A mortgage is a loan that makes it possible for people to purchase homes without having to pay the full amount immediately. There are different types of mortgages, such as fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, FHA loans and VA loans, which each have different characteristics that fit different types of aspiring homeowners. Like all loans, a mortgage is a financial obligation — one that typically lasts for 30 years — and only ends when you’ve repaid it in full. As of the first quarter of 2023, FRED Economic Data put the total outstanding debt of home mortgages in the U.S. at $13.4 million.
What gets you out of your financial commitment are your payments — and that’s where mortgage amortization comes in. Understanding what it is, how it works and avoiding some common mistakes will help you avoid financial challenges as you pay off your mortgage.
What Is Mortgage Amortization?
Mortgage amortization is a roadmap for your mortgage. It outlines how each of your mortgage payments contributes to paying off your total loan amount over time. Simply put, it's the journey from owing a debt to being mortgage-free.
Understanding mortgage amortization is key for homeowners because it affects long-term financial planning. Knowing how it works lets you see the impact of your mortgage payments and provides insight so you can adjust your strategies to fit your financial goals.
How Does Mortgage Amortization Work?
Delving into the workings of mortgage amortization is like peeking behind the curtain of your mortgage payments. It gives you a clearer picture of where your money goes each month and how each payment contributes to owning your home outright. There are two main components that make up every mortgage payment: the principal and interest.
Delineating Your Principal and Interest
The principal and interest components of your mortgage payments interact in a way that's fundamental to understanding how your mortgage and its amortization work.
The principal is the amount you borrowed to purchase your home. It's where all your other mortgage costs originate. When you make a mortgage payment, a portion of it goes towards reducing the principal.
Interest is the fee lenders charge for the opportunity to borrow their money. You calculate it as a percentage of the unpaid principal.
For example, let's say your loan amount for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was $200,000. Your interest rate was at 6%. For the first five years, this is how much you’ll pay in interest:
Total Interest Paid (annually)
So as your principal decreases, so does the amount of interest, even if your interest rate remains the same.
At the start of your mortgage, a significant portion of your payment goes towards paying off the interest, with a smaller amount reducing the principal. As time goes on and your outstanding principal decreases, the portion of your payments going towards interest shrinks while the portion dedicated to paying down your principal grows.
Although you pay less interest as your unpaid principal decreases, it doesn't translate to a reduction in your monthly payment if you have a fixed-rate mortgage. You’ll still pay the same amount each month, but the portion allocated towards your principal increases.
How to Calculate Amortization
Knowing your principal and interest allows you to calculate amortization — here's how it works.
The amortization formula can seem complex, but it's manageable when broken down. It's as follows:
M = P [ r(1 + r)^n ] / [ (1 + r)^n – 1]
- M is your monthly payment.
- P is the principal loan amount.
- r is your monthly interest rate, derived from your annual interest rate divided by 12.
- n is your number of payments (the number of months you will be paying the loan).
Let's break it down using our earlier example of a $200,000, 15-year mortgage with a 6% interest rate:
- Find your monthly interest rate (r). You get this by dividing your interest rate (6%) by 12. That gives you 0.005.
- Find the number of payments (n). Most mortgages’ loan lengths are expressed in years. You need to convert it to months by multiplying it by 12. In this case, that’s 15 x 12, giving you 180.
- Plug these numbers into the formula to calculate M, the monthly payment.
Doing the math gives you a better understanding of how mortgage amortization works, but it can be tedious. Using an online mortgage calculator can streamline the process and can help you see how changes to the loan amount, interest rate,or loan term can affect your payments.
MoneyGeek’s mortgage calculator can help you estimate how much your monthly payments will be. Provide the following information to get an accurate result:
- Loan Amount
- Loan Terms
- Interest Rate
Alternatively, you can begin calculations using the home’s sale price and your down payment.
Factors Affecting Amortization
Two factors that significantly affect your mortgage amortization are interest rates and loan terms. Higher interest rates mean a larger portion of your payments goes toward interest, especially early in your loan term. Shorter loan terms result in higher monthly payments but speed up equity building and total interest savings. It's a delicate balance between these factors that shapes your unique amortization experience.
Interest (Fixed-Rate vs. Adjustable-Rate Mortgages)
Let’s look at interest rates first, since these play a crucial role in how much you'll ultimately pay for your home. Mortgage interest rates can be one of two kinds: fixed or adjustable.
Fixed-rate mortgages are exactly what they sound like — the interest rate stays the same throughout the entire loan term. Here's how that affects your amortization:
Stable monthly payments. You know
Locked into the initial rate. Even if rates drop,
Protection against rising rates. If market
Higher initial interest rates. Fixed-rate mortgages often
Simplified structure. There's less to worry
Refinancing to change rate. To benefit
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), on the other hand, have interest rates that change over time based on market conditions. Here's how ARMs affect your mortgage:
Lower initial interest rates. ARMs often
Payments can increase. If the interest
Rates could decrease. If market rates
Budgeting challenges. Fluctuating payments
Rate caps limit increases. ARMs often have
Rate depends on the market. Your interest
Understanding the implications of fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages on your amortization is crucial because it shapes your mortgage experience. While fixed-rate loans offer stability and predictability, adjustable-rate mortgages provide initial savings and potential rate decreases. Be sure to consider your financial situation and future goals when you decide which one to go with.
Loan Lengths (Short-Term vs. Long-Term Mortgages)
Another critical aspect of mortgage amortization is loan lengths. How long you plan to repay your loan can significantly influence your amortization schedule, impacting your overall financial planning.
