Interest Only Loans: Who Should Use Them and How They Work

An interest only loan offers the borrower the flexibility of paying towards just the interest on a loan, with payment for the principal balance arranged for a later date. Depending on the time you plan to be in a home, an interest only loan may be a great option for you. 

Key Takeaways About Interest Only Mortgages

Need quick answers in your journey to finding the perfect home loan? Here’s a quick breakdown of the key facts you need about interest only loans.


  • Adjustable rate mortgages offer lower initial rates for a set amount of time at the beginning of the loan
  • Changes to the rate happen at regular intervals, set up front during your loan process
  • ARMs are a great choice for buyers who know they won’t be in a home for an extended period of time

What is an Interest Only Loan?

An interest-only (IO) loan might be a financing option you’re considering for your property purchase. But how exactly does it work? Unlike traditional mortgages where your monthly payment chips away at both the loan amount (principal) and the interest, an IO loan offers a unique structure during the initial phase of the loan.

For a set period, typically 5-10 years, your monthly payment covers only the interest accrued on the loan amount. Let’s say you take out a $300,000 IO loan. With a 5% interest rate, your monthly payment would be $1,250 (interest only: $300,000 x .05 / 12). Crucially, during this period, the loan’s principal balance of $300,000 remains unchanged. It’s important to note that after the interest-only period ends, the loan transitions to a traditional repayment schedule. At that point, your monthly payment will increase to cover both principal and interest, and the loan will be amortized over the remaining loan term. IO loans can be a strategic tool, but it’s vital to understand how they work and if they align with your long-term financial goals.

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How do Interest Only Loans Work?

An interest-only loan (IO loan) offers a unique payment structure compared to traditional mortgages. Let’s break down how it works with a clear example. Imagine you take out a $300,000 IO loan with an interest rate of 5%. During the initial interest-only period (typically 5, 7, or 10 years), your monthly payment would solely cover the interest on the loan amount. In this scenario, your monthly payment would be $1,250 (calculated as $300,000 loan amount x 5% interest rate / 12 months).

Here’s the key difference from traditional mortgages: throughout the interest-only period, the outstanding loan balance of $300,000 remains unchanged. You’re essentially putting the interest on hold each month, rather than chipping away at the principal amount. This results in a lower monthly payment compared to a traditional loan with the same terms. This frees up additional cash flow that you can use for various purposes, such as:

    • Maximizing rental income: For real estate investors, this extra cash flow can be used to cover property management fees, repairs, or vacancy periods, potentially improving overall investment returns.
    • Renovations and improvements: Homeowners undergoing renovations can benefit from lower initial payments, allowing them to allocate more funds towards the renovation project itself.
    • Short-term financial goals: If you have short-term financial goals, the lower monthly payment can provide some flexibility in your budget.

It’s important to remember that this is just the initial phase of the loan. After the interest-only period ends, the loan transitions to a traditional repayment schedule. This means your monthly payment will increase significantly as it will now cover both the principal and interest. The loan will be amortized over the remaining loan term, which means you’ll be paying down the loan balance with each payment.

An interest-only loan can be a valuable tool if used strategically. However, it’s crucial to understand the long-term implications and ensure you have a plan to cover the higher payments after the interest-only period ends.

Who Should Use an Interest Only Loan?

An interest-only (IO) loan can be a strategic tool for several borrower profiles. Here’s how it might benefit specific financial goals:


Real Estate Investors:

Savvy real estate investors are often drawn to IO loans for their potential to maximize cash flow during the initial investment period. By only paying the interest on the loan, investors free up significant monthly cash that can be used for property management, repairs, or further investment opportunities. This allows them to leverage their capital and potentially amplify returns while the property hopefully appreciates in value.


Borrowers with Short-Term Income Goals:

If you have short-term income goals that align with the interest-only period (typically 5-10 years), an IO loan can provide some financial breathing room. This might be ideal for entrepreneurs launching a business, freelancers building their client base, or individuals anticipating a significant income increase in the coming years. The lower initial payments allow you to focus on those short-term goals while still securing financing for your property.


Homeowners Undergoing Renovations:

Considering a major renovation project? An IO loan can be a temporary solution to ease the financial burden during the construction phase. The lower initial payments can help manage your cash flow while the renovations are completed, potentially increasing the property value and your long-term equity stake. Remember, an IO loan is not a permanent solution for renovation financing, so ensure you have a plan for transitioning to a traditional mortgage payment structure once the renovations are complete.


It’s important to note that an IO loan isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. These loans come with stricter qualification requirements and may not be suitable for everyone. However, for borrowers with a well-defined strategy and the financial capacity to handle the future principal and interest payments, an IO loan can be a valuable tool to achieve their financial goals.

      Financing That Dream Property Could Be Closer Than You Think

      Qualifying for an Interest Only Loan

      An interest-only (IO) loan offers a unique financing option for homeowners and real estate investors, but securing one requires jumping through stricter hoops compared to traditional mortgages. Here’s a breakdown of what lenders typically look for when evaluating borrowers for IO loans:


      Strong Credit Score:

      Expect a higher credit score threshold compared to traditional loans. Many lenders require scores in the high 700s or even exceeding 800 to qualify for an IO loan. A strong credit history demonstrates your responsible borrowing habits and ability to manage debt effectively.


      Substantial Down Payment:

      Be prepared to make a significant down payment, often ranging from 20-30% of the property value. This larger down payment lowers the lender’s risk and assures them you have a vested financial stake in the property. A higher down payment also reduces the overall loan amount you need to borrow, minimizing the interest you’ll pay over time.


