Adjustable Rates Making A Comeback

Dated: 03/18/2017

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Adjustable-rate mortgages make a comeback as rate rises loom

Published: Mar 10, 2017 11:06 a.m. ET

The difference between an adjustable-rate and a 30-year-fixed loan is now about a full percentage point

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Adjustable-rate mortgages are more popular now than at any time in more than two years as interest rates start climbing.

According to Mortgage Bankers Association data, the share of mortgage applications taken by ARMs was the largest since October 2014. As nearly three decades of MBA data show, adjustable-rate mortgages get a lot more popular when the threat of rising rates looms.

The average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was 4.36% in the most recent week, MBA reported, while the average 5/1 ARM rate was nearly a full percentage point lower, at 3.48%. ARMs like the 5/1 mentioned here are loans with starter rates, which increase after a set period, in this case five years.

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The ARM would represent savings of $93 a month for homes at the national median of $228,900, according to Zillow’s online mortgage market calculator. In such a lean real estate market, with affordability so squeezed, every little bit can be helpful for many buyers.

There’s one other explanation for consumers to pile in to adjustable-rate mortgages, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of the chart based on MBA data.

ARMs made up a whopping 36.6% of total applications in March 2005, arguably the height of the housing frenzy, when neither buyers nor lenders cared about affordability and the assumption was that any mortgage represented a way into a home, with a refinance to follow later.

That share was a more manageable 7.7% last week, and the 27-year history has the ARM share at 13.9%.

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