The Mortgage Encyclopedia

The Mortgage Encyclopedia

by Jack Guttentag

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071458498
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
Publication date: 06/21/2004
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 350
File size: 14 MB
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About the Author

Jack Guttentag , a.k.a. "The Mortgage Professor," is Professor of Finance Emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He writes a nationally syndicated weekly newspaper column called "Ask the Mortgage Professor." Professor Guttentag's website devoted to helping consumers make better mortgage decisions is He lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

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The Mortgage Encyclopedia

An Authoritative Guide to Mortgage Programs, Practices, Prices, and Pitfalls


The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2004Jack Guttentag
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-145849-8



A-Credit A borrower with the best credit rating, deserving of the lowest prices that lenders offer.

Most lenders require a FICO score above 720. See Credit Score/Use of FICO Scores by Lenders. There is seldom any payoff for being above the A-credit threshold, but you pay a penalty for being below it.

Acceleration Clause A contractual provision that gives the lender the right to demand repayment of the entire loan balance in the event that the borrower violates one or more clauses in the note.

Such clauses may include sale of the property, failure to make timely payments, or provision of false information.

I have never seen a note that did not have such a clause. Borrowers need not concern themselves with it except where the lender has discretion to exercise it without conditions. This would be referred to as a "demand feature," and it would be flagged on the Truth in Lending Disclosure Statement. If that statement shows "This loan has a Demand Feature ...," the note should be read with care. See Demand Clause.

Accrued Interest Interest that is earned but not paid, adding to the amount owed.

For example, if the monthly interest due on a loan is $600 and the borrower pays only $500, $100 is added to the amount owed by the borrower. The $100 is the accrued interest. On a mortgage, accrued interest is usually referred to as Negative Amortization.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) A mortgage on which the interest rate can be changed by the lender.

While ARM contracts in many countries abroad allow rate changes at the lender's discretion (Discretionary ARMs), in the U.S. rate changes on ARMs are mechanical. They are based on changes in an interest rate index over which the lender has no control. Henceforth, all references are to such Indexed ARMs.

Reasons for Selecting an ARM: Borrowers may select an ARM in preference to a fixed rate mortgage (FRM) for three reasons:

• To qualify: they need an ARM to qualify for the loan they want.

• To take advantage of low initial rates on ARMs and their own short time horizon: they expect to be out of their house before the initial rate period ends.

• To gamble on future interest rates: they expect that they will pay less on the ARM over the life of the loan and are prepared to take the risk that rising interest rates will cause them to pay more.

I will return to these reasons later.

How the Interest Rate on an ARM Is Determined: There are two phases in the life of an ARM. During the first phase, the interest rate is fixed, just as it is on an FRM. The difference is that on an FRM the rate is fixed for the term of the loan, whereas on an ARM it is fixed for a shorter period. The period ranges from one month to 10 years.

At the end of the initial rate period, the ARM rate is adjusted. The adjustment rule is that the new rate will equal the most recent value of a specified interest rate index, plus a margin. For example, if the index is 5% when the initial rate period ends, and the margin is 2.75%, the new rate will be 7.75%. The rule, however, is subject to two conditions.

The first condition is that the increase from the previous rate cannot exceed any rate adjustment cap specified in the ARM contract. An adjustment cap, usually 1% or 2% but ranging in some cases up to 5%, limits the size of any interest rate change.

The second condition is that the new rate cannot exceed the contractual maximum rate. Maximum rates are usually five or six percentage points above the initial rate.

During the second phase of an ARM's life, the interest rate is adjusted periodically. This period may or may not be the same as the initial rate period. For example, an ARM with an initial rate period of five years might adjust annually or monthly after the five-year period ends.

The Quoted Interest Rate: The rate that is quoted on an ARM, by the media and by loan providers, is the initial rate—regardless of how long that rate lasts. When the initial rate period is short, the quoted rate is a poor indication of interest cost to the borrower. The only significance of the initial rate on a monthly ARM, for example, is that this rate may be used to calculate the initial payment. See How the Monthly Payment on an ARM Is Determined.

The Fully Indexed Rate: The index plus margin is called the "fully indexed rate," or FIR. The FIR based on the most recent value of the index at the time the loan is taken out indicates where the ARM rate may go when the initial rate period ends. If the index rate does not change, the FIR will become the ARM rate.

For example, assume the initial rate is 4% for one year, the fully indexed rate is 7%, and the rate adjusts every year subject to a 1% rate increase cap. If the index value remains the same, the 7% FIR will be reached at the end of the third year.

The FIR is thus an important piece of information, the more so the shorter the initial rate period. Nevertheless, it is not a mandated disclosure and loan officers may not have it. They will know the margin and the specific index, however, and the most recent value of the index can be found on the Internet, as explained below.

ARM Rate Indexes: Every ARM is tied to an interest rate index. An index has three relevant features:

• Availability

• Level

• Volatility

All the common ARM indexes are readily available from a published source, with the exception of one called the Cost of Savings Index, or COSI. I would avoid it.

In principle, a lower index is better for a borrower than a higher one. However, lenders take account of different index levels in setting the margin. A 3% index with a 2% margin provides the same FIR as a 2% index with a 3% margin. Assuming volatility is the same, there is nothing to choose between them.

An index that is relatively stable is better for the borrower than one that is volatile. The stable index will increase less in a rising rate environment. While it will also decline less in a declining rate environment, borrowers can take advantage of declining rates by refinancing.

The most stable of the more widely-used rate indexes is the 11th District Cost of Funds Index, referred to as COFI (not "coffee"). Most of the others are significantly more volatile. These include the Treasury series of constant (one-, two-, or three-year) maturity, one-month and six-month Libor, six-month CDs and the Prime Rate.

Another series known as MTA is a 12-month moving average of the one-year Treasury constant maturity series. MTA is a little more volatile than COFI but less volatile than the other series.

An ARM should never be selected based on the index alone. That would be like buying a car based on the tires. But if an overall evaluation (see below) indicates that two ARMs are very close, preference could be given to the one with the more stable index.

Current and historical values of major ARM indexes can be found on the following Web sites:,,, and

How the Monthly Payment on an ARM Is Determined: ARMs fall into two major groups that differ in the way in which the monthly payment of principal and interest is determined: fully amortizing ARMs and negative amortization ARMs.

Fully Amortizing ARMs adjust the monthly payment to be fully amortizing whenever the interest rate changes. The new payment will pay off the loan over th

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