Key takeaways

  • Mortgage interest is the price you pay for borrowing money from a lender, charged as a percentage of your loan amount.
  • When you take out a mortgage, you must repay the total amount you borrowed, plus interest calculated on that amount.
  • The amount you'll pay in mortgage interest varies based on your credit score, down payment size, economic conditions and other factors.

When you get a mortgage, you have to pay back the lender for the loan. Lenders make money by charging interest on the loan. Your credit score, income, loan amount and broader financial factors like the 10-year Treasury yield and inflation influence mortgage rates. Here’s what to know about how mortgage interest rates work.

What is mortgage interest?

The interest rate on your mortgage determines what you’ll pay to borrow money from a lender, expressed as a percentage. Understanding mortgage rates is a critical step in the homebuying process, because it helps you figure out exactly how much your mortgage will cost you in the long run.

In general, shorter-term loans, like a 15-year mortgage, come with a lower interest rate, but have higher monthly payments. Longer-term loans, such as 30-year mortgages, come with a higher rate, but lower monthly payments. This is in part because you’re repaying the balance back over a longer period of time. Shorter-term loans typically cost less in total interest.

How does mortgage interest work?

Your mortgage interest is a percentage of your balance. As you repay your mortgage, you’ll make monthly payments based on your loan’s amortization schedule. As your loan matures, more of your payment goes toward the principal, or the amount you borrowed. Initially, more of your payment goes to interest.

Let’s say you have a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a balance of $300,000 and an interest rate of 6 percent.

Your monthly mortgage payment (principal and interest) would remain $1,799 throughout the 30-year term, but for your first payment, $299 of that would go toward the principal and $1,500 would go toward interest. Fast-forward to halfway through your loan term, and about $718 of your payment would be applied to the principal and roughly $1,080 would be applied to the interest. You’ll continue to pay more toward principal, and less toward interest, until you’ve fully repaid the loan.

Mortgage interest rate example

Say you’re buying a home for $400,000 with 20 percent down. With a 30-year mortgage for $320,000 at a fixed rate of 6.75 percent, your monthly payment would be $2,076. This sum excludes homeowners insurance, property taxes and any HOA fees, which are often included in monthly payments as well.

Using Bankrate’s amortization calculator, here’s how your amortization schedule would look, assuming you took out the loan this year:

Date Monthly payment Principal Interest Balance
June 2024 $2,076 $275.51 $1,800.00 $319,724.49
July 2024 $2,076 $277.06 $1,798.45 $319,447.42
August 2024 $2,076 $278.62 $1,796.89 $319,168.80
September 2024 $2,076 $280.19 $1,795.32 $318,888.61
October 2024 $2,076 $281.77 $1,793.75 $318,606.85
November 2024 $2,076 $283.35 $1,792.16 $318,323.49
December 2024 $2,076 $284.94 $1,790.57 $318,038.55
January 2025 $2,076 $286.55 $1,788.97 $317,752.00
February 2025 $2,076 $288.16 $1,787.36 $317,463.84
March 2025 $2,076 $289.78 $1,785.73 $317,174.06
April 2025 $2,076 $291.41 $1,784.10 $316,882.66
May 2025 $2,076 $293.05 $1,782.46 $316,589.61

Mortgage interest on different types of loans

When you take out a mortgage, you need to decide which type of mortgage you want. You’ll also have to choose whether you prefer a fixed or adjustable interest rate. Depending on your situation, you may also consider interest-only mortgages and jumbo mortgages.

Fixed-rate mortgages

With a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate won’t change over the life of the loan. Your monthly payment won’t change, either. For instance, if you borrowed $300,000 at a fixed rate of 7 percent, you would pay around $1,996 per month for the entirety of your 30-year loan.

Adjustable-rate mortgages

If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), your rate can change during your repayment period. Your ARM may come with a low introductory rate for the first several years of your loan, but after that, it can go up or down — which can increase or decrease your monthly payment.

