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Refinance into a 15-year mortgage and save

Refinancing from a 30-year mortgage into a 15-year mortgage is an excellent way of taking advantage of today’s low low-interest rates. You pay more every month but cut your overall interest payments by tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

With the interest rate differential between a 30-year fixed mortgage and a 15-year fixed mortgage hovering at around three-quarters of a percentage point, borrowers continue to find this an attractive refinancing option.

Mike Henry, senior vice president for residential lending with Dollar Bank in Pittsburgh, says, “When we get into times of high volumes of refinancing, like we’ve had for the last two to three years, 15-year is more than half of what is refinanced.

A lot of that is people in 30-year loans refinancing to 15. There are a lot of benefits going from a 30 to a 15.”

You save in interest

One benefit is that by switching to a lower mortgage rate and term, you would save on the interest payments you make for the duration of the mortgage.

Take a hypothetical borrower who bought a house in 2011 with a $200,000, 30-year mortgage at 4.5 percent. Monthly principal and interest are $1,013. By refinancing five years later into a 15-year mortgage at a lower interest rate, the monthly payments would be higher, but she would end up saving tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of the loan.

You pay off loan faster

You pay off a loan faster with a 15-year mortgage because the term is shorter, so you end up free of mortgage debt faster.

Bruce Luecke, formerly vice president of product development for Nationwide Bank in Columbus, Ohio, says, “This might be skewed toward people who have more disposable income and want to pay off their loan faster. Certainly, the opportunity is to free themselves faster from housing debt, if that’s what makes sense for them personally.”

You could decide instead to keep the 30-year loan and continue with a lower monthly payment and invest the money in hopes of a higher return.

Fewer fees charged

Another benefit is that you could pay lower fees to get a 15-year mortgage.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge fees, called loan-level price adjustments, that vary according to credit score and loan-to-value. The fees are “applicable for all mortgages with terms greater than 15 years” — so they don’t apply to mortgages of 15 years or shorter.

For borrowers who are comfortable with the higher 15-year payment, and who would have to pay these fees on a 30-year loan, “the 15-year is a nice option,” says Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans in Detroit.

But … higher payments

The downside to refinancing into a 15-year mortgage is the higher monthly payments.

Some borrowers might prefer to keep a 30-year mortgage and make higher payments whenever they feel comfortable doing so to pay off the loan faster without tying themselves down to a required higher payment. This approach is more common when the rate differential between the 15-year and the 30-year mortgage is low.

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