A variable rate loan has a changing interest rate based on the current financial markets.This can allow borrowers to potentially benefit from lower rates and a reduced monthly payment. However, it’s important to consider the risks involved, as variable rate loans come with the possibility of interest rate increases and higher payments as well. 

Many Americans opt for a variable loan interest rate when given the opportunity. In fact, 40% of Americans say they would consider a variable rate mortgage.1 Here, we will explore how variable rate loans work, how they compare to fixed rate loans, and what your other financial alternatives are. 

What Is a Variable Rate Loan?

While a fixed interest rate loan has the same rate throughout the repayment process, the rate for a variable rate loan changes, hence the name. This type of funding may provide potential savings on interest payments. However, it’s also important to note that loan interest rates may also increase some months, depending on market conditions. 

When it comes to repayment, borrowers repay their balance in monthly installments over a predetermined period of time, which may vary depending on which lender you go with. 

Advantages of Variable Rate Loans

The primary advantage of variable interest rate loans is their potential to save money while paying back a loan. This flexibility and potential for cost savings are what make variable or adjustable interest rate loans so attractive to many borrowers. 

When financial markets are doing well, those with a variable interest rate will often enjoy a lower monthly payment, thereby enhancing their financial flexibility and freeing up funds for other uses, allowing borrowers to pay off debt and still save money. 

Disadvantages of Variable Rate Loans 

While variable interest rate loans offer potential savings, they come with the risk of rising interest rates resulting in increased monthly payments. The fluctuating nature of these variable loans can make budgeting a challenge, as payment amounts could vary from month to month. 

Finally, in the event of an upward trend in the economy, it is possible that you will end up paying a higher amount of interest over the duration of the loan as compared to a loan with fixed interest rates.

How Do Variable Interest Rate Loans Work?

Before applying for a variable or adjustable interest rate loan, start by researching lenders and comparing their rates and terms. After you have found a lender you think will be a good fit, go ahead and submit an application. The application will typically ask for basic information like your name, address, income, and desired loan amount. 

You can usually expect a credit check to take place during the application process so lenders can get more insight into your financial history and confirm you are not currently going through the bankruptcy process. If approved, review the loan offer, sign the agreement, and receive the loan funds. 

Alternative Personal Loan Options

If a variable interest rate seems risky, consider alternatives like a fixed rate loan. Fixed rate loans offer predictable monthly payments, which remain constant throughout the loan term, regardless of market fluctuations. Other alternative loan options include: 

  • Secured Loans: Funding that requires collateral, such as an auto title loan. 
  • Unsecured Loans: Funding that does not require collateral, like many personal loans. 
  • Payday Loans: Short-term, high-rate funding designed for extreme financial emergencies. 

Installment Loans: Funding paid off in monthly increments, similar to a personal loan.

Variable Rate Loan vs. Fixed Interest Rate Loan

  Variable Rate Loans  Fixed Rate Loans 
Interest Rate  Fluctuates based on market conditions and specific financial index Remains constant throughout the life of the loan 
Cost Over Time  Can decrease or increase depending on economic activity.  Remains the same regardless of market conditions 
Risk  Risk of rising rates, leadings to higher payments No risk of payment increase due to interest rate changes 
Monthly Payments Can change due to interest rate fluctuation.  Remains the same throughout the life of the loan. 
Sustainability  Suitable for borrowers willing to take on some risk for potential savings.  Suitable for borrowers who prefer predictable payments and stability. 

Types of Variable Rate Loans

Variable interest rates are not unique to a specific kind of loan. They can be associated with:

  • Mortgage Loans: Funding used to purchase real estate, typically a home for the borrower. Mortgage rates usually vary, depending on the borrower’s credit score, income, property value, etc. 
  • Home Equity Lines of Credit: A credit line where the limit is calculated based on the equity in the borrower’s collateral. 
  • Auto Loans: Funding used to purchase a vehicle. 
  • Credit Cards: Revolving lines of credit that typically do not require collateral. 
  • Personal Loans: A versatile form of funding best suited for financial emergencies. 
  • Student Loans: Funding used to pay for higher education, usually at a college or university. 

What Impacts Variable Rate Loans?

Key factors influencing your interest rate include inflation rates, economic growth indicators, changes in economic activity and monetary policies set by central banks. 

