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Understanding the 5/1 ARM Loan: How It Works and Its Pros and Cons

When getting a new mortgage , you may have heard of the 5/1 ARM loan. Suppose you're looking to save money on monthly payments and take advantage of lower interest rates. In that case, this type of loan may be an attractive option for you. However, it's worthwhile to understand how this type of loan works and weigh the pros and cons before committing.

In this article, we'll explore the 5/1 ARM loan in detail, including how it works, its advantages and disadvantages, and what factors you should consider when deciding if it's the right choice for your financial situation. Suppose you've read this article to the end. In that case, you'll have a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of a 5/1 ARM loan.

What Is A 5/1 ARM Loan?

There is a type of loan called a 5/1 ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) where the interest rate will remain fixed for the first five years; then, it will be adjustable. The 5/1 ARM is a popular option designed for lower initial interest rates.

The terms "variable" and "adjustable" are often used interchangeably. Usually, when people talk about variable-rate mortgages, they mean adjustable-rate mortgages. However, a variable-rate mortgage has an interest rate that changes monthly. In contrast, an ARM has a fixed rate for the initial years and then becomes adjustable.

During the initial period of the loan term, the fixed rate on an ARM is often lower than the comparable rate for a fixed-rate mortgage. The length of the initial fixed-rate period may vary, with rates locked in for 7 or 10 years in some cases. 5-year ARMs, however, are a popular choice.

Once the fixed-rate period of the term is over, the ARM interest rate adjusts up or down based on current market rates. The rate can only increase by a maximum amount per adjustment, which usually happens once a year.

You calculate the new rate by adding an index number to the margin specified in your mortgage documentation when the interest rate adjusts. Most ARM rates are determined using Secured Overnight Financing Rates  (SOFRs), Cost of Funds Indices (COFIs), and Constant Maturity Treasuries (CMTs).

When your interest rate changes, your payment is recalculated so you can pay off your loan by the end of your term. While terms on ARMs are usually 30 years, they don't have to be. You need to carefully consider the terms and conditions of the loan before deciding if an ARM is the right option for you.

How Hybrid Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (Like 5/1 Hybrid ARM) Work

A Hybrid Adjustable-Rate Mortgage, such as the 5/1 Hybrid ARM, is a popular type of adjustable-rate mortgage. It offers an introductory fixed rate for a certain number of years, after which the interest rate adjusts annually. Other options for hybrid ARMs include 3/1, 7/1, and 10/1 ARMs, which offer introductory fixed rates for three, seven, or ten years, respectively.

A hybrid ARM is available from most lenders, with the 5/1 hybrid ARM being the most popular. The 5/1 hybrid ARM is also called a five-year fixed-period ARM and features an interest rate that adjusts based on an index plus a margin. The initial interest rate on these ARMs is often lower than on a traditional fixed-rate mortgage.

Other ARM structures exist, including the 5/5 and 5/6 ARMs, which have an introductory period of five years, followed by an interest rate adjustment every five years or six months, respectively. The 15/15 ARM adjusts only once after 15 years and remains fixed for the rest of the loan term. A 2/28 or 3/27 ARM, which is less common, has a fixed rate for just two or three years, followed by adjustable rates for the remainder of the term. Rather than adjusting annually, some of these loans adjust every six months.

How Should I Shop for a 5/1 ARM?

When shopping for a 5/1 ARM loan, you must pay attention to specific numbers to help you make the right choice. One of the numbers you'll come across is the advertised 5/1 ARM with 2/2/5 caps. Each number is explained as follows:

  • Fixed or initial rate period: The first number indicates the length of time the interest rate will remain fixed at the beginning of the loan term, which, in this case, is five years.
  • Adjustment intervals: The following number represents the frequency at which the interest rate adjusts after the fixed-rate period of the loan ends. In the case of a 5/1 ARM, this adjustment occurs once a year.
  • Initial cap: The first cap limits the maximum amount the interest rate can increase during the first adjustment, even if market conditions drive rates higher. For a 5/1 ARM with 2/2/5 caps, the initial cap is 2%.
  • Caps on subsequent adjustments: After the first adjustment, further adjustments are subject to a cap that limits the amount the interest rate can increase. In this case, the cap is also 2%.
  • Lifetime cap: The final number is the maximum increase allowed over the life of the loan, which, in this case, is 5%.

