Key takeaways

  • A 15-year mortgage means larger monthly payments, but a lower rate and substantial savings on interest.
  • A 30-year mortgage gives you a more affordable monthly payment, but expect higher borrowing costs overall.
  • You can also take out an interest-only mortgage or pay your loan off early to maximize interest savings.

Your monthly mortgage payment will probably be the largest line item in your budget. One way to control your payments is by comparing 15-year vs. 30-year mortgage terms. A shorter schedule requires larger payments but allows you to pay off the loan faster, while a 30-year schedule lowers your monthly payments but costs more in interest in the long term.

15-year vs. 30-year mortgages: What is the difference?

Standard lending practices defer to the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage as the go-to for most borrowers buying a home because it allows the borrower to spread loan payments out over 30 years. Doing so helps keep their monthly payment lower, despite paying more in total interest for the loan.

With a 15-year mortgage, however, borrowers can pay off their loan in half the time — if they’re able and willing to increase their monthly loan payment. The primary difference between qualifying for a 15-year versus a 30-year mortgage is that you’ll need a higher income and lower debt-to-income ratio to obtain the former because the monthly payments are higher.

Despite a lower rate, your monthly payments will almost always cost less with a 30-year mortgage compared to a 15-year mortgage.

“The longer the term, with everything else being equal, the lower the payment amount because the mortgage amount is amortized over a longer period,” says Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of OneUnited Bank, adding that along with a more favorable interest rate, a 15-year mortgage would also have a lower annual percentage rate, or APR, than a 30-year mortgage.

Learn more about how 15 vs. 30-year mortgage terms change your monthly costs using our mortgage calculator.

15-year vs. 30-year mortgage example

The difference between a 15- and 30-year mortgage can be significant. Below is an example of the options on a $300,000 loan. We’ve assumed 6.96 percent interest on the 30-year term and 6.21 interest on the 15-year term, based on Bankrate’s national survey of lenders as of Jan. 3.

As an example, on a $300,000 mortgage with a 6.96 percent interest rate, your monthly payment would total $2,251 for 30 years. You’d spend $416,355 in interest over the course of 360 monthly payments.

A 15-year mortgage carries a lower mortgage rate. So, with a $300,000 15-year mortgage at a rate of 6.21 percent, the monthly payment would total $2,829 or $161,917 in interest over the life of the loan.

Mortgage Term Monthly Mortgage Payment Total Cost Of Mortgage Interest Total Cost Of Mortgage
30-year at 6.96% $2,251 $416,355 $716,355
15-year at 6.21% $2,829 $161,917 $461,917

Though payments are less expensive each month with a 30-year mortgage, the interest rate is higher and paid over a term double in length. Over time, a 30-year mortgage is thus substantially more expensive than a 15-year loan, thanks to heftier interest rates.

15-year mortgage pros and cons

A 15-year mortgage might sound like a more attractive option. You’ll likely save a bundle in interest and pay off your home faster. Still, there are trade-offs to consider.

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  • Typically lower interest rate because it’s easier to predict repayment over a 15-year timeline than a 30-year one
  • Much less interest paid over the life of the loan, as repayment term is shorter
  • Loan is paid off sooner due to shorter loan term
  • Builds equity faster, as payments toward interest are lower and monthly payments toward loan principal are higher
  • Bigger payments tie up more of your monthly budget and could help deter spending elsewhere
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  • Monthly payments are higher to speed up repayment
  • Can be harder to qualify for — you’ll need more money available each month to ensure timely payments
  • Less wiggle room in budget for emergencies, as monthly payments are higher

30-year mortgage pros and cons

A 30-year mortgage may give you more breathing room in your monthly budget, and it’s generally easier to qualify for. But you’ll pay far more in interest.

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  • Monthly payments are lower because the life of the loan is extended
  • Flexibility to pay back the mortgage sooner as you may choose to make higher or extra payments as you are able
  • Potentially more money available for emergencies month to month, as your monthly commitment is less
  • Lower income qualifications, as you do not need to prove an ability to make payments on a condensed schedule as with a 15-year loan
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  • Typically higher interest rate and paid over twice the number of years
  • Loan takes longer to pay off, as the loan term is 30 years instead of 15
  • Temptation to spend money saved each month, as a flip-side of more financial flexibility
  • Much more interest paid versus a shorter-term loan, as you are paying toward interest over more years

Alternatives to 15-year and 30-year mortgages

If these loan terms don’t work for your financial situation, some lenders offer mortgages with other terms or repayment strategies. Alternatives worth considering include:

  • 10 year: These loans are ideal if you want to be aggressive with your repayment strategy. Expect a steep monthly payment, which could be worth it considering the amount of interest you’ll save.
  • 20 year: You’ll get a slightly more affordable monthly mortgage payment than a 10-year mortgage but can still save a bundle in interest and pay your loan off faster.
  • 40 year: Most lenders do not offer this loan term. But if you find a lender that does offer it and choose this loan term, you may want to refinance later once you can afford higher monthly payments to minimize borrowing costs.
  • Interest-only mortgage: This option lets you make interest-only payments during an introductory period, followed by much higher principal and interest payments over the remaining loan term.
  • Paying off your loan early: You can always make higher or more frequent payments to pay off the loan sooner. Most prepayment penalties go into effect only if the borrower pays off the mortgage, or a significant portion of it, within the first five years of the loan.

Consider how long you plan to stay in your home versus the duration of the mortgage you’re considering. If your goal is to get as low a payment as possible for a short time (i.e., less than five years), you might want to explore an interest-only mortgage.

“Many people sell their home before 15 to 30 years and pay off their mortgage before the end of the term, so the mortgage term may be less important,” says Williams.

Is a 15-year or 30-year mortgage better for you?

Ultimately, what should drive your decision is what mortgage payment you can afford, and whether or not a larger payment would curtail other important financial moves, like saving for retirement. Keep in mind that you may qualify for a much larger loan than is wise to borrow.

Here’s a closer look at some key factors to consider when choosing between the two:

  • Calculate mortgage payments for homes at multiple price points: Bankrate recommends following the 28 percent rule and the 36 percent rule. These rules advise buyers that no more than 28 percent of their gross income should go toward a mortgage payment each month and that no more than 36 percent of their gross monthly income should go toward monthly debt payments.
  • Take a close look at your monthly budget. Evaluating your spending plan and financial commitments can help you determine what kind of mortgage payment will be feasible and comfortable for you. If you will feel consistently over-extended by the payments on a 15-year mortgage, you may consider making extra payments toward a 30-year mortgage as you are able to for an earlier payoff.
  • Understand your income and debt stability. “The consumer also needs to consider the reliability of their income and debt levels,” says Rocke Andrews, past president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. Also, keep in mind that the requirements for a 15-year mortgage could be a concern for individuals whose income is seasonal or commission-based.

Bankrate’s mortgage calculator can help you estimate monthly payments for a 30-year versus a 15-year mortgage so you can get a clearer picture of how much house you can afford based on your income.