30-Year Fixed Mortgage vs. 15-Year Fixed Mortgage

May 17, 2011 No Comments »
30-Year Fixed Mortgage vs. 15-Year Fixed Mortgage

It’s that time again, where we take a look at two mortgage programs to determine which may better suit certain situations.

While it’s impossible to universally choose one over the other, we can certainly pick out some of the benefits and drawbacks of each.

So let’s compare the 30-year fixed mortgage and 15-year fixed mortgage, shall we.

30-Year Fixed Mortgages Are More Popular

The 30-year fixed mortgage is easily the most common and popular loan program available today. Why?

Well, most mortgages are based on a 30-year amortization, meaning they take 30 full years to pay off (mortgage term). And the 30-year fixed never adjusts for that entire duration, making it one of the most simple and straightforward loan programs out there.

In short, it’s safe and easy to wrap one’s head around, and thus very popular. This explains why it’s heavily advertised and touted by most housing counselors and mortgage lenders alike.

But there must be some drawbacks, right? Of course there are…

Mortgage Rates Are Higher on the 30-Year Fixed

First and foremost, you pay a premium for a 30-year fixed vs. a 15-year fixed in the form of a higher interest rate.

Put simply, because you get more time to pay off the mortgage, there is a cost. After all, lenders are agreeing to give you a fixed rate for double the amount of time, which is certainly a risk for them, especially if interest rates rise during that period.

For that reason, you’ll find that 30-year mortgage rates cost a bit more. In fact, mortgage rates on the 30-year fixed averaged 4.63% last week according to Freddie Mac, while the 15-year fixed stood at 3.82%.

That’s a difference of 0.81%, which is certainly very significant and should not be overlooked.

But before you get ahead of yourself, know that the lower rate on the 15-year fixed comes with a higher monthly mortgage payment.

Monthly Payments Are Higher on 15-Year Fixed Mortgages

On a $200,000 mortgage, which isn’t necessarily that large, the monthly mortgage payment would be $432.52 higher on the 15-year fixed mortgage because it’s paid off in half the amount of time.

So despite the lower interest rate on the 15-year fixed, the monthly payment is still significantly higher.  Take a look at the numbers below, using those Freddie Mac average mortgage rates:

30-year fixed payment: $ 1,028.88 (for rate of 4.63%)
15-year fixed payment: $ 1,461.40 (for rate of 3.82%)

However, and this is the biggie; you would pay $170,396.80 in interest on the 30-year fixed mortgage over the full term, versus just $63,052.00 on the 15-year fixed mortgage!

That’s more than $100,000 in interest saved over the duration of the loan if you went with the 15-year fixed as opposed to the 30-year. Pretty substantial, eh.

You’d also build home equity a lot faster, as each monthly payment would allocate much more money to the principal loan balance.

But there’s another snag with the 15-year fixed mortgage option.  It’s harder to qualify for because you’ll be making a much larger payment each month, meaning your DTI ratio might be too high as a result.  So for some borrowers the 15-year won’t even be an option.

Most Homeowners Hold Their Mortgage for Just 5-10 Years

Now obviously nobody wants to pay an additional $100,000 in interest, but who says you will?

Most homeowners don’t see their mortgages out to term, either because they refinance, prepay, or sell and move.

So who knows if you’ll actually benefit long-term? You may have a well-thought-out plan that falls to pieces in 2-3 years, and those larger monthly mortgage payments could come back to bite you if you don’t have adequate savings.

What if you need to move and your home has depreciated? Or what if you take a pay cut or lose your job? Those larger mortgage payments will be more difficult, if not impossible, to meet each month.

And perhaps your money is better served elsewhere, such as in the stock market or tied up in another investment, one that’s more liquid, which earns a better return.

Make 15-Year Fixed Sized Payments on a 30-Year Mortgage

Even if you’re determined to pay off your mortgage, you could go with a 30-year fixed and make larger payments each month, with the excess going toward the principal balance.

This flexibility would protect you in periods where money was tight, and still knock several years off your mortgage, assuming larger payments were made fairly regularly. And there are always biweekly mortgage payments as well, which you may not even notice leaving your bank account.

In summary, mortgages are, ahem, a big deal, so make sure you compare plenty of scenarios and do lots of research (and math) before making a decision.

Most consumers don’t bother to put in much time, but planning now could mean far less headache and a lot more money later.

Pros of 30-Year Fixed Mortgages

  • Lower monthly payment (more affordable)
  • Easier to qualify
  • Ability to buy “more house” with smaller payment
  • Can always make prepayments if wanted
  • Good for those looking to invest money elsewhere

Cons of 30-Year Fixed Mortgages

  • Higher interest rate
  • You pay a lot more interest
  • You build equity very slowly
  • If prices go down you could fall into an underwater quite easily
  • Harder to refinance with little equity
  • You won’t own your home outright for 30 years!

Pros of 15-Year Fixed Mortgages

  • Lower interest rate
  • Much less interest paid during loan term
  • Build equity faster
  • Own your home free and clear in half the time
  • Good for those who are close to retirement and/or conservative investors

Cons of 15-Year Fixed Mortgages

  • Higher payment makes it harder to qualify
  • You may not be able to buy as much house
  • You may become house poor (all your money locked up in the house)
  • Could get a better return for your money elsewhere

Also see: 30-year fixed vs. ARM

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