Why You Need To Understand How Mortgages Work

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Mortgage amortization. Mortgage is easy enough to understand. That’s the loan you take out to purchase a house. But what about amortization? And how does mortgage amortization specifically impact you as a home owner? Let’s break it down in a way that makes sense. Then you can manage your mortgage in a way to help maximize your money.

Mortgage Amortization | Why You Need To Understand How Mortgages Work

Let’s start at the start.

What Is a Mortgage?

A mortgage is the loan we take out from a bank to buy a house. As part of that agreement, the house itself is used to guarantee the loan. If you stop making payment on the loan, the bank can take the house and sell it to get their money back.

Popular mortgage arrangements include variable and fixed-rate options. The length (term) of the mortgage can also vary. Terms can be as short as 5 years or as long as 40 years. The two most common mortgage terms are 15-year and 30-year.

Mortgage terms are going to be an important point when we explain mortgage amortization in just a moment.

What Is Amortization?

Amortization is defined by investinganswers.com as:

“[A]n accounting term that refers to the process of allocating the cost of an intangible asset over a period of time. It also refers to the repayment of loan principal over time.”

I don’t know about you, but that isn’t much clearer to me than just using the original phrase.

Essentially, amortization is how the pack-back of a mortgage is structured.

When a mortgage is amortized the amount of principle vs interest is determined. These aren’t just set once for the life of the loan. No. The amount of principle versus interest changes every single month. That’s the amortization process.

Your Mortgage Payment

Let’s pick some numbers to use in an example. I think that will make this more clear and easier to understand.

Say you are buying a house for $200,000. You’ve done a great job saving and are able to put 20% down – $40,000. After the down payment you still need $160,000 to complete the purchase. That’s how much of a mortgage you’ll need.

You talk to multiple banks, because that’s the smart thing to do. When the banks provide a quote back to you they’ll hopefully mention the two most popular terms – 15 year and 30 year. By the way, the interest rate on a 15-year loan is going to be lower. The reason is that the shorter payback period means less risk for the bank.

I just went to BankRate.com and checked local rates. According to this source I might find a 30-year mortgage at a 4% interest rate. Or I could choose a 15-year mortgage with a 3.365% interest rate.

The 30-year mortgage payment would be $763.86/month.

The 15-year mortgage payment would be $1,133.23/month.

Of course your actual payment will be higher than that because the bank pays your taxes and insurance for you. But using these numbers will work perfectly in demonstrating how mortgage amortization works.

An interesting point to notice and understand. In this example the 15-year mortgage payment is less than 50% higher than the 30-year mortgage. You might assume that since you are paying it off twice as fast that the payment would be about double. It isn’t. This is one of several reasons most homebuyers should at least consider a shorter term loan. You’ll pay your mortgage off faster and save a ton of money. More than $100k would be saved in this example.

Mortgage Amortization (30-Years)

Here is how mortgage amortization works. Take a look at the chart below.

Mortgage Amortization | Why It's Important In Financial Planning

This amortization chart gives a visual example of how your mortgage payment is allocated by the bank.

Notice that even though the payment is the same every single month, the part that goes toward actually paying off the mortgage loan balance (the “principal”) changes.

Because of the way mortgage amortization works, the payments made near the beginning of the loan largely go to interest payments.  That means in the first few years of living in a mortgaged home you pay only a small portion of the loan balance back.

Considering the example numbers above, here is what the home buyer would have paid at the end of five years.

Total Payments: $45,831
Interest Paid: $30,547
Principal Loan Paid: $15,283
Principal Loan Balance: $144,716

That’s right. In the first five years of a mortgage you pay almost twice as much money toward interest as you do the mortgage principal balance.

Five years of paying into your mortgage – almost $46k of payments – and you have only built-up $15k worth of equity in the house.

Bummer isn’t it.

Understanding this can have a big impact on your wealth though. Stick with me here for tips to use this knowledge to help maximize your money.

Mortgage Amortization (15-Years)

I need to point out the 15-year mortgage amortization data now.

As mentioned above, a 15-year mortgage payment in this example would be a bit less than 50% higher than a 30-year payment. But consider the huge difference it

Here is a similar chart as above but with two changes: 15-year mortgage term and a 3.365% interest rate.

Financial Planning for Mortgages | Understanding Mortgage Amortization

Part of every payment is still allocated to interest and part to paying down the principal balance. But the shorter loan term has a huge impact on the percentage allocated to each. Right from the start with the shorter mortgage you are paying more principal than interest. That’s a huge win!

Here is how you would stand at the end of five years paying on this example mortgage.

Total Payments: $67,994
Interest Paid: $23,330
Principal Loan Paid: $44,663
Principal Loan Balance: $115,337

Compared 15 & 30 Year Mortgage Amortization

Sure, with a 15-year loan you pay more each month. Over the five-year example period you would pay $22,163 more. That’s a pretty big number, but it’s spread over five years, so it works out to just around $369/month.

What would you have gotten for that extra amount paid?

You would save over $7,000 worth of interest paid and you would have almost $30,000 more equity in the house.

Think about that.

You pay $22k more but your home equity increases by almost $30k. That seems like a good idea to me.

3 Takeaway Tips From This Mortgage Amortization Lesson

To help you minimize the amount of money you pay your bank in interest, and increase your home equity, consider whether one or more of these three tips make sense for you.

