Are Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Slowly Dying Out?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – A report from Freddie Mac says 95% of all mortgage refinances are for fixed-rate mortgages, even though adjustable-rate mortgages may offer a better deal in short term.

Freddie Mac’s (Stock Quote: FRE) quarterly transition report has the goods, noting that homeowners “clearly preferred” fixed-rate mortgages over ARMs – even if the original loan was an ARM.

On the surface, it appears homeowners are skittish about interest rates moving up, and won’t risk getting caught with their pants down with an ARM that rises if and when rates head north.

But that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. The Federal Reserve has shown no inclination to move from its current zero-rate economic policy, with most Fed observers saying interest rates won’t rise until 2014.

That policy has left rates at historically low levels. Consider the average 30-year fixed-rate home mortgage rate, which stands at 4.22% this week after reaching 4.075% last week, as measured by the BankingMyWay Weekly Mortgage Rate Calculator.

Even that low number is at the high end of mortgage rates this week.

The Freddie Mac data say more Americans homeowners are turning to 15-year mortgages, given the low rates in that category. Fannie Mae reports that 43% of 30-year mortgage holders chose a 15-20 year mortgage during the fourth quarter of 2011.

But homeowners are eschewing ARMs in big numbers: 58% of homeowners who had held a hybrid ARM moved to a fixed-rate mortgage, suggesting homeowners are indeed nervous about interest rates moving upward.

It’s all about saving money and eliminating risk, Fannie Mae says.

"For borrowers motivated to refinance by low fixed-rates, they could obtain even lower rates by shortening their term,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, in a statement. “Compared to a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, the interest rate on a 15-year fixed was about 0.7 percentage points lower during the fourth quarter. And for borrowers who plan to remain in their current home for only a few years, the hybrid ARM allows for even a greater interest-rate savings.”

Given the Freddie Mac data, it looks like homeowners aren’t taking any chances with their mortgages. Increasingly, they’re “all in” on fixed-rate mortgages.

In the short term, at least, fixed-rate customers are leaving a lot of money on the table, but they’re presumably still sleeping better at night.

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