What is an Initial Rate Period

An initial rate period is the period of an introductory interest rate on a mortgage or other loan. The initial rate period varies by loan type and can be as short as one month or as long as several years.

BREAKING DOWN Initial Rate Period

The initial rate period is the time an interest rate is lower, usually at the beginning of the loan’s life. Borrowers should be careful when choosing a loan or mortgage with an attractive, low initial rate period. While a loan with a low initial interest rate can seem beneficial, low initial interest rates will reset to higher rates at the expiration of the initial rate period. It is essential to consider the interest rate of the loan over time and to do a careful analysis of loan rates and costs.

Initial Rate Period and Adjusted Rate Mortgage Loans

Adjusted-rate mortgage loans (ARMs) have initial rate periods. These mortgages have an interest rate applied to the outstanding loan balance which varies throughout the loan's life. Typically, the initial interest rate is fixed for a period, after which it resets periodically, often every year or even monthly. The rate resets have a basis of a benchmark or an index. Also, additional fees called ARM margin will apply.

Some specific ARM loans, such as 3-2-1 buydown mortgages, have initial rate periods which are lower, after which the interest rate increases incrementally. The 3-2-1 temporary buydown mortgage allows the buyer a lower initial rate period and provides additional cash up-front during the closing process. 

By offering a greater down payment at closing, the buyer can lock in a lower initial rate period and reduce long-term loan costs. The term gets the specific title from the relationship between the initial rate period and the permanent rate.  The first year the interest will be 3% lower than the permanent rate. In the second year, it will be 2% less, and in the third year 1% lower.

If you qualify for a mortgage loan at 6% but would like to reduce the mortgage payments for the first few years, you may elect to use a 3-2-1 mortgage buydown. However, the closing costs with this type of loan are higher. With the first year, initial rate period, you would pay 3% interest on the borrowed principal. During the second year, the interest rate goes up to 4%.  In the final year of the 3-2-1, your interest is 5%. The loan then continues at 6% for the life of the mortgage. 

The key here is to do your research to ensure you don’t pay more money for a lower initial rate period than you end up saving.