Fixed Rate Loans Are Risky, Too, Part Two

Jessica Lanning

Here’s Part Two of this conversation:  Fixed rate loans are really expensive.  I can’t seem to let this one go.  Told you it was a pet peeve of mine. Probably always will be.

But interest rates are so low!

Yes, I know.  But interest rates don’t matter. Stop chasing sexy interest rates while forsaking good financial decision-making.

I’ll also wager that the same familial financial advice-givers that told you to get the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage also told you not to spend money on depreciating assets, like a fancy car.  They say that it’s not financially prudent to throw a lot of money at something that you don’t have for very long and is ultimately disposable. (This particular piece of advice I agree with, by the way, but I will also concede that fancy cars are fun to drive and are a nice luxury item to purchase with disposable income.)

Please, please, please see the inconsistencies in these two positions. 

My clients who are in adjustable rate mortgages are saving a truckload of money right now, both in their mortgage balances, payments, and lack of refinancing fees.  Their interest rates are in the 3’s or lower.  For all of you who just read that sentence and are secretly and smugly thinking about how smart you are for getting a fixed-rate mortgage at 4.5% because interest rates are going up, I ask you these questions:  How do you know and when will it happen?  Those questions are important.

Look at this math:  The longer a rate is fixed, the higher the interest rate.  The longer the term of the mortgage, the more the bank makes.  A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.5% has an interest charge that is 82% of the original loan amount.  In the first five years, you pay 25% of the total interest charge.  In most cases, the loan balance isn’t cut in half until after year 20.  No kidding.  Here’s another fun math factoid of mine: A $500K loan, fixed at 3% has a payment of $2108.  In five years, the loan balance is $445K.  The same $500K loan, fixed at 6% has a payment of $2998.  In five years, the balance is $465K (yes, $20K higher after making $53K more in payments).

What does this mean?  If you’re going to take out a home loan for 10 years or less, the adjustable rate mortgage mostly likely puts you money ahead.  You’ll pay less overall and chip away at the principal faster such that in higher interest-rate years, you’ll be paying a higher interest rate but on a lower loan amount.  It still makes sense to take the adjustable, even in a low interest-rate environment. In fact, I would argue, especially so in a low interest-rate environment.

The 30-year fixed-rate loan is the Cadillac of mortgages—big, expensive, and probably disposed of in 10 years or less through sale or refinance.  If you won’t buy a fancy car, why are you buying a fancy mortgage?  I know, it is humbling to think about.  Your familial financial advice-givers mean well.  They do.  Sometimes they just don’t know what they don’t know.  Now you do.

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