Interest-Only Loans


You may have heard about the the interest-only (i/o) loan. Although interest-only loans have been available for quite some time, they’re becoming more popular. Currently, almost half of all adjustable-rate mortgages are interest-only, according to E-Loan. But why would anyone want to get an interest-only loan? Isn’t the point of home-ownership to build equity in your investment? That may be one of the points, but an interest-only loan can be an interesting alternative if you meet several criteria. For instance, you need a credit score of at least 680 if you’re a salaried borrower, and if you’re self-employed you need a 700 or higher.

To put interest only loans in historical perspective, they were very popular in the 1920s when home buyers wanted to free up cash to invest in the stock market. When the 1929 crash came, scores of foreclosures bankrupted the i/o homebuyers. Just something to keep in mind as we explore this option.

The Good News About Interest Only Loans

The good news: i/o loans increase home affordability by 20%. If you qualify for a $250,000 loan, you now can get $300,000; $300,000 becomes $360,000; and $400,000 becomes $480,000. In other words, you can qualify for a more expensive home than you would with a traditional mortgage. And the payments are dramatically different. On a five-year interest-only loan at 3.875%, your payment is $1,615. On a five-year hybrid at 3.750%, payment jumps to $2,316. And on a 30-year fixed at 5.750%, payment $2,918.

How Interest-only Loans Work

Interest only loans don’t prohibit you from paying down your principal balance. Most are available only with adjustable rate mortgages. Most are five, seven or ten year interest-only periods, where the rate is fixed. After the initial period, the rate can rise up to six percentage points. For instance, a 5/1 ARM rate is fixed for five years and the i/o may only be for five years, and the next 25 would be traditional principal plus interest—greatly increasing your payment. After the initial interest-only period, the loan becomes a fully amortized 30-year mortgage loan with no pre-payment penalty.

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The Bad News About Interest Only Loans

The payment differences break down as follows over the life of a five-year interest-only ARM:

Years one through five at 3.875%, your payment is $1,615. Years six through eight at 6.875%, your payment is $2,864. Years eight through ten at 9.875%, your payment is $4,114. Years 10 through 30 at 9.875%, your payment is $4,783. This last jump is due to the fact that during the last 20 years of the loan, the principal is spread out over 20 years as opposed to the traditional 30.

You May Want an Interest Only Loan If:

• You are very disciplined with your money

• You’re a bit of a risk taker

• You’re not financially taking on more than you can handle

• You expect your income to greatly increase in the next five years

• You have an irregular income, so the lower payment is manageable during lean periods, and when you have more money, you can pay down principal

• You’re content to let rising markets build your equity

• Home prices are on the rise

Don’t Get an Interest Only Loan If:

• You have a lot of debt that you can’t manage

• You plan on being in your house longer than the interest-only period

• You are undisciplined with your finances

• You’re borrowing a small amount (the savings may not offset the greater risk)

• You plan on spending the extra cash on “discretionary” items

• You plan to sell or refinance before the interest-only period ends

• You want to lock in today’s low interest rates

For more information on mortgage loans, or if you’re ready to start looking for homes, contact me!