Loan Types Explained
Fixed Rate Mortgages
The traditional fixed rate mortgage is the most common type of loan program, where monthly principal and interest payments never change during the life of the loan. Fixed rate mortgages are available in terms ranging from 10 to 30 years and can be paid off at any time without penalty. This type of mortgage is structured, or "amortized" so that it will be completely paid off by the end of the loan term. There are also "bi-weekly" mortgages, which shorten the loan by calling for half the monthly payment every two weeks. (Since there are 52 weeks in a year, you make 26 payments, or 13 "months" worth, every year.)
Even though you have a fixed rate mortgage, your monthly payment may vary if you have an "impound account". In addition to the monthly loan payment, some lenders collect additional money each month (from folks who put less than 20% cash down when purchasing their home) for the prorated monthly cost of property taxes and homeowners insurance. The extra money is put in an impound account by the lender who uses it to pay the borrowers' property taxes and homeowners insurance premium when they are due. If either the property tax or the insurance happens to change, the borrower's monthly payment will be adjusted accordingly. However, the overall payments in a fixed rate mortgage are very stable and predictable.
Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM)
Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM)s are loans whose interest rate can vary during the loan's term. These loans usually have a fixed interest rate for an initial period of time and then can adjust based on current market conditions. The initial rate on an ARM is lower than on a fixed rate mortgage which allows you to afford and hence purchase a more expensive home. Adjustable rate mortgages are usually amortized over a period of 30 years with the initial rate being fixed for anywhere from 1 month to 10 years. All ARM loans have a "margin" plus an "index." Margins on loans range from 1.75% to 3.5% depending on the index and the amount financed in relation to the property value. The index is the financial instrument that the ARM loan is tied to such as: 1-Year Treasury Security, LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate), Prime, 6-Month Certificate of Deposit (CD) and the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI).
When the time comes for the ARM to adjust, the margin will be added to the index and typically rounded to the nearest 1/8 of one percent to arrive at the new interest rate. That rate will then be fixed for the next adjustment period. This adjustment can occur every year, but there are factors limiting how much the rates can adjust. These factors are called "caps". Suppose you had a "3/1 ARM" with an initial cap of 2%, a lifetime cap of 6%, and initial interest rate of 6.25%. The highest rate you could have in the fourth year would be 8.25%, and the highest rate you could have during the life of the loan would be 12.25%.
Some ARM loans have a conversion feature that would allow you to convert the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate. There is a minimal charge to convert; however, the conversion rate is usually slightly higher than the market rate that the lender could provide you at that time by refinancing.
Interest Only Mortgages
A mortgage is called “Interest Only” when its monthly payment does not include the repayment of principal for a certain period of time. Interest Only loans are offered on fixed rate or adjustable rate mortgages as wells as on option ARMs. At the end of the interest only period, the loan becomes fully amortized, thus resulting in greatly increased monthly payments. The new payment will be larger than it would have been if it had been fully amortizing from the beginning. The longer the interest only period, the larger the new payment will be when the interest only period ends.
You won't build equity during the interest-only term, but it could help you close on the home you want instead of settling for the home you can afford.
Since you'll be qualified based on the interest-only payment and will likely refinance before the interest-only term expires anyway, it could be a way to effectively lease your dream home now and invest the principal portion of your payment elsewhere while realizing the tax advantages and appreciation that accompany homeownership.
As an example, if you borrow $250,000 at 6 percent, using a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly payment would be $1,499. On the other hand, if you borrowed $250,000 at 6 percent, using a 30-year mortgage with a 5-year interest only payment plan, your monthly payment initially would be $1,250. This saves you $249 per month or $2,987 a year. However, when you reach year six, your monthly payments will jump to $1,611, or $361 more per month. Hopefully, your income will have jumped accordingly to support the higher payments or you have refinanced your loan by that time.
Mortgages with interest only payment options may save you money in the short-run, but they actually cost more over the 30-year term of the loan. However, most borrowers repay their mortgages well before the end of the full 30-year loan term.
Borrowers with sporadic incomes can benefit from interest-only mortgages. This is particularly the case if the mortgage is one that permits the borrower to pay more than interest-only. In this case, the borrower can pay interest-only during lean times and use bonuses or income spurts to pay down the principal.
Graduated Payment Mortgages
A graduated payment mortgage is a loan where the payment increases each year for a predetermined amount of time (such as 5 or 10 years), then becomes fixed for the remaining duration of the loan.
When interest rates are high, borrowers can use a graduated payment mortgage to increase their chances of qualifying for the loan because the initial payment is less. The downside of opting for an smaller initial payment is that the interest owed increases and the payment shortfall from the initial years of the loan is then added on to the loan, potentially leading to a situation called "negative amortization." Negative amortization occurs when the loan payment for any period is less than the interest charged over that period, resulting in an increase in the outstanding balance of the loan.
FHA Home Loan
FHA home loans are mortgage loans that are insured against default by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans are available for single family and multifamily homes. These home loans allow banks to continuously issue loans without much risk or capital requirements. The FHA doesn't issue loans or set interest rates, it just guarantees against default.
FHA loans allow individuals who may not qualify for a conventional mortgage obtain a loan, especially first time home buyers. These loans offer low minimum down payments, reasonable credit expectations, and flexible income requirements.
VA Home Loans
The VA Loan provides veterans with a federally guaranteed home loan which requires no down payment. This program was designed to provide housing and assistance for veterans and their families.
The Veterans Administration provides insurance to lenders in the case that you default on a loan. Because the mortgage is guaranteed, lenders will offer a lower interest rate and terms than a conventional home loan. VA home loans are available in all 50 states. A VA loan may also have reduced closing costs and no prepayment penalties.
Additionally there are services that may be offered to veterans in danger of defaulting on their loans. VA home loans are available to military personal that have either served 181 days during peacetime, 90 days during war, or a spouse of serviceman either killed or missing in action.
USDA loans are low-interest mortgages with zero down payments designed for low-income Americans who don't have good enough credit to qualify for traditional mortgages. You must use a USDA loan to buy a home in a designated area that covers several rural and suburban locations.
A jumbo loan is a mortgage used to finance properties that are too expensive for a conventional conforming loan. The maximum amount for a conforming loan is $548,250 in most counties, as determined by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Homes that exceed the local conforming loan limit require a jumbo loan.
Also called non-conforming conventional mortgages, jumbo loans are considered riskier for lenders because these loans can’t be guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie, meaning the lender is not protected from losses if a borrower defaults. Jumbo loans are typically available with either a fixed interest rate or an adjustable rate, and they come with a variety of terms.