We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.


I am a big fan of fifteen-year mortgages. When we bought our first property in Chile, we actually took out a fifteen-year mortgage, and then paid it off a year-and-a-half early last December. But for some reason (money), we did not take out a fifteen-year mortgage with our first house in Atlanta. We did the slick 5% down, 30-year on that house, and lost our shirts with that deal when it was time to sell (well, technically, just our down payment, 4 years’ equity, and $20,000).

Why is a fifteen-year mortgage so great? We can argue all day about paying down debt versus investing (which I’ve done here) and the math behind it. But the truth is, a fifteen-year mortgage only increases your monthly mortgage payment by a little bit and helps you build up equity so much faster than a thirty-year mortgage. Yes, you can take out a thirty-year mortgage and pay it off early. But the beauty of a fifteen-year mortgage is that in fifteen years, it’s paid off, guaranteed. My girl Chief Mom Officer wrote a great post about the same topic with her actual mortgage numbers that I encourage you to read. 

We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here's Why You Should, Too. www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The truth is, if we take out a thirty-year mortgage, we are liable to make the following mistakes:

  • buy more house than we can truly afford
  • pay very little or no extra towards the principal
  • spend our extra money on non-income producing goods or activities

The Davidson House

Mr. ThreeYear and I faced this very conundrum not three months ago when we were house-hunting in Davidson. This town, precious as it is, has some way-inflated real estate prices, even though the general cost of living is fairly low. It’s because the schools are so good and we’re located right next to Lake Norman and Charlotte.

So, Mr. ThreeYear and I had to face the fact that we would be spending more–way more–on this house than we had on our previous house. For various reasons, which I’ll explore in a subsequent post, we decided to bite the bullet and buy a more expensive house. BUT, we were determined to take out a fifteen-year mortgage.

Downtown Davidson The Big News www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our charming town.

It was oh-so-tempting to go for the thirty-year mortgage, which would have meant a lower monthly payment. But we knew that if we did that, we’d delay our retirement substantially and we would not be living according to our financial values, which bothered both of us greatly. So we kept looking for a house that would allow us to take out a shorter mortgage, and eventually found this one. It was smaller than our other house (which we had wanted anyway) and older, but is in a great neighborhood and has all the space and features we could possibly need, plus more.

Our NC house www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our new house in North Carolina–all brick, as per usual in the South.

Because we’d owned our previous house for six years, and had a fifteen-year mortgage there, we’d built up a substantial amount of equity in the house. We were able to use a large part of that equity as a down payment for this house, thereby reducing our monthly mortgage payments even more.

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The Numbers

While the thirty-year mortgage has the benefit of a lower monthly payment, that’s one of the few financial benefits.

Let’s look at the math. Always fun.

Let’s say you start with a $300,000 house where you put 20% down. That would mean your downpayment would be $60,000, so your total mortgage would be $240,000 after your downpayment.

Currently, interest rates for a thirty-year mortgage are at 4.625% and for a fifteen-year mortgage, 4.25%.

 Fifteen-Year MortgageThirty-Year Mortgage
Total Monthly Payment$1805$1234
Principal payment for first payment$955$309
Principal payment after five years (Aug 2023)$1181$389
Balance after five years$175,069$218,801
Principal payment after ten years (August 2028)$1460$490
Balance after ten years$95,977$192,488
Total interest paid over the life of the loan$84,984$204,217
Total paid over the life of the loan$324,984$444,217
Payoff dateJuly 2033July 2048

As you can see, you would pay $444,217 for a thirty-year mortgage of $240,000 (almost double what you originally owed) and a significantly less $324,984 for a fifteen-year mortgage (still more than $80,000 in interest but much better than over $200,000 in interest that you’d pay with the thirty-year).

Plus, after five years, your total balance is only $218,801 with the thirty-year mortgage, but $175,069 with the fifteen-year. That means you’d only have paid down about $21,000 of balance in five years with the longer mortgage, versus $65,000 with the shorter mortgage. After ten years, your balance would only be $95,977 with the shorter mortgage, versus $192,488 with the longer!

cuddly boy and dog www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
These guys get all cuddly at the mention of paying less interest!

Why Wouldn’t You?

A fifteen-year mortgage usually scores you an interest rate of about half a percentage point less, which works out to over $24,000 over the life of a thirty-year loan.

And almost half of your initial mortgage payment goes to paying down the principal, versus a measly one fourth of your payment for a thirty-year mortgage.

So why do so many people opt for a thirty-year mortgage? The lower payment, of course!!! It’s much easier to stomach a $1234 payment (for a $300,000 house) than $1805. That’s almost $600 more per month in mortgage. And thirty years, that’s almost the same as fifteen, right? They’re both long periods of time when you’re thinking about the future.  You can always pay off extra principal or refinance, right?

Oftentimes, the higher payment just isn’t affordable. But if the higher payment isn’t affordable, then the house isn’t affordable! Look, we’re talking about a difference of $119,233 and fifteen years between our hypothetical $300K mortgages. If your mortgage is bigger, so are your savings. Imagine being completely debt-free fifteen years earlier. As humans, we want the best house we can possibly get. And we want to make it work. But having a higher monthly payment staring you in the face helps you make better decisions about how much house to buy.

Devil’s Advocate

I know that you can take out a thirty-year mortgage and pay it off like a fifteen-year mortgage. I know also that some people don’t want to have too much of their equity tied up into an illiquid asset. It’s time-consuming and expensive to sell your house, after all.

