30-year fixed rate mortgage or an adjustable rate mortgage? This is the question most homebuyers have when deciding on which mortgage to assume. For those wisely refinancing with interest rates at all-time lows, many more are wondering whether a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is still worth it. After taking out multiple mortgage types since 2003, my opinion is that getting an adjustable rate mortgage is cheaper and will save you more money over time.
One of the biggest secrets banks don’t want you to know is that they make more money off larger and longer duration loans because they can charge a higher mortgage interest rate.
Banks take advantage of fear of the unknown by selling borrowers peace of mind. There’s certainly value in knowing that over a 30-year period, your mortgage rate will never go up. However, there’s something bank also don’t want borrowers to know.
Interest rates have been coming down since the late 1980s as the Federal Reserve has become more efficient in managing economic cycles and the US has grown to the world standard for sovereign assets through the purchase of US treasury bonds.
From this simple chart, you will understand:
* The risk free rate of return
* Expectations on interest rates
* Expectations on inflation
* Borrowing/credit costs
* Risk aversion, or lack thereof
* The health of the world
That’s right. By understanding what the latest 10-year treasury means, you will be able to save a lot of money, potentially make a lot of money, and stop being so fearful of the future.
Borrowing on the long end is a suboptimal use of funds. The people who are pushing you into 30-year fixed loans: 1) Are not economics majors or bond traders, but journalists and/or 2) Have a vested interest in you borrowing as long as possible so they can make as much money off you as possible.
The higher the rate, the easier it is for them to earn a wider spread.
* Upward sloping yield curve. It’s important to understand that due to the time value of money and inflation, the longer you borrow the higher your interest rate. If you borrow money from me today to pay me back tomorrow, I won’t charge you interest.
But, if you want to borrow money from me today, to pay back over the next 30 years, you better hell believe I’m going to charge you an interest rate above inflation to counteract inflation, make some money, and bake in some risk of default.
In other words, if you borrow at a 30-year fixed rate, you are borrowing at the most expensive part of the yield curve.
* Average length of stay. First of all, the average duration one lives in and owns a home is about 8.5 years. If that’s the case, what on earth are you doing borrowing a 30-year fixed rate mortgage for? A 23 year + overestimation of ownership is a serious miscalculation based on the statistics at hand.
If you plan to live in your house for 10 years, take out a 10 year fixed rate (amortizing over 30 years) as the most conservative loan duration. A 10 year fixed rate is cheaper than a 20 year or 30 year fixed rate. It is only logical that you match your mortgage fixed rate with your expected duration of stay.
Sure, you might stay longer, but you might also stay shorter as well. If you know you plan to stay in your house forever, it’s more justifiable to take out a 30-year fixed, but I still wouldn’t because 1) You will likely pay down your loan faster than 30 years, and 2) the spreads are unjustly high in this environment.
* Adjustable rate loans have an interest rate cap. People think, thanks to fear mongering by the media and mortgage officers, that once the adjustable rate loan period is over, your mortgage rate will skyrocket and make things super unaffordable.
This is not the case because everything is relative and rates are capped. I got a 5/1 ARM in 2014, and in 2021, the maximum it can reset to is 4.5%. Whoopdee doo! After 5 years, if I don’t pay any extra principal, my principal mortgage amount is about 11% less. A 4.5% mortgage rate on a 11% lower principal amount is very digestible.
See: The Anatomy Of An Adjustable Rate Mortgage
* If rates rocket higher, you will be celebrating. Things don’t happen in a vacuum. The 10-year yield is a reflection of inflation expectations. If the 10-year yield, and therefore mortgage rates are rising, that means inflation expectations for higher growth are at the very least rising. You don’t have inflation expectations going higher unless demand for real goods and services going higher.
Higher demand is a reflection of a stronger economy, and your real assets (property), by very definition or inflating. So what if inflation rises from 2% to 5%, causing your mortgage to reset to 7% due to the 2% spread? If your home is now inflating by 5%, and you have a 80% loan-to-value ratio, your cash on cash return is going up by 25%!
* 35+ years in a row of deflation. Look at the historical 10-year treasury yield. Rates have gone down for 35 years in a row. That’s right folks. Are you telling me there’s no trend here? Are you saying that we are going to see massive inflation spikes on the way all of a sudden?
In these 30 years, we’ve become a much more efficient society who enacts monetary and fiscal policy in anticipation or with shorter lead times. Yes, there will be occasional upward blips in pricing, but I highly doubt there will be a 5-10 year continuous ramp in inflation, which means your 5-10 year ARM is just fine.
Insurance salesmen and mortgage officers are very skilled at evoking fear. They will paint worst case scenarios of super inflation and crushing payments so you can pay more money now than you should.
A 30-year fixed provides a great peace of mind that your payments will never go up. In fact, your real payments will actually go down over time given you will be paying back a fixed loan with ever depreciating dollars thanks to deflation.
The question is, at what price is this worth?
Given you know the yield curve is generally upward sloping, you must study the spreads between each borrowing point.
Let’s say a 30-year fixed loan is currently around 4% vs. 2.625% for a 5/1 arm. Let’s say you borrow $1 million, the ideal mortgage amount. $1 million X 1.375% = $13,750 more in interest expense you will have to pay every year for the length of ownership.
If you own the home for 7 years, that’s $96,250 more in interest expense you would have paid if you borrowed at 30 years. If interest rates stayed the same (not down as it has for the past 30 years), then you would have paid over $420,000 more in interest during the lifetime of the 30 year fixed loan! That is just ridiculous.
However, if your peace of mind is worth $96,250 or $420,000, and you can’t handle the reality of economics, don’t know your options, and don’t believe in yourself, then why not.
The next time someone is hawking you a 30-year fixed ask them: 1) What their major was in college or grad school, 2) How many times have they refinanced before, 3) Quiz them on what the current 10-year treasury yield is, 4) Where was the 10-year treasury yield 10, 20, and 30 years ago, 5) If they are a homeowner, 6) How much more are they going to make off you.
Addendum: Please not there is a BIG difference between a negative amortization loan and a adjustable rate mortgage like the ones I’m referring to here. A Neg Am loan causes your principal to grow larger every month because it is by definition, negatively amortizing. The Neg Am loan generally is only fixed for one year and a teaser low rate.
Hence, you have a lower than market rate + a payment that’s based on a lower amount that gets added to the principal. This is where people get in trouble. People who have normal ARMs have not been getting in trouble because when their ARM floats, their rates are LOWER than when they first locked! Please understand this point.
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