Interest-only mortgages

With an interest-only mortgage, you’ll only make payments toward the interest during an introductory period, giving you smaller initial monthly payments. However, after the introductory period ends, your payments will increase significantly to cover principal and interest.

Jumbo mortgages

Jumbo mortgages, or jumbo loans, are larger mortgage loans that exceed local loan limits set by the Federal Housing and Finance Agency (FHFA). These loans work differently than a typical mortgage. They usually have strict credit score and income requirements and come with higher interest rates.

APR vs. interest rate

The interest rate on your mortgage only accounts for the cost of borrowing money — it’s a percentage of the total size of your loan.

The APR (short for annual percentage rate), on the other hand, accounts for your mortgage interest rate and other costs, including lender fees and discount points. APR is also expressed as a percentage, but because it includes these other charges, it is always higher than the interest rate.

In effect, the APR is your true interest rate — the actual, annualized cost you pay for your loan.

By law, lenders have to disclose the APR for a given loan so that borrowers have accurate cost information upfront. APRs differ from lender to lender, so it’s important to ask what the APR includes. Some APRs don’t include credit report or appraisal fees, for instance. Keep in mind that you can try to negotiate down some fees, especially if you’re a well-qualified borrower.

How to get the best mortgage rate

For the best chance at the lowest mortgage rate, follow these tips:

  • Improve your credit score – Lenders offer their lowest rates to those with strong credit. Well ahead of applying for a mortgage, work to boost or maintain your score by paying your bills on time and lowering your credit utilization ratio, the ratio of your credit balance to your credit limit.
  • Build a record of your work history – Lenders generally look favorably on borrowers with at least two years of consistent employment. If your work history has significant gaps or you’re self-employed, you might have to provide more paperwork to get approved for the best possible rate.
  • Save more for a down payment – Putting more money down upfront can help you secure a lower rate. One way to grow your savings is to automatically set aside a portion of your income into a savings account. You can also look into down payment assistance programs.
  • Compare rates – Comparing offers to find the lowest mortgage rate can save you significantly over the course of a 30-year loan, one Freddie Mac study found.
  • Consider a low-credit mortgage – If your credit score isn’t as high as you’d like it to be, consider getting an FHA loan. FHA loans can sometimes have a lower interest rate, by about a half a point or more, compared to a conventional loan.
  • Work with a mortgage broker – A broker can help find you the best deal and negotiate a lower rate, and many don’t charge any fees. Be sure to look for a broker who has experience with the type of loan you’re after.
  • Pay points – If you expect to stay in the home long-term and won’t refinance for at least five years, you can choose to pay an additional fee, known as a point, to trim your interest rate. Each point typically costs 1 percent of the loan amount and reduces your rate by 0.25 percentage points.

Mortgage interest rate FAQs

  • Mortgage rates fluctuate frequently, so what’s considered “good” changes over time. While you can compare mortgage rates online, you’ll also need to compare quotes specifically tailored to your situation to find a good rate. One rule of thumb is to get at least three offers so you know what rates are available based on your credit and financial profile. Be sure to give each lender the same information to go on, and try to get quotes within the same day, if possible.
  • When setting interest rates, lenders review several factors, including the performance of bonds, current economic conditions, inflation and Federal Reserve policies.Your financial profile also plays a role. Lenders will consider personal factors like your credit score, loan-to-value (LTV) ratio and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to help determine your rate.
  • Mortgage rates change constantly. If you find a competitive rate with a lender you like, it might be worth locking in that rate before it increases.
  • Each tax year, borrowers can deduct interest paid on the first $750,000 of mortgage debt (or the first $375,000 if married filing separately). If you bought your home before Dec. 16, 2017, you can deduct the interest on the first $1 million (or first $500,000 if married filing separately). Your mortgage falls into this latter category if you were under contract on the home before Dec. 15, 2017, set to close before Jan. 1, 2018 and completed the purchase prior to April 1, 2018.

    Before you decide to itemize deductions, however, consult with an accountant or tax professional.