While there's no limit to how much your interest rate would decrease if interest rates fall, it's vital to be aware of the caps on the maximum rate increases to avoid financial surprises. By understanding these numbers, you can decide when to select an ARM loan that works best for you.

Exploring the Advantages and Disadvantages of a 5/1 ARM

There are several advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding whether a 5/1 ARM is the right mortgage option for you.


  • Affordability: Part of the main benefits of a 5/1 ARM is the lower initial monthly payment compared to a traditional 30-year fixed mortgage. In the past few months, interest rates for ARMs have been one percentage point lower than those for fixed loans, making them more affordable for homeowners.
  • Greater purchasing power: The lower initial payments can also allow you to take out a bigger mortgage and buy a more spacious or better-located home. However, you should consider your financial situation and ensure that you can afford the loan amount you are considering, as taking on too much debt can lead to financial strain and increased chances of default.
  • Potential rate decrease: If interest rates decrease, your monthly payment may decline after the initial fixed-rate period ends and decrease further during future resets.


  • Higher cost risk: One of the most significant disadvantages of a 5/1 ARM is the risk of higher rates after the fixed-rate period ends. If interest rates have risen during this time, your monthly payment will increase accordingly.
  • Complexity: ARMs are more complicated than fixed-rate mortgages because of various moving parts, including rate caps, indexes, and resets. Understanding these technical aspects is essential to make informed financial decisions as a homeowner.
  • Interest-only payments: Some 5/1 ARMs allow you to make only interest payments during the initial fixed-rate period, but they will significantly increase after this time to include the principal. This option may help lower your initial payment but can be risky if home values decrease, as it can leave you with a larger loan balance than the value of your home.

Is a 5/1 Hybrid ARM a Good Option for Homebuyers?

It would be a viable choice for homebuyers to get a 5/1 hybrid ARM if they plan to move soon or are confident in their ability to refinance  a new loan before the interest rate adjusts.

Choosing a hybrid ARM with a 5/1 rate could be an excellent choice if interest rates remain low and index rate adjustments are minimal. It can save more money over time than a fixed-rate mortgage.

However, it is crucial to consider how beneficial refinancing is and where interest rates may be when switching to a new loan. If interest rates increase, then refinancing to a new fixed-rate loan or even a new ARM may yield little savings on interest.

Unaffordable payments may force you to sell the property or refinance. The worst-case scenario would be foreclosure if you defaulted on your loan. Consider how realistic a rate adjustment may be for your budget if you are not planning to refinance or move.

Frequently Asked Questions About 5/1 ARMs

If you're considering a 5/1 ARM, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about 5/1 ARMs:

Why are 5/1 ARMs referred to as hybrids?

5/1 ARMs are called hybrids because they have a fixed rate for the first five years, similar to a fixed-rate mortgage. After the initial 5-year period, the rate can adjust annually and become more unpredictable based on changes in interest rates.

What is a convertible ARM?

A convertible ARM  is a type of ARM that allows you to convert to a fixed-rate mortgage at a specified time in the future. Taking advantage of lower introductory rates and having the security of a fixed rate down the road can be a good combination.

What is a 5/1 ARM interest-only loan?

A 5/1 ARM interest-only loan is a non-conforming mortgage where you only pay interest during the initial 5-year period. When you start paying your mortgage, you'll pay principal and interest.

What should I do if interest rates increase dramatically?

If interest rates increase dramatically, consider refinancing your mortgage. Many people choose an ARM because they plan to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed-rate period ends.

How are 5/1 and 7/1 ARMs different?

In an ARM, the first number represents the number of years in the introductory period. In contrast, the second number indicates how often the interest rate can adjust after that period. A 5/1 ARM has a fixed rate for the first five years, which can change annually. A 7/1 ARM, however, has a fixed rate for seven years, followed by annual adjustments. Lastly, a 7/6 ARM has a fixed rate for seven years, which can change every six months.

The Bottom Line

A 5/1 ARM can save you money if you don't plan to stay in the home beyond the introductory period. However, if your plans change, you may need to refinance to avoid the potential impact of interest rate adjustments on your monthly budget.

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