What Mortgage Term Is Best?

Last updated on August 7th, 2018


Mortgage Q&A: “What mortgage term is best?”

Before you set out to snag the lowest rate on your purchase mortgage or mortgage refinance, you’ll need to decide on (or at least narrow down) a mortgage term.

Choosing an Appropriate Mortgage Term

  • One thing you’ll need to decide on when taking out a home loan
  • Is the duration of the mortgage, known as the “loan term”
  • This is how long it will take to pay off the mortgage in full
  • Based on regular monthly principal and interest payments

By “mortgage term,” I mean the duration of your mortgage. Why does it matter? Well, your mortgage payments and the amount of interest you pay will be determined, in large part, by the term of your mortgage.

For example, a 15-year mortgage is paid off in half the time of a 30-year mortgage, so the monthly mortgage payment will be much higher.

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It won’t be double the amount of the 30-year, because you’ll pay less interest over the shorter period of time, but it’ll be significantly higher.

This can obviously stretch a budget thin, so it’s important to decide on term before shopping to ensure you wind up with the right loan program to fit your unique financial profile.

The 30-Year Mortgage Term Is Standard

mortgage terms

  • The 30-year fixed mortgage is the most popular loan program available
  • It features a 30-year loan term and a fixed rate for the entire duration
  • Most ARMs also have a 30-year term despite coming with adjustable rates
  • However there are plenty of other terms available too so be sure to explore all of them!

Most mortgages are based on a 30-year amortization, meaning they are paid off in full after 30 years.

At the same time, not all 30-year mortgages are fixed for 30-years. That’s right, there are a ton of mortgages based on a 30-year payoff schedule that can adjust monthly or annually.

A common example would be the 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage, which is amortized over 30 years, but adjustable after just five.

It’s fixed for the first five years, and adjustable for the remaining 25, but still a 30-year term loan.

Same goes for a 7/1 or a 10/1 ARM, except their fixed period is seven or 10 years, respectively, before going adjustable.

15-Year Mortgage Terms Are Also Very Common

  • Aside from 30-year terms, 15-year terms are the next most common
  • They require much higher monthly mortgage payments
  • As a result of the shorter amortization period
  • But can result in big savings and lower interest rates

Then there are 15-year mortgages, which are amortized and paid off in 15 years. They are fixed for the entire duration, so you don’t have to worry about your mortgage rate adjusting higher (or lower, not that you’d worry about that).

These are a great choice if you want to pay off your mortgage early, assuming your money isn’t better served elsewhere.

With a 15-year mortgage, you’ll enjoy a lower mortgage rate than a 30-year loan, and pay much less interest. A win-win really.

Let’s look at an example, assuming the loan amount is $200,000.

30-year payment: $998.57 (4.375% rate)
Total interest paid: $159,485.20

15-year payment: $1,429.77 (3.50% rate)
Total interest paid: $57,358.60

So the 15-year mortgage would save you roughly $100,000 in interest over the full term, but your monthly mortgage payment would be about 50 percent higher.

If you could handle it, and actually want to pay down your mortgage, it’d be a worthwhile move, especially if you were refinancing from a higher rate.

If you rate was at, say, 6.5 percent on a 30-year term, refinancing to a rate of 3.5 percent on a 15-year term today would only be an additional $200 a month.

[30-year fixed vs. 15-year fixed]

What Other Mortgage Terms Are Available?

  • Other mortgage terms include 10-, 20-, 25-, and 40-year terms
  • But not all banks and lenders offer these options
  • You may also be able to choose your own home loan term
  • Where you can pick any loan term you like

Mortgage terms don’t stop at 30 and 15. There are plenty of other options, including 10-year, 20-year, 25-year, 40-year, and even five-year terms.

Yep, you can pay your mortgage off in just 10 years or stretch it out to 40 years if you need a little more time.

If 15 years is too quick, but 30 is too long, there’s always the 20-year mortgage.

There are even mortgages amortized over 40 years that are due in 30, so the options are endless really.

The last one on the list above refers to the ING Easy Orange Mortgage, which is due in full after just five years. Of course, they’re setup so borrowers refinance/sell at that time, and they’re amortized over 30-years, making them balloon mortgages.

Average Mortgage Term Is Much Shorter

  • Most homeowners don’t keep their mortgages full-term
  • Instead they’re often kept for less than a decade
  • So consider that if you want to save money
  • You might be able to go with an ARM instead

Keep in mind that most people only hold onto their mortgages for about seven years.  This is a result of either selling the home and moving on, or refinancing the existing mortgage to take advantage of lower mortgage rates, or to get cash out.

So whatever mortgage term you choose, be sure it makes sense for your particular situation, and also from both a mortgage rate and monthly payment perspective.

Don’t pick a 20-year over a 30-year term if the rate isn’t significantly better.

And don’t go after a 15-year term if you think you’ll have a tough time making the larger payments, or if you think you may move in just a few years.

To summarize, the longer the term, the lower the mortgage payment, but the more interest you’ll pay and longer it will take to build home equity.

Tip: If you aren’t sure what term to pick, you can always make larger payments on a longer-term loan (biweekly mortgage payments).

If you go with a shorter term, you’re stuck with a large payment no matter what.  So if you want to err on the side of caution, go with the standard 30-year term and make extra principal payments when and if you can.

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