With Many Loan Options, Pick One That Fits Your Needs

By Benjamin Levisohn
New York Daily News
Saturday, June 23, 2007

NEW YORK -- The way lenders help us buy homes has gotten a lot more confusing since the housing boom and the subsequent bottoming out. For a potential home buyer, the financing options can be bewildering -- and mortgage misinformation doesn't help.

If you're a potential home buyer, you know about the time-honored, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. You know about risky subprime mortgages that have hurt mostly low-income homeowners nationwide. In between, there are other, once-unconventional mortgages that sometimes get a bad rap. Choosing one can save you -- or cost you -- a fortune.

"The majority of people don't realize that the right interest rate in the wrong product can cost them tens of thousands of dollars over time," said mortgage broker Lynn Rogers.

The 30-year fixed is the granddaddy of mortgages. It's simple: Get a good interest rate, send 360 payments to the bank and the house is yours.

But you can get a lower payment with adjustable-rate and interest-only mortgages, at least in the beginning. That can work for you in many circumstances, but be sure you know what you're getting into. When the initial term ends, you could see payments spike unless you refinance, adding another expense. If your house has lost value, you've really got a problem.

But adjustables make sense for borrowers who know they may need to move in, say, five years, or think they can refinance at in a better rate later on.

The loan in which monthly payments are guaranteed to spike is the interest-only loan. The borrower pays only interest -- no principal -- for a term, usually five or 10 years. That keeps the payment low. But when that term is up, interest and principal are due for the remaining term. Interest-only loans also come in the adjustable variety, meaning the rate you pay at the beginning may change.

However, an interest-only loan can work out quite well if a homeowner intends to move or refinance, or if property values rise.

The home loans that have made headlines in recent months, subprime mortgages, are defined by the borrower's credit, not necessarily the terms of payments. But even subprime mortgages have their uses.

Subprime loans help people with poor credit buy homes, such as those who missed payments in the past or maxed out their credit. Perhaps they've recently emerged from bankruptcy.

"The subprime borrower as a group has a history of not making timely payments," said Steve Habetz, president of Threshold Mortgage.

Borrowers typically get an initial teaser rate lower than prevailing rates. They must keep up with payments and improve their credit score so they can refinance when the initial rate expires or face higher payments, sometimes much higher.

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