3 questions to ask when you’re considering an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)

Gina Pogol
The Mortgage Reports contributor

Is an adjustable-rate mortgage right for you?

There’s a perfect mortgage product for every mortgage borrower. And, for some, that product is the adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

An ARM is a mortgage which offers introductory mortgage rates — known as “teaser rates” — for up to the first 10 years of a loan. After the teaser period ends, the loan’s mortgage rate adjusts annually to reflect current market conditions.

But you can save a lot of money by using that teaser rate to your advantage.

Consider this: With an ARM, you save about $16,000 over five years on a $300,000 mortgage.

For some, an adjustable mortgage is an exciting proposition indeed.

Check your eligibility for an ARM loan now. (Sep 21st, 2021)

In this article:

To determine if an ARM could be right for you, there are three key questions to ask:

  • How much cheaper are ARMs than fixed-rate loans? Don’t consider an ARM unless there’s a significant difference in rate
  • What’s your time frame in the house? First-time home buyers who plan to keep the home only a few years might use an ARM for huge savings
  • Is your mortgage a jumbo loan? If you want to borrow more than your area’s loan limit, you’ll need a “jumbo loan.” Jumbo loan fixed rates tend to be much higher than their adjustable counterparts

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Who are the best ARM candidates?

In exchange for accepting a mortgage rate that can change, banks offer low mortgage rates during the initial fixed period your loan.

The mortgage rate on a 5-year ARM, for example, will typically be close to 100 basis points (1.00 percent) less than the rate for a comparable 30-year fixed rate loan.

So, why might you choose an adjustable-rate mortgage over a fixed?

Well, if you’re a first-time home buyer and you don’t plan to make your home a “forever” one, choosing an ARM over a fixed-rate loan can yield huge cash savings.

Same for buyers who frequently move. There’s no sense paying for a 30-year rate if you’re going to move in six. Or, refinancing your home to a 30-year loan if you’re going to sell or refinance again soon anyway.

So, which is better — ARM or fixed? Read below and see what you think.

Verify your new rate (Sep 21st, 2021)

1. What’s the current ARM/Fixed “spread”?

When you’re shopping for a mortgage, the difference in mortgage rates between an adjustable-rate mortgage and a fixed-rate mortgage is known as the “spread.”

The spread is your incentive for using an adjustable-rate mortgage instead of a fixed. The bigger the spread, the more attractive the ARM will look.

For example, if you’re choosing between a 10-year adjustable-rate mortgage and a 30-year fixed, and the difference in mortgage rate is 12.5 basis points (0.125 percent), you may feel that there’s little reason to accept the risk of an adjustable-rate loan.

However, if the spread widened to 50 basis points (0.50 percent) or more, your mind may start to change.

In general, the shorter your adjustable-rate mortgage’s initial teaser period, the lower its starting mortgage rate. A 7-year adjustable will have a lower starting mortgage rate than a 10-year adjustable, and a 5-year adjustable will have the lower starting mortgage rate than a 7-year adjustable.

Here is a real-life example of how adjustable-rate mortgage and fixed-rate mortgage rates compare, assuming a $300,000 home loan.

Loan Type Mortgage Rate Payment Savings “Teaser” Period Savings
30-Year Fixed 4.875% $1,587  –  –
5-Year ARM 3.750% $1,389  $198  $16,700 (in 5 years)
7-Year ARM 3.875% $1,410  $177  $20,600 (in 7 years)

The savings of an ARM can be substantial while it’s in its teaser period. After the adjustable-rate mortgage enters its adjustment period, however, savings can reduce or evaporate.

Verify your new rate (Sep 21st, 2021)

2. What’s your time frame in the house?

Another factor which determines whether you should consider an ARM is the length of time you plan to live in your home; and, the number of years until you might conceivably attempt a home loan refinance.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, homeowners typically own property for close to seven years before selling.

Older homeowners tend to own for a few years longer; younger and first-time home buyers tend to sell up sooner.

This statistic, which is based on decades of data, suggests that many U.S. home buyers would be better suited to an adjustable-rate mortgage. This is because a large majority of homeowners sell their home before their hypothetical adjustable-rate mortgage would ever begin to adjust.

Therefore, if you don’t consider your next home to be your “forever home,” see what kind of money you might save with an adjustable-rate mortgage.

3. Is your mortgage a jumbo loan?

A jumbo loan, by definition, is a mortgage which exceeds the conforming (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) loan size limit for an area. Loan limits vary by region, ranging from $548,250 to $548,250.

If you want to borrow more than your area’s loan limit, there are mortgages still available to you. However, the fixed-rate pricing tends to deteriorate.

The difference in mortgage rate between a fixed rate loan within loan limits and one that’s outside of loan limits can be as high as 150 basis points (1.50 percent).

For ARMs, however, jumbo loans can get cheap.

It’s not uncommon to see jumbo ARM mortgage rates beat jumbo fixed-rate mortgage rates by 250 basis points (2.50 percent) or more. That’s a pretty big incentive to go with an adjustable-rate mortgage.

What are today’s mortgage rates?

Choosing an adjustable-rate mortgage can be an excellent way to get access to “below-market” mortgage rates.

Get today’s live mortgage rates now. Your social security number is not required to get started, and all quotes come with access to your live mortgage credit scores.

Verify your new rate (Sep 21st, 2021)