But for our family, it’s about a mindset. It’s the very real pain point of paying our mortgage each month, but the very lovely subsequent drop in our total balance that goes with it. We do not want to have a mortgage in retirement, and we do plan to sell our house when our bears leave the cave.

Fenced in back yard www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We all love our new house, smaller back yard and all.

Our interest rate is currently at 4%, and that’s a guaranteed 4% return on our money. We’ve also reaped the benefits of our two previous fifteen-year mortgages. Without our previous fifteen-year mortgage, I’m not sure we would have been able to move. I don’t know if six years of equity with a thirty-year mortgage would have supplied us with a large enough down payment for this house (and the money certainly wasn’t coming out of any of our investment funds).

And now that our apartment in Chile is paid off, it can become a rental asset for us (one day, when family members aren’t living there).

Know Thyself

I am a spendy lady. I like to spend money and have a hard time saving, unless it’s automatic. Over the years, I’ve learned to trick myself into saving and investing first. The fifteen-year mortgage has been a terrific tool for our family to save first, and treat our mortgage debt like the big-freakin’ deal that it is.

If you struggle with saving as much as you want, I recommend that you look into a refinance or a fifteen-year mortgage when you do buy a home. It gets you in the habit of paying more for your home so that you can ultimately stop paying for it way sooner than the average homeowner.

So what camp do you side with? Fifteen- or thirty-year mortgage? 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

14 thoughts on “We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.”

  1. i’m with you on the 15 year. unless cash flow was tight in the house that’s the way to roll. we had a high rate 30 but aggressively paid it off because we were pretty disciplined and focused on saving that nearly 7% in interest.

    nice job on that sourdough! i haven’t made any in about a month, better go home and feed the starter.

    how’s the puppy training going? that somehow looks like a pretty easy dog to train.

    1. And now you’re mortgage free. How long did it take you to pay the whole thing off? Yep, I’m about to start the Whole30 (stomach issues, yay) so bread will be out for awhile. But I’m still feeding my starter! It’s a beauty. Puppy training has been good, but I need to be more consistent. I’ve been taking Lucy running with me in the mornings and that is a good idea–she has a lot more energy than even a week ago, and she needs to burn it off. Also, we realized we need to socialize her a LOT MORE when the neighbors came over and she went bonkers (plus my hubs and son have been away so there are only 2 of us here). I looked into the PetSmart classes and they’re fairly inexpensive so as soon as she gets her next round of shots we’re signing up.

      1. i think mrs. me bought the place in 2001 right before i met her. it’s been paid off for about 4 years so i’m thinking 12-13 years. the caveat is that the original loan amount was only about 80k. we always paid 20% extra to principal but accelerated it at the end when we were both working.

  2. How about: is it financially better to pay for your house with cash on hand or take out a 15 yr mortgage? I debated this recently. Paid for and renovated the house with cash holdings. I used returns in the current stock market and current financials in my decision tree.

    1. That gets into a whole other topic that I’m still personally debating. But if you go with the “debt is bad” philosophy, which I suppose I subscribe to, then I think there’s a strong case for paying cash for everything, provided you’ve got enough investments for retirement and the future. I think there’s always this balance that we’re fighting for, to invest enough on the one hand, and not take on a lot of debt on the other. I’m not sure if our ratio is right with this new house but so far, it feels like it’s manageable (we can pay the mortgage and save enough).

  3. Hello Laurie!
    Hope you are settling well in Davidson! I am definitely with you on the 15 year mortgage provided it is possible. The house looks great by the way and probably spacious enough, “the bears will leave the cave” at some point anyway 🙂
    I like that you went against the grain and made the choice with mr Three-year to make the right choice for you according to your philosophy. Congrats!
    Hugs from Luxembourg,

    1. 🙂 Thanks so much Jon!! Yep I feel bad even complaining because we got a luxurious 2600 square feet (was our old house ridiculously large or what?). And five bedrooms, mainly because Mr. ThreeYear and I are working from home and need offices. The older I get the more I’m realizing that “you gotta do you” and make the right choices for your fam, because you’re the one living your life. Yesterday, when Little ThreeYear and the puppy were running around the yard playing with our next door neighbors and having an absolute blast, I thought, “this is why. This is why we moved here.” Kids bike alone all over the neighborhood and go to the (lifeguarded) pool alone at 11 (that’s extremely rare in the US) and there’s a big sense of community here which we’re digging. How’s Luxembourg? How has the move been treating you? Are you having major reverse culture shock?

  4. Sounds like you found the right fit! And great if the kids can play and can go bike around freely, I grew up “in the city” but whenever I visited my friends or family that lived in residential areas we were able to play football on the street or bike around freely . As a kid (and as a parent) that was great! I have been blessed with a very smooth move and although there are still a few admin things to fix by paper (which I hate), I can t say I suffer much from a reverse culture shock. Luxembourg is different than Belgium, one of the official languages is French and it is very international, all in all making it very easy actually for me :).

  5. Everything you said about a 15 year mortgage is even more true of a ten year. That’s what we got and we paid that off early. Why stretch it out for 15 years instead of ten? If you can’t afford the payments on a ten year then maybe, like you said about the 30 year, you can’t really afford that much house?

  6. Awesome post and solid advice. I will always plan on taking out a 15-year mortgage for personal residences. It really takes dedication to save up for that 20% down payment and foot the higher monthly bill for 15 years. Gotta keep the long-term outlook in mind!

    When you get into RE investing there’s a whole other discussion of what’s best based on goals.

    1. Thanks Eric! Yep, I agree that real estate investing and OPM makes a lot more sense when you’re buying multiple properties. I’m always tempted to get into it but I’ve never pulled the plug (stateside at least)!

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