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Buying a House

Understanding Interest-Only Mortgages

Interest-only mortgages are loans secured by real estate containing an option to make an interest payment.

What is an Interest-Only Mortgage?

Interest-only payments do not contain principal. Many of the interest-only mortgages available today feature an option for interest-only payments. Here is an example:

Common Interest-Only Mortgages

The most popular interest-only mortgages do not allow borrowers to make an interest-only payment forever. Generally, that time period is limited to the first five or ten years of the loan. After that period, the loan is amortized for the remainder of its term. This means the payments move up to an amortized amount but the loan balance is not increased. Two popular mortgages are:

How to Compute an Interest-Only Payment

It's simple to figure mortgage interest. Take an unpaid loan balance of $200,000 and multiply it by the interest rate. In this case, the rate is 6.5%. That number is $13,000 of interest, which is the annual amount of interest. Divide $13,000 by 12 months, which will equal your monthly interest payment or $1,083.

Who Would Take Out an Interest-Only Mortgage?

Interest-only mortgages are beneficial for first-time home buyers. Many new home owners struggle during the first year of ownership because they are not accustomed to paying mortgage payments, which are generally higher than rental payments.

An interest-only mortgage does not require that the home owner pay an interest-only payment. What it does do is give the borrower the OPTION to pay a lower payment during the early years of the loan. If a home owner faces an unexpected bill -- say, the water heater needs to be replaced -- that could cost the owner $500 or more. By exercising the option that month to pay a lower payment, that option can help to balance the home owner's budget.

Buyers whose income fluctuate because of earning commissions, for example, instead of a flat salary, also benefit from an interest-only mortgage option. These borrowers often pay interest-only payments during slim months and pay extra toward the principal when bonuses or commissions are received.

How Much Do Interest-Only Mortgages Cost?

Because lenders rarely do anything for free, the cost for an interest-only mortgage is a bit higher than a conventional loan. For example, if a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is available at the going rate of 6% interest, an interest-only mortgage might cost an extra 1/2 percent or be set at 6.5%.

A lender might also charge a percentage of a point to make the loan. All lender fees vary, so it pays to shop around.

What are the Risks & Myths Associated with an Interest-Only Mortgage?

The risk associated with an interest-only mortgage lies in being forced to sell the property if the property has not appreciated. If a borrower pays only the interest each and every month, at the end of, say, five years, the borrower will owe the original loan balance because it has not been reduced. The loan balance will be the same amount as when the loan was originated.

However, even an amortized payment schedule typically will not pay down enough of a 100% financed loan to cover the costs to sell if the property has not appreciated. A larger down payment at the time of purchase reduces the risk associated with an interest-only mortgage.

If property values fall, however, the equity received in the property at the time of purchase could disappear. But most home owners, regardless of whether a loan is amortized, face that risk in a falling market.

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