A cap is a ceiling, or the highest level to which something can go.
For example, an interest rate cap limits the amount by which an interest rate can be increased over a specific period of time. A typical cap on an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) limits interest rate increases to two percentage points annually and six percentage points over the term of the loan.
In a different example, the cap on your annual contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA) is $4,000 for 2006 and 2007 and $5,000 in 2008, provided you have earned at least that much. If you're 50 or older, you can make an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 each year.
To prevent excessively high payment increases, ARM's place a cap on the amount by which the interest rate may rise at any single adjustment, over the life of the loan, or both.
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