Should you get a 15 or 30 Year Loan When Financing Rental Properties?

15 year loans may appear to save money over 30 year loans because they have a lower interest rate, but I would much rather have the flexibility of a 30 year loan. Buying rental properties is a great investment, especially when you are able to use a mortgage to buy the properties and still get great cash flow. Many investors will get a 15 year mortgage on their rental properties, because the rates are a little lower and they can pay off the properties quicker. I use a 30 year loan when I buy my rental properties, because I get more cash flow and I have more flexibility with that extra money.

What are the advantages of a 15 year loan versus a 30 year loan?

The biggest advantage of a 15 year mortgage compared to a 30 year mortgage is the interest rate on a 15 year loan is less than a 30 year loan. The difference in rates changes daily and varies with different banks, but a 15 year loan is usually about .5 percent less than a 30 year fixed mortgage.

Some people think the biggest advantage of 15 year loans is the term of the loan; 15 years versus 30 years. But I don’t agree because you can pay a 30 year loan off early if you want too. You don’t have to make the minimum payment on a 30 year loan if you want to pay more. I used to pay off my 30 year loans early using my snowball method.

How much money does the lower rate on a 15 year loan save?

If you get a 15 year, $100,000 loan on a rental property at a 4 percent interest rate, the payments will be $740 a month (check out bank rate mortgage calculator for calculating mortgage payments). Over the 15 years of that loan you will pay $33,143 in interest. With a 30 year loan at 4.5 percent interest, the total amount paid in interest over the life of the loan will be $82,406.

On the surface it looks like you are saving almost $50,000 by getting a 15 year loan. However, you are paying interest over 30 years on one loan and over 15 years on the other, which is deceiving. The payment on a 30 year loan is only $507 a month, which is $233 less a month than the 15 year loan. If you were to take that $233 a month and put it back into the 30 year loan each month, the 30 year loan would cost $39,754 in interest and be paid off in less than 17 years. It definitely costs a little more to have the higher interest rate, but over 15 years that is only $550 each year.

For more information on how to buy the best rentals which will make the most money, check out my book: Build a Rental Property Empire: The no-nonsense book on finding deals, financing the right way, and managing wisely. The book is 374 pages long, comes in paperback or as an eBook and is an Amazon best seller.

Why would a 30 year loan be better than a 15 year loan?

It is true that with a 15 year loan you will pay less interest than a 30 year loan. However, you are paying a higher payment every month on the 15 year loan. If you add up the payment savings with the 30 year loan, you save $2,796 each year and $41,940 over 15 years by paying a lower payment.

That extra money can be used for many things that will make you much more money than that $6,000 in interest you save. You can save up the cash flow to buy more rental properties. You can use the money to build an emergency fund. You could also pay extra to the mortgage and if you ever need the extra money later, you can stop putting extra money into the mortgage.

Buying multiple rental properties is harder with 15 year loans

Another huge factor when considering whether to use a 15 or 30 year loan, is qualifying for more properties. When banks qualify an investor, they will look at debt to income ratios. A 15 year loan will have a higher payment and increase your monthly debt payments. The higher your loan payments are, the less cash flow you will have and it will be harder to qualify for new loans. Many banks will only count 75 percent of your rental income when qualifying an investor for a loan. Even if you are cash flowing with a 15 year loan, if you can only count 75 percent of the rental income, you may show a loss each month. If you have many rental properties showing a loss, it will be very hard to qualify for new loans.

Check your credit score here to see if you can qualify for a loan.

Using a 30 year ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) versus a 15 year fixed loan

When I finance my rental properties, I use 30 year ARMs. An ARM is an adjustable rate mortgage that has a fixed interest rate for a certain amount of time. The interest rate on an ARM can adjust up or down after the fixed time period is up. My portfolio lender offers 5 and 7 year ARMs with a 30 year amortization. The rate will stay the same for the 5 or 7 year term, but can adjust after that term is up. There are limits on how much the rate can adjust each year and a ceiling that it can never go over. The great part about ARMs is they have a lower rate than a 30 year fixed rate loan and even the 15 year fixed rate loan.

If you get an ARM for your rental properties you will have an even lower payment than a 30 year fixed rate loan and save money in interest costs over a 15 year fixed rate loan. To me it is the best of both worlds.

Why is an ARM less risky than you may think?

There are obviously some risks involved with an ARM, because the rate can go up after 5 or 7 years. My plan is to pay off my loans before they can adjust and I also have enough cash flow to be able to sustain a higher interest rate if I don’t pay them off. Chances are rents will increase in the time period as well. If you have enough cash flow and a plan for when rates could increase, you should have no problem with an ARM.

If you don’t have enough cash flow and your payments go up, you could get into trouble with an ARM. Negative cash flow is hard to sustain and it will be harder to qualify for loans if you have negative cash flow.

