Negative Amortization Loans

Payments that don't keep up with interest charges

Concerned
••• CSA Images/Snapstock / Getty Images

Negative amortization happens when the payments on a loan are smaller than the interest costs. The result is that the loan balance increases because lenders add unpaid interest charges to the original loan balance. Eventually, that process can lead to larger payments at some point in the future.

Negative amortization is possible with any type of loan, but it has been popular with student loans and real estate loans.

How Does Amortization Work?

It may be helpful to review the standard amortization process and then contrast that with negative amortization.

Amortization is the process of paying down a loan balance with fixed payments (often monthly payments). For example, when you buy a home with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, you pay the same amount every month—even though your loan balance and interest costs decrease over time.

Monthly payments are calculated based on several factors:

Loan payment calculations provide a fixed payment that will completely pay off your loan at the end of the time period you choose (typically 15 to 30 years for a home loan). Each payment has two components:

  1. Part of the payment covers interest charges on your debt.
  2. The remainder of the payment goes toward reducing your loan balance (or paying off your debt).

To learn more and see examples, see the sample amortization table at the bottom of this page.

How Negative Amortization Works

With some loans, you can pay less than the fully amortizing payment. The main reason to pay less is, not surprisingly, because it’s easier on your cash flow to pay less.

When you pay less than the interest charges in a given month (or whatever time period applies), there’s unpaid interest for that month. As a result, your lender adds that unpaid amount to your loan balance.

If you don’t pay enough to cover interest charges, your payment is also not sufficient to pay down your loan balance. As a result, you owe more on your loan every month. You don’t receive any money from your lender, but your loan balance grows because you’re adding interest charges each month.

The process of adding interest to a loan balance is also known as capitalizing the interest.

Eventually, you’ll have to pay off the loan. You might do so in several ways:

Why Use Negative Amortization?

You need to pay off the debt sooner or later, so why do people choose to let loans grow?

Unable to pay: Sometimes, you simply don’t have the funds available to make significant payments. For example, during periods of unemployment, you might not be able to pay your student loans. With federal loans, it may be possible to apply for deferment, which allows you to stop making payments temporarily. However, interest still applies to the loan balance, and you will be responsible for the interest unless you have subsidized loans (where the government pays those costs for you). Note that you often have the option to pay the interest—while skipping the larger payment—if you want to avoid negative amortization.

Investors: In some cases, investors prefer to avoid large monthly payments. That’s especially true for short-term projects (for example, a fix-and-flip). This is a speculative and risky way to invest, but some people and businesses do it successfully. For the strategy to pay off, you need to sell the property with enough profit to pay off the interest you never paid.

“Stretching” to buy: Some home buyers use negative amortization to buy a property that is currently out of their price range. The assumption is that they’ll have more income later, and they’d rather buy a more expensive property today than buy a cheaper one and have to move again later. Again, this is a risky strategy—you can’t predict the future, and there are countless stories of expectations that never became a reality. Some examples of risky loans include option-ARM loans or “pick-your-payment” loans (which are not as readily available as they used to be).

Example of Negative Amortization

To see negative amortization in action, take any loan and assume that you pay less than the interest charges. Over time, the balance will increase.

For example, assume you borrow $100,000 at 6% for 30 years to be repaid monthly. In this case, you pay nothing each month, and you see that the loan balance increases. You can build and use any payment, balance, or rate you choose.

As you can see, the amount of interest you pay increases each month—along with your loan balance.

Sample Table With Negative Amortization
Month Beginning Balance Actual Payment Principal Interest Ending Balance
1 $ 100,000.00 $ - $ (500.00) $ 500.00 $ 100,500.00
2 $ 100,500.00 $ - $ (502.50) $ 502.50 $ 101,002.50
3 $ 101,002.50 $ - $ (505.01) $ 505.01 $ 101,507.51
4 $ 101,507.51 $ - $ (507.54) $ 507.54 $ 102,015.05
5 $ 102,015.05 $ - $ (510.08) $ 510.08 $ 102,525.13
6 $ 102,525.13 $ - $ (512.63) $ 512.63 $ 103,037.75
7 $ 103,037.75 $ - $ (515.19) $ 515.19 $ 103,552.94
8 $ 103,552.94 $ - $ (517.76) $ 517.76 $ 104,070.70
9 $ 104,070.70 $ - $ (520.35) $ 520.35 $ 104,591.06
10 $ 104,591.06 $ - $ (522.96) $ 522.96 $ 105,114.01
11 $ 105,114.01 $ - $ (525.57) $ 525.57 $ 105,639.58
12 $ 105,639.58 $ - $ (528.20) $ 528.20 $ 106,167.78