1. Get a shorter mortgage loan term.

If you can afford the payment of a shorter term, why not do that? As you can see from the numbers above there are solid financial benefits to choosing this option. Of course before taking on any mortgage you need to step back to understand your cash flow, consider your goals, and determine how the move will align with your financial plan. This is definitely an option worth considering.

2. Make extra principal payments.

Whether you currently have a 15-year, 30-year, or another term loan, you can always speed up the mortgage amortization.

You would do this by making extra payments specifically toward the principal loan balance. In fact, let’s say you have a 30-year loan. If you calculate what that same loan would cost on a 15-year term then pay the additional amount each month toward principal, you’re basically turning it into a 15-year loan. You’ll experience the same savings and faster equity build-up as-if you had originally taken a 15-year mortgage loan.

These extra payments can be made each month but they don’t have to be. If it works better for your cash flow you could make an extra payment once or twice per year. The key is to a) pay extra and b) pay it specifically toward the mortgage principal.

[Think it would be better to invest that money? Maybe. But be sure to consider the points I mention below on that topic.]

3. Stay in your house longer.

Regardless of the loan term, because of the way mortgage amortization works you pay more interest at the beginning of the loan. The longer you stay in that house and pay on the loan, the higher percent of each monthly payment goes to paying principal.

A family that moves every 5 years or so, buying a house each time, is very likely destroying their wealth rather than getting ahead. This is especially true once the average transaction fee of 6% is added into the mix.

Just staying in your house longer will automatically accelerate the principal payoff over time.

Thoughts On Early Mortgage Payoffs

I’m sure at least one reader is thinking: “Why not take that extra money and invest it to earn 8% instead of paying off the mortgage faster?”

Like most financial planning topics, whether it makes sense for you or not depends on a number of factors. Clarifying those factors and working them in to an overall financial life plan is another reason working with a financial planner can be extremely valuable.

But consider these points…

Would You Really?

In reality – based on numerous studies – when people “save” money by lowering their payment amount they rarely invest the difference. More often that money gets spent rather than invested.

What’s The Real Difference?

Earning 8% (for example) on investments is great, but remember that money left on the loan is costing you 4% (in the above example). So the gain is only 4% initially. The question turns into whether or not you want to chase an additional 4% – not guaranteed – or pay off the mortgage to save a guaranteed 4%.

How About Taxes?

Home equity is currently tax-free up to $250k for an individual or $500k for a couple. If you sell the house you owe no taxes. Of course if you never sell the house you also owe no taxes. Investments are taxed at capital gains rates though. Yes, the lowest tax brackets could potentially have a zero rate, but more often the capital gains are taxed at 15% (or 20% depending on income). Including taxes in the equation means the difference in gains shrinks, bringing the true gain over time closer.

A more likely answer to the original question of whether to pay the mortgage faster or invest the money would be: Do both. Look at your overall financial plan and determine the best use of your resources. It’s all about maximizing your money within your personal situation.

Wrapping It All Up

I hope this lesson on mortgage amortization has been helpful. Knowledge is power so keep this information in mind when buying a home or deciding a payment plan for your existing home. As always we would love to talk to you if you need help. Working through this type of exercise as part of an overall larger financial life plan is what we do. Get in touch to see how we can help you maximize your money to achieve your personal goals.

Question? Comments? Let me know in the comments section below.

 

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Understanding how mortgages work can help with your financial planning and wealth-building. Here is why it is so important for you to be clear on this topic... Debt-free | Debt payoff tips | Mortgage | Financial Freedom

7 Comments

  1. Norah @ Money Management IQ February 16, 2018 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Hello, Brad! Thanks for the suggestions. One can try another option also i.e. rent out the extra space on a contract basis. That will also add few extra money to the mortgage payment.

  2. Mrs. Groovy February 16, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

    When you see this in black and white “You would save over $7,000 worth of interest paid and you would have almost $30,000 more equity in the house” it’s hard to consider anything more than a 15 year mortgage — unless you simply can’t afford the payments (in which case maybe you ought to defer house buying?)

    • Brad Kingsley February 16, 2018 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks for commenting Mrs G. I agree. It seems most people get longer term loans to help stretch the monthly payments… often getting them into a house that (just maybe) is a bit more than they really can/should safely afford.

  3. Laurie Blank February 26, 2018 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Great article, Brad. People so often only look at whether or not they can afford the payment and don’t look at the long-term financial ramifications of a mortgage. What you’re paying after 30 years of interest can often fund one’s retirement!!

    • Brad Kingsley February 26, 2018 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks Laurie! And yes, I agree – redirecting those interest payments to retirement instead or debt can fund a decent lifestyle later in life!

  4. Gary @ Super Saving Tips March 8, 2018 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    We’ve considered refinancing to a 15-year or 20-year several times. What has stopped us is not that we can’t afford the payments now, but the worry that if something happens to our finances, we might be in trouble on those higher payments. So instead we’re making extra payments to principal on our existing mortgage. Of course I’m in the unenviable position of having a mortgage in retirement, something I definitely don’t recommend!

    • Brad Kingsley March 8, 2018 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Gary. There is no reason for you not to just self-amortize the loan just like you are – making extra payments. If you run the math to see what the payment would be with a 15-year term, then pay that much (even though the term is longer) it will still pay off in almost exactly the same length of time – and save a ton of interest payments. So… keep on with that great current plan! 🙂

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