Should I Refinance into a 15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage?
With the Federal Reserve tongue-tied and twisted and an easy trade war time-tripping into the future, we find ourselves the beneficiaries of another very appealing low interest rate environment here in the second half of 2019. This stands to benefit many who have mortgages at higher rates and even some who may not fit that exact bill, but who are focused primarily on reducing the term of their loan and perhaps paying their entire balance off at a faster rate. We are seeing a number of homeowners who are seeking to determine if they should abandon their 30-year amortized loans and refinance into a 15-year fixed. What are the key concepts these individuals need to know before they make this leap?
For the vast majority, the mortgage payment will go up. A while back I did the research on this and came up with my "10 and 2" rule. Namely, if you are in a 30-year loan now and have been paying it down for 10 years, then you refinance into a 15-year fixed rate loan with at least a 2% rate reduction over your present loan, only then would you have a new payment that is the same or lower than your current payment. And that's a reach. So for most, refinancing into a 15-year fixed means a higher monthly payment, safe in the knowledge that the additional amount is going to reduce your principal balance and not to additional interest.
You save big long-term. The total finance charge (aka, interest) on a 15-year loan versus a 30-year loan is dramatic. For example, on a $400K loan at 4%, you will pay a total of $287,478 in interest over 30 years. On a 15-year fixed at 4%, you will pay $132,575. But there's a silver lining for the 15. Often the rate on a 15-year fixed will be lower than for a 30, so not only do you save on interest because of the term, but you save on interest additionally because of the lower rate. The rich get richer.
Be mindful of your credit capacity. If you refinance into a 15, you'll have a higher payment reporting on your credit report. Other creditors who may examine your debt-to-income (DTI) as a function of your creditworthiness could limit your access to credit due to the higher payment. This may or may not be a factor for your financial future, but do take it into consideration before you take the 15-year plunge.
It's possible to be debt free but wealth poor. I realize this sounds funny, and paying off a home is a commendable financial goal, but realize that while you are doing it, most of us also need to meet concurrent objectives when it comes to our money. Having a "rainy day" fund, paying off any tax-disadvantaged higher-rate consumer debt, saving for college and retirement and investing outside of real estate are important and worthy objectives and if all of your discretionary income goes into a higher mortgage payment, you could find yourself debt-free but savings poor down the road. That would almost certainly force you to look into refinancing the home again and accessing the equity, likely with a 30-year loan or a HELOC. Don't laugh, we've seen this movie before...
With rates lower, it might indeed be worth looking into a 15-year fixed rate mortgage. But keep the above points in mind as you do. Like in physics, all actions have opposite reactions and finance is no different. Getting a lower rate, paying less interest over term and paying off your home quicker are all enticing objectives. There is a price to entry, however, and any true loan professional can help you assess that cost. Let me know if you need my help at any point in your journey.
Free and clear,
Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Marin Office: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960
Berkeley Office: 1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA 94709
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