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Fixed-Rate vs. Adjustable-Rate Mortgage: Which is Right For Me?

Learn more about what factors to consider when deciding between a fixed-rate and an adjustable-rate mortgage.

If you’re mortgage shopping, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options. Dozens of lenders, each with their own rates, terms, conditions and costs, can make the decision feel that way. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult! The choice of which mortgage to go with starts with a simple question: fixed-rate or adjustable? There are many different terms, points and rates associated with each, but narrowing your search to a category can really simplify the process.

As an overview, fixed-rate mortgages are the more traditional choice. You and a lender agree to a length of time (or term) and an interest rate. That interest rate stays the same throughout the term of the mortgage.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) are a slightly newer offering. These loans have a segment of time during which the interest rate is fixed. After that, the rate is determined by an economic indicator. If you’ve seen the notation “ARM 5/1,” that means it is an adjustable rate mortgage with a set rate for the first five years of the loan, and then a new rate every year after that. There’s more to it than that, but this basic explanation will get us started.

So, which is the right one for you? The answer really depends on several factors.

How long do you plan to own your home?

One thing you’ll notice right away when shopping for mortgages is that ARMs typically have lower interest rates, sometimes by as much as 0.50%. On a $200,000 mortgage, that saves you as much as $70 a month! The initial rates are lower because there is less risk involved for lenders when rates fluctuate over the years. With a fixed-rate mortgage, even if rates go up, your mortgage rate will stay the same. With the ARM, you’re agreeing to pay more as the lending market offers more.

That doesn’t matter as much if you’re not planning on owning your home five years from now. If you intend to buy the house, make some improvements and resell it for a profit, the ARM will lower your costs while you’re living there.

There’s still risk involved in the ARM even if you plan to sell the house. If demand drops in your neighborhood, you may have trouble finding a buyer. In that case, you’re stuck with the loan and a likely increasing interest rate. If you can find a buyer, but not for the price you paid for the house, the difference between the sale price and what you owe will follow you around, draining your monthly income until you finally get it paid off. If you don't want to take these risks, a fixed-rate mortgage may be a better option for you. Listerhill offers 15 and 30 year fixed-rate mortgage options.

How much can you afford to put down?

An ARM can be easier to qualify for and provides you with an interest rate that you might not get without a 20% down payment. If you don’t have enough cash on hand to make a large down payment, an ARM might give you some time to build equity. Refinancing your mortgage after the initial period is over can put you in a better position. You can use the equity you have in your home, plus whatever you’ve saved during that time, to put more money down and get a better fixed-rate mortgage.

Of course, this strategy is not without risk either. If the value of your home decreases, you may have a difficult time refinancing for the balance of the loan after the initial term. This would leave you stuck paying the higher interest rates of the ARM. If you can’t make the payments, you still lose your house, regardless of the equity you’ve established.

If you’ve got the cash to make a 20% down payment or are buying in an up-and-down housing market, a fixed-rate mortgage provides you with a good rate that you won’t need to worry about. Your mortgage payment stays the same from month-to-month and there’s no uncertainty about what global economies do in the interim.

What’s your risk tolerance?

At the core of the choice between fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages, is a quick and dirty shortcut. Fixed-rate mortgages are the safer, more conservative choice. Adjustable-rate mortgages are the riskier alternative, but offer the possibility of savings.

If you have the room in your budget to accommodate a potentially fluctuating mortgage payment and enough security in your work, savings and other financial priorities, an ARM does offer the potential to lower your monthly payment. If you’re confident that the value of your home will increase faster than interest rates, an ARM might be a wise investment.

If you’d rather have the security of a fixed-rate mortgage, there’s quite a bit to be said for that. If you’ve found the house you want to raise a family in, the stability of a fixed-rate mortgage may be desirable. If you’re trying to find the simplest path to homeownership, you may find the simplicity of the fixed-rate mortgage very appealing.

To learn more about the mortgages we offer, click here.

For a limited time, get no PMI* in addition to low rates and local service with as little as 3% down for your home loan. Learn more here.

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  • The Great Giveback Official Rules

    1. Eligibility: No purchase or obligation necessary to participate and win. All participants must be 19 years of age or older at time of contest participation. Employees of Listerhill Credit Union are not eligible to register for the contest.

    2. How To Enter the Contest: All Listerhill members who have consumer loans in good standing, (subject to limitations below) are automatically entered. Anyone who takes out a new loan with Listerhill Credit Union, or refinances a loan from another lender with Listerhill Credit Union (subject to limitations below) will automatically be entered to win. Limit of one entry per loan.

    NO PURCHASE NECESSARY: To enter the contest without a loan, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Listerhill Credit Union, P.O. Box 566, Sheffield, AL 35660, Attn: Great Giveback Contest Entry. Limit one entry per person. Written entries must be received no later than July 3, 2021.

    Listerhill Credit Union will not be responsible for incomplete, lost, late, misdirected or illegible entries or for failure to receive entries. All entries become property of Listerhill Credit Union and none will be returned. Any questions regarding the number of entries submitted shall be determined by Listerhill Credit Union in its sole discretion, and Listerhill Credit Union reserves the right to disqualify any entries by persons determined to be tampering with, violating, or abusing any aspect of the contest.

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    4. Determining the Winner: A Credit Union employee will select at random four (4) $500 winners (one per day July 12-15) and one Grand Prize Winner from all entries received on July 16, 2021. You do not have to be present to win.

    5. Prizes: $500 Cash Prize: the Credit Union will award four (4) members with $500 cash each. Grand Prize: The Credit Union will pay up to $25,000 toward your loan with Listerhill Credit Union, or combination of loans. No loan payments will be made to loans with any other lender. No cash equivalent provided, and the total prize amount may be less depending on the outstanding amount of loan balance(s) with Listerhill Credit Union. In no event will the prize awarded exceed the total amount of the winner’s outstanding balance of qualifying loans with Listerhill Credit Union. Federal, state and local taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner. IRS regulations require the Credit Union file a 1099 on behalf of the winner.

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    6. To be eligible to win, all loans must be in good standing (not more than 30 days past due at the time of drawing. Eligible loans are limited to auto loans (no indirect dealer loans), personal loans (no loans secured by real property, such as mortgages, 2nd mortgages, and Home Equity Lines of Credit) and recreation loans made to consumer borrowers (not business or commercial loans).

    6. Participation. By participating, entrants agree to be bound by these Official Rules and the decisions of the Contest. Except where prohibited, acceptance of any prize constitutes winner's consent to the publication of his or her name, biographical information and likeness in any media for any commercial or promotional purpose, without limitation the Internet, or further compensation. Prizes not won and claimed by eligible winners in accordance with these Official Rules will not be awarded and will remain the property of the Credit Union.