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Refinance into a 15-year mortgage and save

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Refinancing from a 30-year mortgage into a 15-year mortgage is an excellent way of taking advantage of today's 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.

RATE SEARCH: Shop today for a 15-year mortgage.

Mike Henry, senior vice president for residential lending with Dollar Bank in Pittsburgh, notes, "When we get into times of high volumes of refinancing, like we've had for the last 2 to 3 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."

15-year loans cost less interest over time

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 a $200,000, 30-year mortgage at 4.5%. Monthly principal and interest are $1,013. By refinancing 5 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.

Scenario 1: 30-year loan, no refinance

Pat gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4.5% and pays it off in 30 years:

30-year fixed
Interest rate4.5%
Loan amount$200,000
Monthly payment$1,013
Total interest paid$164,813

Scenario 2: Refinance to 15-year loan

Alex gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4.5%. Five years later, Alex refinances the outstanding balance of $182,316 into a 15-year mortgage at 3%.

First 5 years: 30-year fixed
Interest rate4.5%
Loan amount$200,000
Monthly principal and interest$1,013
Interest paid in 5 years$43,118
Next 15 years: 15-year fixed
Interest rate3%
Loan amount$182,316
Monthly principal and interest$1,259
Interest paid in 15 years$44,311
Total interest paid on both loans over 20 years$87,429

15-year lets 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 towards 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.

15-year loans charge fewer fees

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.

RATE SEARCH: Find lenders that offer 15-year mortgages.

But 15-year loans have higher payments

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

Comparison: $275,000 mortgage, 30-year vs. 15-year

Term30 years15 years
Interest rate4.5%3%
Monthly principal and interest$1,393$1,899
Total interest paid$226,618$66,838

Some borrowers might prefer to keep a 30-year mortgage and make higher payments whenever they feel comfortable doing so, in a bid 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.

Try Bankrate's calculator to help you decide between a 15-year or 30-year mortgage.

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