A payment-option ARM is an adjustable-rate mortgage that allows you to choose among several payment options each month. The options typically include
Interest rates. 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 higher balance. This is known as negative amortization. Also, as interest rates go up, your payments are likely to go up.
Payment changes. Many payment-option ARMs limit, or cap, the amount the monthly minimum payment may increase from year to year. For example, if your loan has a payment cap of 7.5%, your monthly payment won’t increase more than 7.5% from one year to the next (for example, from $1,000 to $1,075), even if interest rates rise more than 7.5%. Any interest you don’t pay because of the payment cap will be added to the balance of your loan.
Payment-option ARMs have a built-in recalculation period, usually every 5 years. At this point, your payment will be recalculated (lenders use the term recast) based on the remaining term of the loan. If you have a 30-year loan and you are at the end of year 5, your payment will be recalculated for the remaining 25 years. The payment cap does not apply to this adjustment. If your loan balance has increased, or if interest rates have risen faster than your payments, your payments could go up a lot.
Ending the option payments. Lenders end the option payments if the amount of principal you owe grows beyond a set limit, say 110% or 125% of your original mortgage amount. For example, suppose you made minimum payments on your $180,000 mortgage and had negative amortization. If the balance grew to $225,000 (125% of $180,000), the option payments would end. Your loan would be recalculated and you would pay back principal and interest based on the remaining term of your loan. It is likely that your payments would go up significantly.
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