What Is Payment Shock?

The term payment shock refers to the dramatic increase in an individual's debts and liabilities that may cause them to default on their financial obligations. Put simply, payment shock occurs when someone has to pay more in monthly debt than they can afford. This concept is commonly used to demonstrate how much more a borrower has to pay when they take out a mortgage.

Payment shock is also the risk associated with certain mortgage products, including payment option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) and interest-only loans.

Key Takeaways

  • Payment shock is the dramatic increase in an individual's debts and liabilities that may cause them to default.
  • This risk may arise when someone's financial situation changes, when interest rates change, or when an individual increases their debt load—such as when they go from renting to owning a home.
  • Financial institutions use calculations to determine an individual's payment shock threshold and to determine who they will offer to finance.

How Payment Shock Works

Payment shock can result from many different factors. It may be caused by changes to an individual's financial situation—such as a decrease in income or unemployment—changes to interest rates and payment structures, or when an individual makes changes to their debt structure, such as when they move from renting to owning a home.

Lenders often calculate the payment shock borrowers are likely to experience when they first take out a mortgage or refinance. They measure a consumer's ability using various calculations such as the 28/36 Rule, which states that a household should spend no more than 28% of its gross monthly income on housing expenses, and no more than 36% on debt servicing, including housing and other debt such as car loans.

Interest rate changes are one of the major causes of payment shock. Mortgage borrowers—notably, those with adjustable-rate mortgages—commonly experience the following scenarios that may lead to this risk:

Consumers are generally drawn to ARMs because of the relatively low initial monthly payments. They may believe the mortgage will remain affordable. However, these payment structures can backfire if the increase in scheduled payments is beyond the point where they can afford to pay them each month.

Fixed-rate loans do not carry the risk of payment shock which comes with the scheduled increase in payments or interest rates.

Special Considerations

Financial institutions use calculations to determine an individual's payment shock threshold and to determine who they will offer to finance. Payment shock threshold is based on the idea that a borrower, already paying significant monthly housing payments, can handle an even more substantial payment.

A borrower may be a victim of payment shock and loan default if they currently have a modest housing payment and new monthly commitments are significantly higher. For instance, someone who pays $1,200 monthly on rent may experience a payment shock of $400 or 133% on housing expenses alone if they take out a mortgage that requires them to pay $1,600 each month.

Banks or mortgage lenders create their threshold formulas to determine if the ratio of current home loan payments to proposed mortgage payments is low enough to prevent payment shock. However, it is common for lenders to refuse to finance a borrower whose payment will be 200% or more of the current housing payment. The current housing payment may be either a mortgage or rent expenditure. Credit scores and cash flow are also key factors that are taken into consideration when it comes to the allowable payment shock threshold calculation.

This calculation does not mean that a borrower with a low current housing payment will not be able to qualify for a mortgage. Instead, the calculation is used to guide the borrower into the correct loan type to prevent payment shock. These loans tend to be more traditional and conservative, such as fixed-rate mortgages and ARMs with lifetime caps.