Option ARMs

The content provided in this guide is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, financial, or professional advice. Readers are advised to seek the services of qualified professionals to receive personalized advice tailored to their specific situation and needs. By continuing to read this guide, you agree to not hold the author, publisher, or any of their affiliates liable for any decisions made based on the information provided herein.

Option Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (Option ARMs)

Option Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (Option ARMs) are specialized mortgage products that offer borrowers various payment options each month. They are highly flexible but come with their own set of risks and benefits. This guide aims to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of Option ARMs, so you can decide whether they are right for you.

Basic Structure

An Option ARM typically offers borrowers four different payment options each month:
  1. Minimum Payment: Covers only a part of the interest accrued, and none of the principal.
  2. Interest-Only Payment: Covers only the interest accrued during that month.
  3. Fully Amortizing 30-Year Payment: Regular monthly payment covering both interest and principal, calculated to pay off the loan over 30 years.
  4. Fully Amortizing 15-Year Payment: Similar to the 30-year option, but calculated to pay off the loan more quickly, over 15 years.


  1. Flexibility: You can choose which payment option to exercise each month.
  2. Cash Flow Management: Option ARMs can be beneficial for people who have irregular incomes.
  3. Initial Lower Payments: Minimum and interest-only payments can result in lower initial monthly outflows.


  1. Negative Amortization: Choosing the minimum payment frequently can result in the principal amount increasing rather than decreasing.
  2. Rate Adjustment: The interest rate is adjustable, which means it can rise, increasing your payments.
  3. Payment Shock: If the rate adjusts upward and you’re used to making only minimum payments, the increase in monthly payments can be substantial.

Key Terms

  • Teaser Rate: An initial, lower interest rate that lasts for a limited period.
  • Recast: A point in time where the loan is recalculated, usually resulting in higher payments.
  • Index and Margin: Factors that determine the adjustable interest rate.

Who Should Consider Option ARMs?

Option ARMs can be beneficial for:
  • Real estate investors
  • Those with irregular incomes
  • Financially savvy individuals who can actively manage the risks

Who Should Avoid Option ARMs?

  • First-time homebuyers without a clear understanding of the risks
  • Those who can’t manage sudden increases in payment
  • Borrowers who are not disciplined in financial management

Regulatory Concerns

Due to their complexity and risk, Option ARMs have come under scrutiny from regulators. Make sure to understand all terms and consult with a financial advisor before choosing this mortgage type. Option ARMs are complex financial instruments that offer flexibility but come with high risks. Understanding their structure and implications is crucial for making an informed decision. Before opting for an Option ARM, consult with financial experts to assess whether this mortgage type aligns with your financial goals and risk tolerance.


An Option ARM is a type of adjustable-rate mortgage that gives borrowers the flexibility to choose from several monthly payment options: a minimum payment, an interest-only payment, or a fully amortizing payment that pays off the loan over 15 or 30 years.

The interest rate on an Option ARM adjusts periodically based on a reference index plus a margin. The rate adjustment can lead to changes in the monthly payment and the loan balance.

Negative amortization occurs when the monthly payment is not enough to cover the interest due on the loan, causing the unpaid interest to be added to the loan balance. This can lead to an increase in the total amount owed.

The main risks include the potential for negative amortization, payment shock when the loan recasts to fully amortizing payments, and the uncertainty of future interest rate adjustments.

The loan recasts when the borrower is required to start making fully amortizing payments, typically when the loan balance reaches a certain cap or after a specified period. This can result in a significant increase in monthly payments.

Yes, borrowers can typically make additional payments to pay down the principal and avoid negative amortization. However, some Option ARMs may have prepayment penalties.

If you consistently make minimum payments resulting in negative amortization, your home equity could decrease, or you could end up owing more than your home is worth.

If interest rates rise significantly, your adjusted interest rate could increase, leading to higher monthly payments and potentially more negative amortization.

Qualification criteria depend on the lender, but borrowers typically need to have good credit and provide proof of income. Some Option ARMs were issued with lax underwriting standards, contributing to the financial crisis.

After the 2008 financial crisis, the availability of Option ARMs significantly decreased, and they are now much less common. New regulations and stricter underwriting standards have also made these types of loans rarer.

By continuing to use our website, you acknowledge that you have read and understood our Disclaimer, Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service. Your continued use of the site signifies your agreement to these terms.