With mortgage interest rates at an all-time low you’re probably thinking about finally taking the big leap and becoming a homeowner or refinancing your existing home to a lower interest rate. However, the age-old question looms in front of you…which mortgage should I choose, an ARM or a fixed-rate mortgage?
The answer: it depends on your needs. While there are pros and cons to both mortgages, the real question is not which mortgage is better, but which mortgage will suit my needs.
Let’s take a look at both an ARM and fixed-rate mortgage and then you can decide which option is going to afford you your dream home or that tantalizing interest rate that will have you running to refinance your home.
Adjustable-rate mortgages or ARMs have interest rates that adjust over a period of time. ARMs have had a notoriously bad reputation because of the mortgage meltdown and subsequent recession.
While this reputation was justified in the past, most of those exotic ARMs no longer exist. Today, financial institutions offer hybrid ARMs—like PenFed’s 5/5 ARM, which has a fixed-rate for five years and then the rate adjusts once every five years. This is a unique mortgage product as most ARMs adjust annually after the initial fixed terms.
The thought of an adjustable interest rate probably has you fearing skyrocketing monthly mortgage payments. Fear not, all ARMs have caps—a limit on the amount the interest rate can adjust—and ceilings—the highest the interest rate is allowed to become during the life of the loan. Using PenFed’s 5/5 ARM as an example, the initial interest rate will change every five years by no more than two percentage points up or down (the cap). This rate will never exceed five percentage points above the initial rate (the ceiling).
A fixed-rate mortgage provides a reliable and fixed monthly payment for the life of the loan. Because your total mortgage payment remains stable from month to month, homeowners can easily budget their monthly expenses.
Financial institutions offer various fixed-rate mortgages including the more common fixed-rate mortgages: 15, 20, and 30-year. Out of the three the 30-year fixed is the most popular mortgage because it usually offers the lowest monthly payment. However, the lower monthly payment comes at a cost of paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
So, now that you know a little more about ARMs and fixed-rate mortgages here are a few things you should consider when making a decision about which mortgage will best suit your needs:
- How long do you plan to stay in your home? If you don’t plan to stay in your home for the long haul, you may want to consider an ARM, which has a lower interest rate than the 30-year fixed and you save big money in interest charges. If you move or refinance within five years before the interest rate adjusts you can avoid a payment hike. Conversely, if you’ve found or are already in the home of your dreams, a fixed-rate mortgage makes more sense and will provide you stable payments for years to come.
- What can you afford? Knowing how much you can afford to pay month to month in mortgage payments will also help you decide between an ARM or fixed-rate mortgage. If you’re working within a tight budget, the ARM may be a more attractive option since the payments will be lower than a 30-year fixed. But, unless you anticipate a raise or another source of added income, ask yourself if you’ll be able to afford your mortgage payment when the ARM’s interest rate increases. If not, don’t take the risk. Go with the fixed-rate mortgage and get stable monthly payments.
The Takeaway: When it’s all said and done, the goal is to get you into the home of your dreams or refinance your existing home without breaking your pockets. Both the ARM and fixed-rate mortgage are products that will help you reach your goal. However, the path you take to get to your goal depends on which mortgage will suit your needs.