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December 20th, 2011

No. 9: ‘Crazy to refi into an ARM? Not at all’



int rate QMarkNumber nine on our Top 10 most popular articles of 2011 is the refinance article, “Crazy to refi into an ARM? Not at all.

Publish date: January 06, 2011
Written by: Michele Lerner


Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) were blamed by some financial commentators for the rise in foreclosures, so many homeowners are wary of them. Indeed, only 5 percent of mortgage applications at the end of 2010 were for ARMs. While it’s true that ARMs are a bit more complicated than fixed-rate loans, in an environment of rising mortgage rates, ARMs are especially worth a second look if you’re refinancing.

ARMs offer low initial mortgage rates

Most homeowners interested in refinancing are seeking the lowest possible mortgage rate. This is why ARMs–which tend to have lower interest rates than their traditional 30-year, fixed counterparts–are popular when market interest rates are high. In such periods, mortgage borrowers looking to minimize their monthly payments find initial ARM rates quite attractive. With today’s mortgage rates still holding at historical lows, most consumers prefer to lock in a low rate for the long term.

However, many refinancers in today’s market would actually come out ahead if they chose an ARM.

ARM advantages for refinancing

A big reason to refinance into an ARM is to take immediate advantage of low mortgage rates in the initial fixed-rate period. Another compelling reason to refinance into an ARM is if you plan to sell your home before the loan adjusts.

“If you know the end period when you will sell your home or pay off the loan in full or refinance, an ARM can be a good loan,” says Douglas Benner, a senior loan officer with Embrace Home Loans in Rockville, Md. “Some people know for certain they are retiring to another home within a few years, or they know they will come into some money or be transferred to another area. In that case, it makes sense to save the money in interest payments during the initial few years of the loan.”

Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com says another candidate for an ARM refinance is a homeowner who is waiting for the economy to recover or for their personal financial situation to improve. For this kind of homeowner, an ARM provides valuable short-term stability.

“This can be a great product to ‘tide you over’ for a few years as long as you save money while you are using an ARM,” says Gumbinger. He cautions that this strategy comes with some risk, however. “It is a reasonable guess that mortgage rates will be higher in the future since they are so low now. Even though people have a plan for when the fixed-rate period ends, they should be prepared for the possibility of the plan not working out.”

Gumbinger says borrowers should game out best-case and worst-case scenarios for the loan adjustment so they can have realistic expectations about potential monthly payments.

Read more from our ‘top 10 of 2011’ list:

No. 10: ‘Why is it so hard to be approved for a HARP refinance?’

For more on ARMs, read:

ARMs: Hows, whos and whys: What you need to know about adjustable rate mortgages
In defense of ARMs: They’re neither ‘evil’ nor ‘toxic’
ARMs do not look so scary anymore

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About the HSH Blog

HSH.com's daily blog focuses on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets. Our mission is to relate how changes in mortgage rates and housing policy, as well as the latest financial news, impacts consumers, homebuyers and industry insiders alike. Our 30-plus years of experience in the mortgage industry gives us an edge as we break down the latest changes in an ever-changing market.

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Tim Manni

Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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