MMM Challenge: Get yourself a lower Mortgage Rate

It has been a while since we did an MMM challenge, so I’ve got an extra good one for you today, one which can save many homeowners out there $105,000 over a 15-year period. The challenge is: Getting yourself a better rate on your mortgage.

Looking at the ING Direct* website recently, I noticed that home loans were going for an astonishingly low rate of 2.99%. The last time I paid attention to mortgages, it was to refinance my own house a couple years ago, and at the time even the 5% rate seemed amazing to me. The lesson to me was that in this weird financial aftermath of the Great Recession, there are some sweet deals to be had for those paying attention. Any reader who has not recently refinanced to a lower rate should definitely do some shopping around.

But today I noticed there is an even more advanced strategy that has opened up. Check out the current APR spread on interest rates, which you can look up on places like Bankrate, (and also check SoFi – typically better loans without an origination fee).

5/1 ARM loan: 2.972%
15-year fixed: 3.604%
30-year fixed: 4.410%

These rates include all fees as part of the APR number, so when comparing to your own interest rate, it should be equivalent to getting the rate above and paying no fees. Lender fees are silly and are often way too high from less reputable lenders. ING Direct seems to have some of the lowest loan fees overall. But again, the rates above supposedly are the effective rate over the life of the loan after including the fees.

Before I became mortgage-free this year, my strategy was always to go for the 5/1 ARM mortgage. That way you get the lowest rate for 5 years, and you can really go crazy paying off principal of the house because your interest cost is so low. If the rates start to creep up at the end of the period, you can always lock in for a longer period at that time.

Some people, out of fear of the unknown, like to go for a longer lock period. Thus in the United States, the 30-year loan is very popular. The issue with 30 year loans, however, is that they are stupid. They are deliberately designed so that you start off juuuust barely paying any principal at all, $263 per month on a $200,000 loan, so that you really just scrape along in debt for a good part of your lifetime. It is so close to the tipping point that if you cut the payment just $200, it would be a 100-year loan. A few dollars lower, and it would be an infinite-year (interest-only) loan. Going a few dollars higher, on the other hand, gets you out of debt drastically sooner.

Now, certain Advanced Mustachians will point out, “But I prefer an interest-only loan, because I can choose when to make principal payments on my own schedule. Of course I won’t really take 30 years to pay it off, but since the interest rate is low I want to stay leveraged to make bigger investments in stocks instead”.

OK, fine, for those people the 30-year is fine in some cases. But still not in today’s market. Because look how much lower the rate is on the 15 and 5 year mortgages!

Let’s say you have a mortgage right now: $200,000 at 4.5 % on a 30-year schedule. Your monthly payment is $1013/month, of which 750 is interest and 263 principal.

If you are too conservative to switch to a 5/1 loan, then I still recommend that you go out tomorrow and refinance your loan into a 15-year fixed loan instead. You don’t have to worry about interest rates going up after 15 years, because YOUR HOUSE WILL BE PAID OFF THEN!!

But can you afford the payments?

Surprisingly, because of the lower interest rate and the stupid almost-infinity nature of the 30 year mortgage, you can easily afford them! Check it out:

The monthly payment on a the same $200,000 mortgage with a 15-year schedule at the much lower 3.604% APR is only $1439! Only 426 bucks a month more, and all of a sudden your payments are doing this for you: $839 principal, $600 interest.

You’re paying $426 more per month, but your interest costs have actually dropped by $150 per month and your principal payment has more than tripled. Congratulations – you’re actually paying off your house, sukka!

Over the lives of the two loans, the 30-year holder will pay $165,000 in interest, but YOU will only pay $60,000 in interest.

I think almost everyone can find a way to scrape together $400 per month when such a wealth-building opportunity is at stake.. right? The frugality tips alone that have been shared by Mr. Money Mustache in the past month have already freed up more than that amount of money. Cut your cable TV, drop to a less expensive car, ride a bike for local errands, drink less beer, stop buying coffee outside the house. You’re already more than there.

If you still don’t agree, feel free to stop by my new retail location next to Mister Money on Main Street in Longmont for a complimentary PUNCH IN THE FACE!!! Because it might help instill some wisdom that is already quite obvious to me : $105,000 in additional wealth** over 15 years is worth working for!


**Some Fancy Math on the issue:
Using a simple mortgage calculator and fast forwarding to the end of year 15, the two examples above would have you in these positions:

30 year mortgage holder:
-paid $1013/month for 15 years
-has $182,000 in payments remaining to go.

15 year mortgage holder:
– paid $1013/month for 15 years PLUS an extra $426 per month
– $0 of extra payments to go
– this $426/month has saved them $182,000 of future payments.

Note: I had to change this footnote after an astute reader pointed out it was confusing.  Because these payments are stretched out over a long time, the actual equivalent return you’re getting on your $426 payments takes a bit of work to figure out. In the comments, you’ll see that I came up with a figure of 6.78%.  Still quite amazing for a guaranteed investment return, so Do it!!

  • Hector March 7, 2019, 2:20 pm

    Hi. I’m new to your blog. I’m also in a 30 yr mortgage, and while you convinced me a little bit to jump and refinance to a 15 yr mortgage, I was doing some numbers and wouldn’t it be better to invest those extra $426 per month, from your example, on a stock index to get the average 7% you always mention?
    The 15yr vs 30yr mortgage in your example saves you $24,000 in interest. But those extra $426 per month invested in a stock index would give you a gain of around $58,000 after 15 years. That is more than double.
    Am I missing something?
    Thank you.

  • Nurse on the road to FIRE August 31, 2019, 8:15 am

    How does this apply to larger loans? My husband and I live in Southern California. Our home is worth 749000 and we still owe 600000 as we’re working toward our less than ten year plan to FI. We have a 30 year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.2. If we’re still working toward investing heavily to reach FI should we stick with the 30 year for now and refinance once we’re closer to our FI goal or does it still make more sense to switch to a 15 year mortgage now as we continue to invest?

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 31, 2019, 1:16 pm

      If they will let you do it, you should refinance right now – rates are quite a bit lower than 4.2, even if you want to stick with the slower 30 year payoff.

  • Sabrina Sevigny February 11, 2021, 5:36 pm

    Hi. I’m a new/futur money mustache (sorry for my English I’m from Quebec so it’s not my first language). Next month I will start paying my 25 years mortgage (5 years fixed 1,78%) it’s very low. I tough about putting it on 20 years instead of 25 years because we can and it’s fun to pay it faster, but some people are telling me it’s better to invest this money instead because the interest are only at 1,78%. My goal was to pay it in 20 or 15 years (pay more each time we renegotiate the contract because our income will be growing faster for the next 8 years). I don’t know what to do :(


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