Why are 15 year mortgages cheaper than 30 year mortgages?
The answer has to do with the interest-rate curve. Contrary to what some may believe, the economy does not have one interest rate, but rather an infinite number of market-based rates, and dozens of important benchmark rates that determine the cost of money to different groups of borrowers.
Mortgage interest rates respond to market-based interest rates, which may be seen as an upward-sloping curve on a graph, showing a Y-axis of % interest rates and an X-axis of different loan “terms” that represent the cost of money for time periods from 1 day, to 3 months to 30 years.
Generally, 15-year mortgage interest rates trade somewhat below 30-year rates, as lenders charge less to lend money for 15 years than 30 years.
For that matter, generally 3, 5, and 7 year mortgage rates are lower than 15-year or 30-year rates, which is where the ‘teaser’ rates for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) come from, before those interest rates float upwards at the end of a their 3, 5, and 7-year fixed period.
Mortgage borrowers historically refinanced after the fixed period, making it statistically reasonable – in pre-2008 crisis times – to charge lower rates for 3, 5, and 7-year interest rates. The fact that ARMs got combined in a toxic manner with sub-prime lending temporarily gave ARMs a bad name, although I think they’re great products, and I got a 5-year ARM in 2001 and a later a 3-year ARM in 2006.
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