Last week, I announced that Kris and I have refinanced our mortgage at 4.96% for 30 years. In the comments, Ian expressed disappointment that we'd opted for the longer term when we could have afforded to take out a 15 year mortgage at 4.625%. “Starting your 30 years over is no way to get rich slowly,” he wrote.
He has a point.
Kris and I took out the 30-year mortgage because we wanted a safety net. We will continue to pay $2,000 each month toward our mortgage, so we could have afforded the shorter term, but we opted to take a longer mortgage so that we had a cushion if something happened.
But was this a smart move? How much will it cost us to do this? Let's find out.
Running the Numbers
You all know that I love to play with spreadsheets. I pieced one together to run the numbers on our mortgage. Just for curiosity's sake, I first looked at what might have happened if we had not refinanced at all and planned to repay the old loan on a normal schedule (you can play with actual mortgage rates get current numbers):
Existing mortgage pre-refinance
Interest rate: 6.25%
Total payments remaining: 303 (25 years, 3 months)
Regular payment amount: $1386.60
Total repaid: $420,139.80
Total interest paid: $213,794.47
Now, here are the totals if we were to pay the refinanced, 30-year mortgage without any sort of acceleration. Note that the payment amount does not include taxes and insurance (which adds another $280.21 to our monthly obligation).
30-year without acceleration
Interest rate: 4.96%
Total payments: 360 (30 years)
Regular payment amount: $1137.69
Total repaid: $409,568.40
Total interest paid: $196,668.40
By refinancing, we're saving $10,571.40, even if we don't pay extra, and even if we stretch the loan out to 30 years. Next, I looked at a 15-year mortgage without any sort of acceleration.
15-year without acceleration
Interest rate: 4.625%
Total payments: 180 (15 years)
Regular payment amount: $1642.30
Total repaid: $295,614.00
Total interest paid: $82,714.00
Clearly, a 15-year mortgage is a better option — if you can afford to make the payments, which in this case would cost an extra $504.61 every month. (And if inflation isn't running rampant. I have not accounted for inflation in any of these scenarios.)
But Kris and I pay more than the minimum. We pay a flat $2,000. If we subtract $280.21 for taxes and insurance, that means we'll be paying $1719.79 toward principal and interest each month. How does this affect our costs? Let's look at the 30-year loan with accelerated payments:
30-year with acceleration
Interest rate: 4.96%
Total payments: 174 (14 years, 6 months)
Regular payment amount: $1719.79 ($1327.97 final month)
Total repaid: $298,851.64
Total interest paid: $85,951.64
This is the plan we intend to follow. For us, there is a huge difference in the total we pay (and how long it takes us to pay it) between an accelerated and a non-accelerated 30-year mortgage. We save over $110,000 and 15 years by making extra payments.
But we will still pay more interest than if we had taken the 15-year mortgage. What about accelerating the 15-year mortgage? Let's look:
15-year with acceleration
Interest rate: 4.625%
Total payments: 169 (14 years, 1 month)
Regular payment amount: $1719.79 ($960.31 final month)
Total repaid: $289,885.03
Total interest paid: $76,985.03
Financially, this is the best option of all. But it only shaves 11 months and about $6,000 from the standard 15-year option. Ian may be right: it might have made more sense for us to take a 15-year loan.
Doing What Works For Us
Let's assume that Kris and I are going to be able to make our $2,000 payments every month for the next 15 (or so years). If we had opted for the lower-rate 15-year loan instead of accelerating the 30-year loan, we would have the debt paid off five months earlier. What's more, we would save $8,966.61 in interest payments, or roughly $640 per year ($53 per month).
Ian's point — and it's a good one — is that although Kris and I saved $250 per month by refinancing, we could have saved another $50 per month (with no changes to our current plans!) by choosing a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year mortgage.
Did we make the wrong decision? Time will tell. If nothing happens along the way, then this will have been a poor choice. But if we experience some sort of financial setback, our caution just might save our bacon. With the lower payments of the 30-year option, we could live indefinitely on either one of our salaries alone. As with all investments, lower risk brings lower reward — and that's the choice we made this time.
What choice would you have made and why? I suspect that many GRS readers opt for 30-year mortgages when they could afford the higher payments and the shorter term. I know that we're certainly not the only ones among our friends who have done this!
Note: I did not save the spreadsheet that I used to run these numbers. If you're wanting to do similar math, check out the mortgage calculators at Dinktown.
Author: J.D. Roth
In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he's managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.