      Documented Proof of Income & Future Earning Potential:

      Lenders need to be confident in your ability to comfortably repay the loan, especially considering the increased financial burden after the interest-only period ends. Expect to provide comprehensive documentation of your income, including tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements. If you’re self-employed, be prepared to demonstrate consistent income and strong earning potential. Additionally, some lenders might consider factors like projected future income increases, particularly if you’re expecting a promotion or career advancement.


      Investment Property Type & Minimum Value:

      Some lenders might restrict IO loans to specific property types, such as multi-unit dwellings or commercial properties. This is because these properties are often expected to generate rental income that can help cover the larger principal and interest payments after the interest-only period. Additionally, some lenders might have minimum property value requirements to qualify for an IO loan.


      Strong Financial Plan:

      Beyond the basic documentation, lenders often look for a comprehensive financial plan that demonstrates your ability to manage the loan throughout its entire term. This plan should include details on how you plan to cover the increased monthly payments after the interest-only period ends. Do you have additional income streams planned? Will you refinance the loan into a traditional mortgage at that time? Having a clear roadmap demonstrates your financial responsibility and preparedness for the long term.


      Qualifying for an IO loan requires a strong financial profile and a well-thought-out plan. By meeting these requirements and showcasing your financial stability, you can position yourself to potentially benefit from the unique advantages an IO loan can offer. 

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      Interest Only Loans vs Tradition Loans

      Choosing the right mortgage product depends on your financial goals and risk tolerance. Here’s a breakdown of how interest-only loans stack up against traditional fixed-rate mortgages:


      Lower Initial Payments:

      An IO loan offers an attractive advantage: lower monthly payments during the initial period. This frees up cash flow that can be directed towards other investments, renovations, or managing short-term financial obligations.

      Long-Term Impact:

      While the initial payments are lower, remember you’re not paying down the principal balance during the IO period. This means you’ll owe the entire loan amount (plus accrued interest) when the loan transitions to a traditional repayment schedule. This can result in a significantly higher monthly payment after the interest-only period ends.


      Risk and Appreciation:

      IO loans are suited for borrowers who anticipate their property value to appreciate significantly. If appreciation outpaces the accrued interest, selling the property before the loan matures can cover the outstanding balance. However, if property values stagnate or decline, you might end up owing more than the property’s worth.


      Qualifying for an IO loan is typically more challenging due to stricter requirements. Traditional loans are generally easier to obtain for borrowers with a wider range of credit scores and down payment options.


      Choosing the Right Option:

      An IO loan can be a strategic tool for real estate investors or those with short-term income goals. However, it’s crucial to understand the potential downsides and have a plan to handle the higher payments after the interest-only period. If you prioritize long-term stability and paying off your mortgage, a traditional fixed-rate loan might be a better fit.

      We recommend consulting with a mortgage professional to discuss your specific financial situation and goals to determine if an IO loan is the right choice for you.

      Pros and Cons of Using an Interest Only Loan Program

      Pros: Increased Cash Flow and Flexibility

      Lower Initial Payments: The most significant advantage of an IO loan is the lower monthly payment during the initial period. This frees up significant cash flow that can be directed towards other investments, property renovations, or building your financial reserves. This can be particularly attractive for real estate investors seeking to maximize their return on investment during the initial stages of ownership.


      Financial Flexibility: For borrowers with short-term income goals or those expecting a future increase in earnings, IO loans offer flexibility. The lower initial payments can help manage finances in the short term, knowing that your income will eventually cover the higher principal and interest payments when the loan transitions to a traditional repayment schedule.


      Potential Tax Benefits (for Investors): Real estate investors may enjoy potential tax benefits by deducting the interest paid on their IO loan (consult with a tax advisor to confirm eligibility and potential tax implications).

      Cons: Potential Risks and Long-Term Costs

      Higher Overall Loan Cost: Be aware that IO loans can be more expensive in the long run. Since you’re only paying interest initially, the principal balance remains unchanged. This means you’ll end up paying more interest over the life of the loan compared to a traditional mortgage where you pay down the principal with each payment.

      Risk of Negative Equity: IO loans are particularly risky if property values don’t appreciate as expected. If you owe more on the loan than the property’s value (underwater mortgage), you could face financial difficulties if you need to sell before the loan transitions to a traditional repayment schedule.

      Increased Future Payment Burden: The transition from interest-only payments to principal and interest payments can be a significant financial hurdle. Ensure you have a solid financial plan in place to comfortably cover the increased monthly payments after the interest-only period ends.

      Stricter Qualification Requirements: Qualifying for an IO loan is typically more challenging compared to traditional mortgages. Lenders often require higher credit scores, larger down payments (often 20-30%), and documented proof of income to ensure you can handle the higher future payments.

      Quotes Are Cool, But Real Rates Are Better

      The experienced team at Abo Capital will run your numbers and get you an accurate rate estimate to help you make an actionable mortgage plan. With a deeper understanding of all your numbers, we can guide you to the best mortgage choice for your short- and long-term goals.

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      FAQs About Interest Only Mortgages

      Is an interest only loan a good idea?

      An interest only loan is a great tool for buyers in certain circumstances. Many people leverage this loan for an investment property. Talk to the experts at Abo Capital about your short- and long-term goals; they’ll be able to guide you to the right loan program.

      How long can you pay interest only?

      Most lenders offer a seven year period of paying only the interest on your loan. However, working with an experienced mortgage broker means you may find other timeline options with other benefits. 

      Can I convert an existing mortgage to an interest only one?

      The short answer is yes. However, your current loan and other financial circumstances may impact the ability to convert a loan. You’ll need to review your options with a mortgage broker to understand your full range of options.