According to Freddie Mac’s most recent survey, there is currently a spread of about 0.5% between the 15- and 30-year fixed rate mortgage benchmarks.
I think most people naturally assume that, when it comes to choosing between a 15- or 30-year fixed rate mortgage, the 15-year loan is usually the better option anyway. Considering the current spread, I’m sure a lot of folks out there think they’d be absolutely crazy to take out a 30-year loan.
All things being equal, a 15-year mortgage allows you to pay off your mortgage twice as fast while saving a significant chunk of money on interest. However, the 30-year mortgage is a more logical choice because it offers so many more advantages over its shorter-termed cousin.
Here are several big reasons why I think a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is the more pragmatic choice:
Lower payments. Of course, the biggest advantage of the 30-year mortgage is that it comes with lower payments; the money you save can then be invested or used as you see fit.
More budget friendly. Those lower payments not only take the strain off tight budgets but, if need be, they also allow you to stretch your dollar enough to purchase a more expensive home.
Increased flexibility. Ten years ago, with potential layoffs looming, I refinanced from a 15-year to a 30-year mortgage in order to lower my monthly payments by over 40%. To this day, I sleep a lot better knowing that my mortgage payment is only $600 per month instead of $1000.
More control. With a 30-year mortgage you’re almost always free to make additional principal payments necessary to pay off your loan in 15 years without penalty. However, you’re never obligated to do so, and can always change your mind as life’s circumstances dictate. With the 15-year loan, you’re hopelessly committed to giving that extra money to your lender each month — whether you can really afford to or not.
Reduced financial vulnerability. By paying your lender that additional principal every month, you may be locking up too much money into your house. While it’s true that the shorter loan builds home equity faster, you still need a lender’s permission to tap into it with a home equity loan. If you lost your job, it’s highly unlikely your bank would agree to give you such a loan, making that equity unavailable when you most needed it.
More opportunity for financial balance. Yes, building home equity and getting that house paid off is a noble goal. However, for young people just starting out, there are often other very important financial obligations that need to be addressed too. The higher payment that comes with a 15-year mortgage makes little sense if it leaves you unable to build an emergency savings account, or contribute anything to your 401(k) plan, IRA, and perhaps your kids’ college funds.
Bigger tax deductions. I can already feel the nasty emails coming my way: “Agreeing to pay more interest in exchange for a bigger tax deduction is like spending a dollar to save a dime!” I get it; this should never be the only reason for taking a 30-year mortgage over a 15-year mortgage. However, all things being equal, for people who can still take advantage of itemized deductions, the larger write-off for the 30-year loan does temper the interest savings of a 15-year loan — if only a little bit.
Effective inflation hedge. Inflation erodes the value of the dollar over time. As a result, payments made during the last 15 years of a 30-year loan are significantly lower in real terms than the day you first get the loan. That’s why banks hate sustained periods of high inflation: folks with longer-term fixed-rate loans end up repaying those loans with dollars that are worth far less than the value of the dollars they originally borrowed.
No matter how you look at it, the faster inflation rises, the less sense it makes to pay off the mortgage early. With that in mind, a 30-year loan is definitely your best opportunity to stick it to the bank. For many people, I suspect that’s probably reason enough to choose one.
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