Fixed Rate vs Adjustable Rate Mortgages

You are ready to apply for a mortgage. Your question? Should you take out a fixed-rate loan or an adjustable rate?

As with most mortgage questions, there is no one correct answer. Instead, the right loan for you depends upon many factors, everything from how low or high average mortgage rates are when you are ready to apply for a loan to your family's financial situation.

What is the best way to decide whether you should aim for a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate loan? Do the research.

The Basics

Before deciding whether a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage is right for you, you need to learn the fundamental differences between the two.

As the name suggests, the interest rate does not change with a fixed-rate mortgage over the loan term. So no matter whether your loan extends for 30 years, 15 years, or some other length of time, your interest rate will remain unchanged throughout the loan.

An adjustable-rate mortgage works oppositely. Your interest rate will change after a set number of years, often five or seven. Usually, the rate starts lower for the first few years and then adjusts to a new rate based on economic factors. The rate does not have to go higher after the adjustment period, but it usually does.

Benefits Of A Fixed-Rate Mortgage

Each loan type comes with its benefits. For fixed-rate mortgage loans, the advantage is obvious: There are no surprises with this kind of loan. You will know each month exactly what your mortgage payment will be. It will not rise or fall.

A fixed-rate mortgage loan is especially attractive when low average mortgage interest rates. That has indeed been the case over the last several years. Average interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loans averaged about 3.26 6.27 percent in December 2022. That is three points higher than the same time in 2021. Rates have increased exponentially due to inflation.

Fixed-rate loans currently make good economic sense for homeowners who want the lowest possible mortgage payment each month. However, taking out an adjustable-rate loan in such a rate climate might be a risk. After all, when an adjustable-rate mortgage loan adjusts in five or seven years, there's no guarantee that interest rates will not be higher than they were this past year.

Benefits Of Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

Adjustable-rate mortgage loans make the most sense when average mortgage interest rates are high. Lenders can usually provide borrowers with a lower initial interest rate. After all, they can raise the rate later if rates rise to a higher level during the mortgage term.

If rates are high, then borrowers who take out an adjustable-rate mortgage loan will enjoy a lower interest rate for a set period, again, usually five to seven years. That can result in significantly lower monthly mortgage payments during this time.

However, there is a risk. After the adjustment period, your interest rate might jump by a fairly significant amount. Before taking out an adjustable-rate mortgage, ensure that you can afford whatever the adjusted monthly payment would be. You might be able to factor in future pay raises to help you make those higher payments if you believe that your income will grow over time.

Like all mortgage products, adjustable-rate and fixed-rate mortgage loans come with their pros and cons. Your best bet is to study both products carefully before making your choice.

Information presented in the Northwest Financial Wellness Center is provided for educational purposes only and is not related to actual Northwest products or services. Northwest makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. Northwest recommends you consult a professional for any specific guidance you are seeking.