What’s the Difference Between a Fixed and Adjustable Rate Mortgage?

canstockphoto2922592Buying a home is exciting and, let’s admit it, a bit nerve-wracking. There’s so much to consider and a lot of complicated finance terms to understand. When you’re qualifying for a mortgage or shopping around for the right lender, you need to know how to interpret the information you receive.

One of the most important—and confusing—things to understand is interest rates. We want you to make the best mortgage decision possible, so here’s a quick tutorial on interest rates to help you walk away with the best deal.

What Is the Interest Rate?

Simply put, the interest rate is the price you pay for the money you borrow for your mortgage. The interest rate determines what your interest payment is every month. When you borrow money to purchase a home, your monthly payments will be split up between paying back the principal of the loan, the interest accrued for that month on the loan amount, and any other financed expenses like mortgage insurance, property taxes and other items that go into your escrow account.

The interest rate that you’re quoted when shopping for a mortgage will be the annual rate, but the interest will be calculated on a monthly basis. That means your monthly payment will be calculated based on the total amount you borrowed plus the interest, divided by the term of the loan, which is typically thirty years.

Two Basic Kinds of Mortgage Interest Rates

There are two main types of interest rates that you will be able to compare as you work on your mortgage loan: the fixed interest rate and the adjustable interest rate. We breakdown the differences below.

 

  • Fixed-rate mortgage: A fixed-rate mortgage means that the interest rate is locked-in for the life of the loan. So, if you take out a thirty-year mortgage with a 4% interest rate, that will be the rate you pay for the entire term of the loan. It won’t increase, nor will it decrease. This is a good option if you plan to stay in your home for a long time and want a fixed monthly mortgage payment that you can budget for each month. It also protects you from changes in the market; however, that also means that while your rate won’t go up when interest rates rise, it won’t go down when rates drop, either.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage: Unlike a fixed-rate mortgage, an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) isn’t locked-in to one interest rate. This means that over the life of the loan, your monthly payment will fluctuate. Sometimes it may be a little bit more, and others it will be less, based on the current interest rates. Usually, the initial interest rate can be much lower than on a fixed-rate mortgage. This makes an ARM attractive to people who only plan to stay in their home for a few years. If you look into an ARM loan, be sure to note how often the rate will adjust—most ARM loans lock in the rate for a certain number of years, so you may be fixed at one rate for up to five years before any change will be made. You should also ask lenders how they calculate interest rates and select a lender that offers the most stable calculation.

 

The Bottom Line

Borrowing money for a home feels daunting, but when you understand interest rates and how they can impact your monthly payment—and the total amount you’ll end up paying over the life of the loan—you have a lot more control over the process.