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SmartAsset: 15- vs. 30-Year Mortgage Term

Choosing a mortgage is an integral part of the home buying process. Opting for a 15-year mortgage term instead of the traditional 30-year term seems like a smart move, right? Not necessarily. Going with a shorter mortgage term does have some interest-saving benefits. However, if your income is too low for a 15-year term, a 30-year mortgage will be cheaper on a monthly basis. If you’re on the fence about which type of mortgage you should choose, take a look below to figure out which one is right for you.

A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan for your home buying needs and goals.

How Mortgage Terms Work

The main difference between the 15-year and 30-year mortgage terms is how payments and interest add up. With a 15-year mortgage, your monthly payments are higher but you’ll pay less in interest overall. With a 30-year mortgage, the opposite is usually true. You’ll end up paying more for your house due to the interest. But your mortgage payments will typically be smaller.

When you’re trying to decide on a mortgage term, think about what’s best for your budget. Try weighing it against the overall costs. For example, let’s say you want to borrow $150,000 toward the purchase of a home. You can choose between a 15-year mortgage rate at 6.75% or a 30-year mortgage at 7.25%. On the 15-year plan, your payment would be approximately $1,327 a month, not including insurance and taxes. You would end up paying over $88,000 in interest over the life of the loan.

If you opted for a 30-year loan, your payment would drop to $1,023 a month. But then you would pay almost $218,000 in interest over 30 years. You would have around $300 extra a month to pay down debt, build emergency savings or fund your retirement. That could be greatly beneficial, but your home would also come with a much bigger cost over time.

Comparing 15-Year and 30-Year Mortgages

While it’s impossible to forecast exactly what your future mortgage payments will be, we can make some predictions. Below we use SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator to break down how a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage compare when applied to a $200,000 loan. Check it out here:

15-Year vs. 30-Year Mortgage Comparison
Mortgage Type Loan Specifications Interest Rate Your Payments Total Amount
30-Year Fixed-Rate – Home value: $250,000
– Down Payment: $50,000
– Loan Size: $200,000
7.25% – Mortgage payment: $1,364/month
– Homeowners insurance: $104/month
– Property Taxes: $401/month
$1,870
15-Year Fixed-Rate – Home value: $250,000
– Down Payment: $50,000
– Loan Size: $200,000
6.75% – Mortgage payment: $1,770/month
– Homeowners insurance: $104/month
– Property Taxes: $401/month
$2,275

When a 15-Year Mortgage Makes Sense

SmartAsset: 15- vs. 30-Year Mortgage Term

Choosing a 15-year mortgage can be the right choice for some homeowners, but it all depends on your personal situation. If you’re thinking of going the shorter repayment route, be sure to evaluate your finances carefully first. This way you can make sure that you’ll be able to sustain the higher monthly cost.

One thing to consider is your job situation. If you have a stable career and don’t expect your income to drop significantly at any point, then a 15-year mortgage may be the right call. But what if you were to unexpectedly lose your job and couldn’t make your mortgage payments? You wouldn’t have enough income to qualify for a refinance. This situation would spell serious financial trouble.

You will also want to think about how having a higher mortgage payment will impact your financial goals. Paying down your mortgage faster could seem like a great plan. But if it means losing out on building your nest egg or for your child’s education, then maybe it’s not great for the long run.

When a 30-Year Mortgage Makes Sense

Extending your mortgage term over 30 years gives you a little more wiggle room when it comes to saving. Plus you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck when it comes to the tax benefits. You’ll be able to claim the mortgage interest deduction longer. This can put more money back in your pocket each year. This could be particularly beneficial if you expect to still be paying for the home after you’ve retired. Since you may not be able to take advantage of other tax deductions, the mortgage deduction could help.

The other advantage to going with a 30-year mortgage term is that you have the option of prepaying your mortgage. Say you pay an extra $100 each month or throw your tax refunds at your principal balance each year. You’ll be paying your mortgage down faster and saving money on interest without straining your budget.

Even something as simple as making payments on a biweekly schedule rather than monthly can shave years off your mortgage. Keep in mind that it takes discipline to pay down your mortgage early. If you don’t follow through, you’ll end up forking over big bucks in interest. Also be sure to ask your lender whether you’ll get hit with a penalty for prepaying.

Bottom Line

SmartAsset: 15- vs. 30-Year Mortgage Term

When you’re comparing mortgage terms, you need to look beyond the interest and see the bigger financial picture. You’ll be able to build equity in your home faster by paying it off in 15 years. But this also means you might pay a price in terms of sacrificing your other financial goals. Going with the longer term gives you more freedom when it comes to saving and investing. But in this case, you may get tired of carrying the debt burden. Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for your budget and your peace of mind.

Tips for Buying a Home

  • If you’re not sure what kind of mortgage will be best for your long-term financial situation, consider working with a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Before you even begin the search for a home, stop by SmartAsset’s home affordability calculator. This will help to keep your home choice realistic and within your financial means. It might not be a bad idea to look over current mortgage rates as well.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/Weekend Images Inc., ©iStock.com/jhorrocks

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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