For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve assisted in pushing interest rates for mortgages below 3%. The purpose of this drop was to stimulate the market and encourage borrowers to purchase real estate and take out mortgages.

Also, the borrower’s creditworthiness and the lender’s specific terms and conditions can also affect the interest rate on variable rate loans. Other factors that can go into the decision making process for loan rates are federal regulations and state-specific laws. 

Variable Rate Loan Calculations

Interest rates for variable rate loans are calculated using several factors, including: 

  • Annual percentage rate (APR). 
  • Loan term. 
  • Current market conditions. 

Understanding the factors that go into determining your interest rates can help you decide whether a specific loan type may be right for you or not.

Variable Rate Loan FAQs

Eligibility for variable interest loan rates can be determined by a several factors, including: 

  • Income. 
  • Credit history.
  • Assets (investments, etc.)
  • Financial history.

The interest rate for variable rate loans are calculated using a specific financial index and may increase or decrease over time depending on market conditions. Each loan is different, so minimum and maximum interest rates may vary based on the individual financial history and credit score of the borrower.

Floating interest rates depend upon the current conditions of the market. So, if there is a major dip in the market, borrowers may see a spike in the interest payments on their variable rate loans. In turn, during a bull market, or when the market is doing exceptionally well, borrowers may be able to save quite a bit of money on rates.

The amount you can get will depend on the type of loan you’re considering. A mortgage might offer several hundred thousand dollars, up to millions of dollars. While a variable rate personal loan might only offer a few thousand dollars. 

Lenders that may provide variable rate loans are not limited to, but include: 

  • Direct lenders. 
  • Private lenders. 
  • Banks. 
  • Mortgage lenders. 
  • Credit unions.

A variable rate loan poses the risk of interest rate fluctuations, which can lead to higher payments if rates increase over time. This unpredictability can make budgeting difficult, as your monthly loan payments may change, potentially causing financial strain if the rates rise significantly.

The primary benefit for borrowers when it comes to variable rate loans is the potential for lower interest costs if market interest rates decrease. This could result in lower monthly payments or a reduced total cost of the loan.

The key difference between a variable and fixed rate loan is whether the rate fluctuates, or becomes floating. With a fixed rate loan, the interest rate remains constant over the life of the loan, meaning payments stay the same. With a variable rate, the interest rate can change; meaning rates may be higher during some months and lower during others.

Borrowers can usually apply for variable rate loans online, over the phone, or in-person. The lender will then review your application and most likely perform a credit check to determine if you’re eligible.

In some cases, yes, you may switch from variable rates to fixed. Some lenders may allow you to convert a variable-rate loan to a fixed interest rate loan, usually for a fee. The terms and availability of switching form variable rates to fixed will depend on your specific lender and loan agreement.

Historical Trends

Historically, variable interest rate loans have been favored in times of decreasing interest rates, allowing borrowers to benefit from lower costs. However, during periods of rising interest rates, the loan’s costs may increase. 

Borrowers, especially those with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), have had to pay careful attention to these trends, as their monthly payments and rates could change significantly based on the fluctuations in the prime rate. An adjustable-rate mortgage is a mortgage loan where the interest rates may fluctuate from month to month. These rates may also be referred to as floating interest. 


Previously, interest rates for many types of loans were calculated using the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). LIBOR is determined by the common lending terms certain banks offer one another. In 2023, LIBOR is set to be replaced by the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR), which is predicted to be a more reliable way of calculating interest. 

Bottom Line: Variable and Adjustable Rate Loan 

A variable interest rate loan can offer a flexible and potentially cost-saving option for borrowers compared to a fixed interest rate. However, they come with the risk of floating payments due to changing market conditions. Depending on your financial situation and risk tolerance, alternative options like fixed rate loans are available. 

It is important to carefully consider your financial goals and evaluate the current economic climate before applying for any type of loan, including variable rate loans. Additionally, staying on top of current market trends can help you make informed financial decisions when it comes to private loans. 

Looking for more information on loans, finances, and more? Check out the CreditNinja editorial/blog page for tons of free resources! 


    1. 40% of Americans Say They Would Get An Adjustable-Rate Mortgage | Rocket Mortgage 
    2. Mortgage Rates Chart | Historical and Current Rate Trends
    3. Federal Reserve Board adopts final rule that implements Adjustable Interest Rate | Federal Reserve Board
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