Short-term loans, typically those with a repayment period of 10 to 15 years, are popular with homeowners because there’s potential for substantial savings over time. You pay off these loans more quickly, and that translates to less interest overall. A faster repayment schedule also allows you to build home equity faster.
Here’s a glimpse of the pros and cons of short-term mortgages:
Build home equity faster. Pay off
Higher monthly payments. With the
Pay less in total interest. Shorter term
Requires more income. You'll need
Mortgage freedom sooner. Achieve full
Fewer resources for other investments. Your
Long-term loans, typically spanning 30 years, may also appeal to some homeowners because it makes homeownership more accessible to those with moderate incomes. A long-term loan provides financial flexibility — you can use more of your monthly income for other expenses or investments.
Lower monthly payments. Spreading payments
Pay more in total interest. The
More budget for other investments. Lower
Slower equity building. It takes
May be easier to qualify for. Lenders
Risk of being "underwater." If
Your choice of loan term has significant implications for your mortgage amortization. Short-term mortgages allow for faster equity building and savings on total interest but demand higher monthly payments, while long-term loans offer smaller, more manageable monthly payments but result in more interest paid over time. This decision should be made considering your current income, future financial prospects and overall financial strategy.
Understanding Your Amortization Schedule
After seeing how interest rates and loan lengths affect your mortgage amortization, you can take a closer look at your amortization schedule. It’s a detailed timeline showing how each of your payments is divided between principal and interest over the life of your loan and reveals your progress in building equity. Ignoring your amortization schedule may lead you to pay more interest than necessary or miss opportunities to build equity faster.
Given the previous example of a $200,000 mortgage for 15 years with a 6% fixed interest rate, the monthly mortgage payment would be approximately $1,687.71. A closer look at it tells you how much goes towards your principal and interest.
Goes to Principal
Goes to Interest
Remaining Loan Balance
As the table shows, even if you pay the same amount per month, the portions that go to your principal and interest vary over time.
Understanding your amortization schedule can help you visualize your mortgage's impact on your long-term financial health and can help you make decisions regarding making extra payments or refinancing.
Strategies to Effectively Manage Your Mortgage Amortization Schedule
Now that you know how much you’ll pay for the duration of your loan, it’s wise to consider strategies that can help you navigate it more effectively and potentially save on interest or build equity faster.
Extra Payments: A Shortcut to Mortgage Freedom
Paying your mortgage as agreed with your lender is good, but what if you could do better? You might think that a mortgage's structure is set in stone, but there's room for flexibility, including the option to make extra payments.
Incorporating extra payments into your repayment plan can provide several advantages:
- Interest Savings: The principal amount of your loan influences the interest accrued. An extra payment directly reduces your loan principal, lowering the overall interest you have to pay.
- Shorter Loan Term: Extra payments not only reduce your principal balance faster, but they can also significantly shorten your loan term. This essentially means less time you have to worry about your mortgage.
- Faster Equity Building: The faster you pay your loan principal, the quicker you build equity in your home. This can come in handy if you decide to sell your home or borrow against your equity through a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC).
However, extra payments mean extra expenses, and you must ensure that doing this doesn’t put unnecessary strain on your finances. Consider the following to incorporate extra payments into your mortgage plan:
- Monthly Extra Payments: Budgeting an extra amount every month towards your mortgage can be manageable. It's a consistent approach that gradually reduces your principal.
- Lump-Sum Annually: If you receive a yearly bonus or tax refund, consider using it for a lump-sum extra payment. This makes a bigger dent in your principal, leading to significant reductions in your interest over time.
- Bi-Weekly Payments: Make 26 half-payments in a year instead of 12 full payments. This effectively adds an extra month's payment to your mortgage annually.
Let's consider the impact of making extra payments for a 15-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate of 6%. For this example, we'll use $200,000 as our principal. See the difference when you add $250 per month:
Amortization Schedule Without Extra Payments:
Principal at Start of Year
Principal at End of Year
Amortization Schedule With Extra Payments:
Principal at Start of Year
Principal at End of Year
In these tables, you can see that by making an extra payment of $250 per month, the mortgage is paid off in 13 years instead of 15 years. This results in significant interest savings over the life of the loan.
Refinancing and Amortization: What You Should Consider
Refinancing is the process of obtaining a new mortgage to replace your original one. Homeowners consider it for various reasons: lower interest rates, switching from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate one or extending the term of their loan. Refinancing your mortgage can significantly affect your mortgage amortization, but it's a decision that should not be made lightly.
Take this scenario, for example:
Lucy and James, a couple in their early 40s, have been homeowners for a decade. They purchased their house on a 30-year mortgage with a 7% interest rate. Over the years, their financial situation has improved significantly: their careers have progressed, and they have managed to pay down their other debts.
In the current market, interest rates have dropped to 4%, making Lucy and James consider refinancing their mortgage. It could lower their monthly payments, which would ease their monthly budget. They could also choose a shorter loan term, such as 15 years, to pay off their mortgage faster and save on interest payments in the long run.
Attractive as it may sound, there are several factors to consider if you refinance your mortgage. Besides having closing costs, you’ll also restart the amortization process. That means more of your payment will go towards interest in the beginning. Be sure to analyze your financial situation before deciding whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mortgage Amortization
We answered some of the most commonly asked questions about mortgage amortization, which can serve as a supplementary resource to help you navigate your mortgage.
About Christopher Boston
- FRED Economic Data. "Description of table L.218 - One-to-four-family Residential Mortgages." Accessed July 26, 2023.
- FRED Economic Data. "One-to-Four-Family Residential Mortgages." Accessed July 26, 2023.