Negative Amortization: What It Is, How It Works, and Real-Life Examples


Negative amortization occurs when the interest due on a loan is not covered by the borrower, leading to an increase in the loan’s principal balance. This phenomenon is commonly associated with certain mortgage products, offering flexibility to borrowers but also exposing them to potential risks, particularly in fluctuating interest rate environments.

What is Negative Amortization?

Negative amortization, often known as “NegAm” or “deferred interest,” is a financial term describing a situation where the principal balance of a loan increases due to the failure to cover the interest owed. If, for instance, the interest payment is $500, and the borrower only pays $400, the $100 difference is added to the loan’s principal balance.

Understanding Negative Amortization

In a typical loan scenario, the principal balance decreases as the borrower makes payments. However, negative amortization is the reverse; the principal balance grows when the borrower fails to make sufficient interest payments.

Negative Amortization in Mortgage Products

Negative amortizations are often found in certain mortgage products, such as payment option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). With these mortgages, borrowers can choose the amount of interest to pay each month, and any unpaid interest is added to the principal balance.

Graduated payment mortgages (GPM)

Another mortgage type incorporating negative amortization is the graduated payment mortgage (GPM). Initially, the payments cover only a portion of the interest, and the unpaid interest is added back to the principal balance. Subsequent payments include the full interest, leading to a more rapid decline in the principal balance.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Provides flexibility to borrowers
  • May ease short-term financial burden
  • Increases exposure to interest rate risk
  • Can lead to higher total interest payments in the long term

Real-world example of Negative amortization

Consider Mike, a first-time homebuyer who chooses an ARM to keep his monthly mortgage payments low. Despite the initial relief, this strategy exposes him to long-term interest rate risks. If future interest rates rise, Mike may struggle with adjusted payments, and the slower decline in his loan balance will result in higher future repayments.

Frequently asked questions

What is negative amortization?

Negative amortization occurs when the interest due on a loan is not covered by the borrower, leading to an increase in the loan’s principal balance.

Which mortgage products commonly feature negative amortization?

Negative amortizations are often found in payment option ARMs and graduated payment mortgages (GPMs).

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called “Negative Amortization?”

Negative amortization is named for the unusual circumstance where the loan’s principal balance increases rather than decreases when the borrower fails to cover the full interest amount due.

Are negative amortization loans common?

Negative amortization is more prevalent in specific mortgage products, such as payment option ARMs and graduated payment mortgages (GPMs). It is not a feature of traditional fixed-rate mortgages.

Can negative amortization occur with fixed-rate mortgages?

No, fixed-rate mortgages have a stable interest rate, and the monthly payments are structured to gradually reduce the loan’s principal balance, eliminating the possibility of negative amortization.

How does negative amortization impact credit scores?

Negative amortization itself does not directly impact credit scores. However, it can indirectly affect creditworthiness if the borrower struggles with increased payments or faces financial challenges due to the growing loan balance.

What are the risks of negative amortization?

The primary risk is exposure to interest rate fluctuations. Borrowers may enjoy short-term payment flexibility, but if interest rates rise, they could face higher adjusted payments in the future. Additionally, the total interest paid over the loan term may be significantly higher.

Can borrowers choose negative amortization intentionally?

Yes, certain mortgage products, like payment option ARMs, allow borrowers to choose how much interest they pay each month. While this provides flexibility, it also requires careful consideration of the potential long-term consequences.

Key takeaways

  • Negative amortization increases a loan’s principal balance due to insufficient interest payments.
  • Common in certain mortgage products, it provides flexibility but exposes borrowers to interest rate risks.
  • Choosing negative amortization may ease short-term financial burdens but can lead to higher long-term repayments.
View Article Sources
  1. Taxation, Negative Amortization and Affordable Mortgages – Penn Carey Law
  2. negative amortization – Legal Information Institute
  3. What is negative amortization? – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  4. The Negatives of Negative Amortization Loans – Georgia
  5. What Is a Graduated Payment Mortgage? – SuperMoney