30-Year Fixed vs. 5/1 ARM

June 24, 2011 No Comments »
30-Year Fixed vs. 5/1 ARM

Here we go again…it’s that special time where we compare two popular loan programs to see how they stack up against each other.

Today’s match-up: “30-Year Fixed vs. 5/1 ARM.”

Everyone has heard of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage – it’s far and away the most popular type of loan out there. Why? Because it’s the easiest to understand, and presents no risk of adjusting during the entire loan term.

But what about the 5/1 ARM? Do you even know what a 5/1 ARM is?

Put simply, it’s an adjustable-rate mortgage with a 30-year term that’s fixed for the first five years and adjustable for the remaining 25 years.

After the first five years are up, the interest rate can adjust once annually, both up or down.

It’s a pretty popular ARM product, and most mortgage lenders offer it, including ING, via its Easy Orange Mortgage.

So what’s the draw of the 5/1 ARM?

Well, the biggest advantage to the 5/1 ARM is the fact that you get a lower mortgage rate than you would if you opted for a traditional 30-year fixed. That’s the tradeoff for that mortgage rate stability.

But how much lower? Currently, the spread is about 1.25%, with the 30-year averaging 4.50 percent and the 5/1 ARM coming in at 3.25 percent, per Freddie Mac data.


Loan amount: $350,000
30-year fixed payment: $1,773.40
5/1 ARM payment: $1,523.22

So you’d be looking at a difference in monthly mortgage payment of $250, or $3,000 annually ($15,000 over 5 years), using our example from above. Not bad, right?

Well, there’s just one little problem.

It might not always be that way. In fact, it might only be that way for the first five years of your 30-year loan.

After those initial five years are up, you could face an interest rate hike, meaning your 5/1 ARM could go from 3.25 percent to 4.50 percent or higher, depending on the associated margin and mortgage index.

ARMs Low But Will Likely Head Higher

Currently, mortgage indexes are super low, but they’re expected to rise in coming years as the economy gets back on track, which it will eventually.

And you should always prepare for a higher interest rate adjustment if you’ve got an ARM.

[Why adjustable-rate mortgages are bad news right now.]

So that’s the big risk with the 5/1 ARM. If you don’t plan to sell or refinance before those first five years are up, the 30-year fixed may be the better choice.

Although, if you sell or refinance within say seven or eight years, the 5/1 ARM could still make sense given the savings realized during the fist five years. And most people either sell or refinance within 10 years.

Just be sure you can actually handle a larger monthly mortgage payment should your rate adjust higher.

If you plan to actually pay off your mortgage, an ARM is probably a bad idea. There’s a good chance you’ll pay a lot more than you would have had you gone with the 30-year fixed.

However, if you’re a savvy investor and have a healthy risk-appetite, the 5/1 ARM could mean some serious savings, especially if the extra money is invested somewhere else with a better return for your money.

Five years not enough? Check out the 30-year fixed vs. the 7-year ARM.

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