Negative Amortization Loans - More Unfortunate Details


My article on Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans is one of my most popular. It gets all kinds of search engine hits, both here and at my other site. If I don't get at least 20 hits a day on it, it must be a sign that the public has caught on to this loan's horrific gotcha! On the other hand, given the number that are still written, I can get very depressed at how small a percentage of the population does simple research.

I intentionally left a lot of what goes on with these things out of that post, simply because I want to keep these posts readable and comprehensible within the space of no more than half an hour. But I keep getting hits asking questions I didn't deal with, so here goes:

A Negative Amortization loan is defined as any loan where the minimum required payment is less than the interest charges. Regular loans pay off part of the balance every month, whereas negative amortization loans typically have an increasing balance because the difference between the interest charges and what you pay is added to your balance owed.

Because the name "Negative Amortization" causes some difficulty in marketing, they are sold by all kinds of friendly sounding names. "Option ARM" (if you look at my article on loan types here, these are the about the only "true" ARMs with a significant portion of the residential loan market). "Pick A Pay." "Option Payment." "Cash Flow ARM." I've seen all kinds of combinations of these, as well.

Negative Amortization loan rates are typically quoted based upon a "nominal" ("in name only") interest rate. This rate is not the rate of interest that the people who have them are really being charged. It's a thing for purposes of computing the minimum payment. In other words, the minimum payment is computed by using this rate instead of the actual rate that you are being charged. They are being marketed more heavily right now than at any time in the previous twenty-odd years. If you are quoted a rate of 1%, 1.25%, 1.95%, 2.95%, or anything else under about 5% right now, they are talking about a negative amortization loan. If you look at the Truth-In-Lending form, it will list an APR somewhere in the sixes, usually several entire percentage points above the nominal rate. Another way to tell is the presence of several "Options" for payment. If they talk about three of four payment options, guess what? They're talking about a Negative Amortization loan. Note that this is a different situation from "A paper" loans that have no prepayment penalty, in that you are explicitly given these payment options, and may not have any others. "A paper" loans, the minimum payment at least covers the interest (if it's an interest only loan) or actually pays the loan down, and anything extra you pay is applied to principal to pay the loan down faster. I pay extra every month but that's my decision, my choice of amount, not theirs. A negative amortization loan gives you a limited number of choices. Furthermore, there are more of the so-called "one extra dollar" prepayment penalties on negative amortization loans than any other loan type.

Negative Amortization is generally a bad thing because with over 95 percent of those who have them, over 95 percent of the time they are making the minimum payment. That's why they got them, because they couldn't afford the real payment. So their balance increases. They owe more money every month, and due to compound interest, every month the difference between what they owe and what they pay gets wider. This can only end one of three ways. They sell the house. They refinance the house. They get to "recast" point on the loan. None of these is good.

If you sell, the loans come out of proceeds, and the bank gets more money than you originally borrowed, usually plus a prepayment penalty. I keep using a $270,000 loan amount as an example, so let's look at what happens. The minimum payment will be $868.42. But your real rate is not fixed, and even if you've got a good margin and your rate doesn't rise in upcoming months (It will rise), your real rate is something like 6.2%. That very first month, your interest charge is $1395.00. You have $526.58 added to your loan balance. Take this out one year. Your principal has become $276,501.57, an increase of $6501.57. Now the minimum payment increases by 7.5% (another characteristic of this loan) to $933.56. Take it out another 12 months, now at 6.25% (and I'm being really stingy with rate hikes, given how much I think the underlying rates will go up) and you now have a balance of $283,561.76. Now you sell, and as opposed to selling it two years ago, you have $13561 less from the sale than you otherwise would have had. Plus a prepayment penalty of $9484.00, a total of $23,045 the loan has cost you not counting whatever your initial fees were. This is money you are not going to have to buy your next property with. Not to mention that if the rise in value doesn't cover it, you may find yourself short - getting nothing, and maybe even getting a 1099 form for the IRS that says you owe them taxes.

Let's say you don't sell, but refinance, and unlike roughly 70% of everyone with one of these loans, you actually make it to the end of the prepayment penalty period, three years. Your payment has been $998.70 for these 12 months, but your balance has still increased to $291,815.16. Let's say rates have magically dropped back to where they are now. You get a 30 year fixed rate loan at par at 5.875%. Your payment will be $1746.90, as opposed to $1597.15 if you just did that in the first place. But wait, it get's better!

In the fourth year, your payment goes to $1063.84. But nine months in, you hit the recast point! Your balance has grown to $297,000 - 10% over what it was to bein with. It's a thirty year loan, and now it starts amortizing at the real rate for the last 315 months, or until you manage to dispose of it, whichever comes first. Assuming your rate is still "only" 6.5%, your payment jumps to $1967.60 in the forty-sixth month, and this payment is no more fixed than your rate is, which is to say, not at all.

Let's say you have one of the loans with a higher recast - 20 percent instead of 10. Your balance goes to $299,010.60. Then the final year of artificially lowered payment, $1128.98 per month is applied to your loan, but it's accruing $1619.64 in interest and rising. Your loan balance is $305,077 at the end of your minimum payment period. Now your payment (assuming your real rate is still 6.5%, which I think unlikely) goes to $2059.90. If you're able to get a thirty year fixed rate loan at today's rates, your payment is $1825.35. If you couldn't afford $1600 per month in the first place, what make you think you'll be able to afford any of these alternatives? The needless increase in payment amounts to sucking $1.34 per hour out of your pocket, or if you want to think of it another way, you'd have to make $3.00 per hour - $500 plus per month - more to qualify at the end of the period with all that added to your loan, as opposed to right now. And that's assuming the rates are as low in five years, which I do not believe will be the case.

Additionally, I attended a credit provider's seminar a while back, and as I said then, credit rating agencies are currently considering making the fact that you have a negative amortization loan to be a heavy negative on your credit report, all by itself. From the writing above, it should not be hard to see why. Someone who has a negative amortization loan is not making a "break-even" payment. Their balance is increasing. This indicates a cash-flow problem, and cannot go on indefinitely. When the lowered payments expire, they find themselves in a nasty situation, worse than it would be if they had just gotten a different loan in the first place. So if the fact that you have a negative amortization loan knocks you down sixty, eighty, or a hundred points, there is a good likelihood that you will not qualify for any loan nearly so good as you would otherwise have gotten. The last news I had was that they were looking at the modeling data for exactly how strongly it influences your chance of a 90 day late. I don't work for Fair-Isaacson, but my guess, based upon working with people who have negative amortization loans, is that it's going to be towards the higher end of the range I cited.

In short, because most people concern themselves with quoted payment, not interest rate and type of loan, these things are most often sold via marketing gimmicks and hiding their true nature. Those selling them do not concern themselves with what will happen to you after they've gotten their commission check. They are designed (and appropriate for) a couple of specific niches that most people do not fall into. Last set of figures I saw was that they are the primary loan on about 40 percent of all purchases here locally - and owner occupied purchase is not one of the niches they are designed for. An appropriate proportion of the populace to have these might be four tenths of one percent, a figure a hundred times smaller. Shop by interest rate and type of loan, and these look a lot less attractive. As I said, the real rate on these right now (if you've got a good margin) is about 6.2 percent. At par, loans are available that are really fixed for five years at about 5.5 percent, or thirty years at about 5.875 percent, no hidden tricks, no surprises, no gotcha!s. These are not only lower rate, but also better loans.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on May 15, 2007 10:00 AM.

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