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June 19, 2005

Variable Interest Rate Mortgages

David Leonhardt and Motoko Rich write:

The Trillion-Dollar Bet - New York Times: This year, only about $80 billion, or 1 percent, of mortgage debt will switch to an adjustable rate based largely on prevailing interest rates, according to an analysis by Deutsche Bank in New York. Next year, some $300 billion of mortgage debt will be similarly adjusted. But in 2007, the portion will soar, with $1 trillion of the nation's mortgage debt - or about 12 percent of it - switching to adjustable payments, according to the analysis. The 2007 adjustments will almost certainly be the largest such turnover that has ever occurred....

'I'm not sure that people are being counseled on really how big of a risk they are taking,' said Amy Crews Cutts, deputy chief economist at Freddie Mac, the mortgage company. Consider a typical $300,000 interest-only mortgage with fixed payments for the first five years. The homeowner would start by paying about $1,250 a month. If interest rates rise modestly over the next few years, as many forecasters expect, the payment will jump to almost $2,100 in 2010, according to Stephen Barrett, the owner of Redmond Financial, a mortgage business near Seattle....

This year's fashionable model, known as an 'option ARM,' allows borrowers to make payments with monthly rates starting as low as 1.25 percent for the first five years of the loan; the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan is about 5.6 percent. During the first quarter of 2005, 40 percent of mortgages over $360,000 issued to people with good credit were option ARM's, said David Liu, a mortgage strategy analyst with UBS in New York. Very few borrowers used option ARM's before 2003.... All of these loans come with the risk of a spike in payments sometime in the future. In particular, borrowers who have taken out an interest-only loan will see a jump in payments simply because they will start to owe principal after the interest-only period lapses. If rates rise, the payments will go even higher. Borrowers whose incomes have not risen enough or who have not planned for the higher payments could find themselves shocked....

Posted by DeLong at June 19, 2005 10:12 PM