meaning that if you only make the minimum payment, it may not cover the interest due. The unpaid interest is added to the amount you owe on the mortgage, resulting in a highter balance. This is known as negative amortization. Also, as interest rates go up, your payments are likely to go up.

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