Which ARM Is The Best Alternative?

How would you like a mortgage loan where you did not have to make the whole payment if you did not want to? Or would you like a loan with an interest rate about 1% below a thirty-year fixed rate mortgage and pay zero points? Or a loan where you did not have to document your income, savings history, or source of down payment?

How would you like a mortgage payment of only 1.95%? You can have all that with the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) Adjustable Rate Mortgage. 

Sound too good to be true? Sound like a bunch of hype? 

Each statement above is true. However, it is also only part of the story and loan officers do not always tell you the whole story when promoting this loan. Other loan officers may try to scare you away from adjustable rate mortgages. However, once you become aware of all the details of the loan, it is an excellent way to buy the house of your dreams, especially when fixed rates begin to go up. 

ARMs in General 

Adjustable rate mortgages all have certain similar features. They have an adjustment period, an index, a margin, and a rate cap. The adjustment period is simply how often the rate changes. Some change monthly, some change every six months, and some only adjust once a year. Indexes are simply an easily monitored interest rate that moves up and down over time. Adjustable rate mortgages have different indexes. The margin is the difference between your interest rate and the index. The margin does not change during the term of the loan. 

So, if you have an adjustable rate mortgage and you wanted to calculate your interest rate on your own, all yomust do is look up the index in the paper or on the internet, add the margin, and you have your rate. 

Indexes and the 11th District 

The “Prime Rate” you hear about in the news is one interest rate index, although it is very rare that mortgages are tied to this index. It is more common to find adjustable rate mortgages tied to different treasury bill indexes, the average interest rate paid on certificates of deposit, the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), or the 11th District Cost of Funds. 

COFI ARM Index 

The 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) is the weighted average of interest rates paid out on savings deposits by banking institutions in the 11th district of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB), located in San Francisco. The 11th District includes the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona. 

The COFI index moves slower than the other indexes, making it more stable. It also lags behind actual changes in the interest rate market. For example, when rates begin to go up, the COFI index may continue to decline for a couple of months before it also begins to rise. 

The Margin and Interest Rates 

The margin on the COFI ARM typically ranges between 2.25-3%. 

Monthly Adjustments Sound Scary, but... 

Although you can get a COFI ARM with an adjustable period of six months, you can get a lower margin if you go for the monthly adjustment period. Since the margin plus the index equals your interest rate, the lower margin is an advantage, and most people choose the monthly adjustment. 

Monthly adjustments sound scary to the uninitiated, but keep in mind that this is a slow moving index. Most other ARMS have an annual cap of 2% a year. Since 1981, when the FHLB began tracking the index, the most it has moved during any calendar year is 1.6%. So why get a higher margin just to get a rate cap that you probably will not use anyway? 

The “life-of-loan” cap for the COFI ARM is usually 11.95%. The most recent year that this cap could have been reached was 1985. Plus, most experts do not expect a return to the interest rates of the early 1980’s when interest rates were pushed up artificially to combat the inflation of the 1970’s. 

Make Only Part of Your Payment? 

This is the interesting feature of the loan. You do not have to make the whole payment. Each month you get a bill that has at least three payment options. One choice is the full payment at the current interest rate. A second choice allows you to pay only the interest that is due on the loan that particular month but does not pay anything towards the principal. Finally, the third option gives you the choice to pay even less than that and is called the “minimum payment.” 

The minimum payment when you start your loan can be calculated as low as 1.95%. Keep in mind that this is not the note rate on your loan, but just a way to calculate your minimum payment. 

Deferred Interest and Amortization 

Of course, if you only make the minimum payment each month, you are not paying all of the interest that is currently due that month. You are deferring some of the interest that is currently due on the loan so you will have to pay it later. The lender keeps track of this deferred interest by adding it to the loan and the loan balance gets larger. Neither you nor the lender wants this to continue forever, so your minimum payment increases a bit each year.

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