When purchasing a new home, more than 90 percent of buyers opt for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage.
This type of mortgage is affordable, flexible and easy to keep track of. Because borrowers are locked into a rate, it's also a stable option that won't end up costing more unexpectedly in the future.
But financial expert and former CNBC host Suze Orman says homebuyers are overlooking an easy way to save big. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with choosing a 30-year mortgage, "I wish more people would take out a 15-year mortgage instead," she writes in a post on her blog.
The reason Orman favors a shorter term loan is simple: It's cheaper. In March, "the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate was 4.3 percent, while a 15-year [had] an average fixed rate of just 3.5 percent," she wrote. "That's nearly a percentage point less!"
In 2013, the 15-year fixed rate mortgage interest rate dropped to just 2.5 percent, its lowest point ever, Freddie Mac reported. On Tuesday, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is at 3.8 percent, while the 15-year fixed rate mortgage is at 3.14 percent, according to Bankrate.
A 1 percent variance can actually make a huge difference. On a $250,000 loan, paying 4.3 percent for 30 years amounts to $195,000 in interest, according to Orman, while 15 years at 3.5 percent comes out to only $72,000. That's more than $100,000 in savings.
The shorter term loan amounts to huge savings when the rates are similar as well. On a $250,000 mortgage, you'll pay $78,000 in interest over the full term of a 15-year plan and $169,000 for a 30-year plan, even if they both offer 3.8 interest rates.
However, a 15-year mortgage isn't the right choice for everyone. While the lower interest rate saves money in the long term, the monthly payments are much higher, which simply isn't possible for many families.
Self-made millionaire David Bach says that a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is his "first choice for most people" because they're "a great deal when interest rates are low, since they lock in that low rate for the next 30 years."
Bach agrees that 15-year mortgages are worth considering in certain situations: "If you are a really committed saver and plan to live in your home longer than 10 years, this is a great loan," he writes in "The Automatic Millionaire." "You can lock in a rate and be debt-free in a decade and a half."
If you do choose to go the 30-year route, Bach suggests a simple trick to increase savings: Switch to a biweekly payment plan and pay half of your monthly payment every two weeks.
That means if your mortgage payment is $1,500 a month, you will pay $750 every two weeks. Since you're making payments every other week, rather than once a month, you'll end up making one extra payment a year.
Bach explains: "By paying half of your monthly payment every two weeks, over the course of a year you will make 26 half-payments — the equivalent of 13 full payments, or one more payment than there are months in a year."
Orman offers similar advice for those already locked into a 30-year plan who wish they could switch to a 15-year mortgage.
"You can make additional payments on your existing loan and get it paid off faster," Orman says. "Contact your current lender and ask them to send you an amortization schedule for what your monthly (or annual) extra principal payments would need to be to get the loan paid off in 10 years, or 15 years, or whatever your target is."
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