Benefit of a lower payment versus a higher payment in the future

ARMs allow a small payment in the beginning of a loan and possibly a higher payment in the future. The nice thing about the lower payment is you have more cash flow and inflation comes into play when you are investing money. If you can pay less money now and more in the future it is a good thing, because inflation will make money worth less in the future. Even though your payment might go up on an ARM; 5 or 7 years later that money will be worth less and your rents could have gone up. If you use the money you save on an ARM to invest in more rental properties or something else with a decent return, you will be way ahead than if you had paid a higher payment with the 15 or 30 year fixed loan.

For more information on financing long-term rental properties, fix and flips or owner occupant homes check out my E book: How to Finance Multiple Rental Properties. The book is available at Amazon or in PDF format.

Why is a 30 year loan safer than a 15 year loan?

Many people have a tough time saving money and the higher your mortgage payment is, the harder it will be to save. Having an emergency fund is very important for financial stability. If you do not have an emergency fund, do not get a 15 year mortgage. Get the 3o year mortgage, and save up for the emergency fund. Once the emergency fund has enough money (6 months of living expenses) you can pay off your mortgage early if you would like to.

Remember that you see no real benefit to paying off your mortgage early unless you pay off the entire loan, refinance, or sell. Your house payment will stay the same until the loan is paid off in full. If you need to access the equity you have in your house, you cannot ask the lender to give you back what you have paid early. You will have to sell the house or get a brand new loan (refinance or home equity line of credit).

If get a 15 year loan and have a medical emergency, lose your job, or cannot work, the bank will not lower the payment for you. You have to keep paying that high mortgage payment every month. If you had a 30 year mortgage and were paying more to it every month, an emergency would not be nearly as devastating, because you could stop paying extra.

Conclusion

On the surface, a 15 year fixed rate mortgage may seem like the best way to go. It saves money on interest over the life of the loan and has a shorter term. I believe the 15 year loan is the worst choice because you are tying up your money, making it harder to qualify for loans, and you could be investing that money in something that gives a higher return. If you get a 30 year ARM, the interest rate will actually be lower than the 15 year loan, and you might be able to pay that loan off faster than the 15 year loan.

31 thoughts on “Should you get a 15 or 30 Year Loan When Financing Rental Properties?”

  1. Great article. It has definitely opened my eyes on considering ARM products vs just 15 or 30 year loans.
    Furthermore, you stated “Remember that you see no real benefit to paying off your mortgage early unless you pay off the entire loan, refinance, or sell.”, however, wouldn’t you be saving on interest payments if you pay off the principal quicker? Let’s say you pay $300 extra on the principal each month, that’s $3,600 a year that you’re not paying interest on or am I looking at this wrong?

    • You are right that you would be paying less interest, but my point was that you are still making the same payment and you don’t see that benefit of paying less interest until you sell, pay off or refi. it is only a paper advantage until that point.

  2. much of this depends on your needs, I do my calculations on 10 year amm with a minimum of $200/mo positive, but do 3/1 commercial notes with 15 year amm. I dont need the cashflow now but want it later. I also only want about 25 properties, so that will not be a any problem for lending. we also buy with an ARV at minimum of 40% above our all in cost, those buying at retail or slightly below and take an 80% mortgage for 30 years are taking a lot of risk if the market shifts and they need to liquidate in the first 12 or so years, as the principal pay down does not really kick until about 10 years in, so that a little hope and pray that markets will go up, a little too risky in my book. all the talk on the pod casts about zero to 20% down for 30 years is great assuming outside forces dont change, and all goes well, but an awful lot can happen in 30 years.

    • I think you need to buy at least 20 percent below market. That builds in about 40 to 50 percent equity. Over 30 years prices will go up unless you are in a completely depressed area.

  3. Deciding between a 15 and 30 yr can also vary greatly depending on your current life situation. For myself, I have a 2 year old son (2nd on the way) and my goal is to have a cash generating machine just before he hits college age. To do this I am using 15 year loans. Why? Because I don’t need the cash right now, but when its time for college tuition season… these properties will be churning out boatloads of cash as each mortgage will be paid off and rent will be straight cash (less taxes misc expenses etc).
    So the choice between 30 and 15 isn’t always so clear. If you need cash now, go for 30. If you want to retire sooner, I’d go for 15 and as they are paid off your life ability to retire early because much more clear.
    Additionally, you build up Equity MUCH MUCH faster with a 15 yr loan vs a 30 yr loan. So if for any reason you are forced to sell after 10 yrs, you will have built up far more equity in the 15yr loan home vs a 30 yr loan home.

    • totally with you on this, and with equity, allows access to Lines of Credit, giving you access to your own lower interest cash for acquisition, we use our lines to buy, then finance them after repairs, kinda like the BP “BRRR” but instead of seeking transaction funding at 10+% mine is at 4.5% and no points, and I just transfer funds no asking permission. it allows so much freedom.

  4. Mark, do the lenders always require w2 for last 3 years to qualify for best rate mortgages?
    I have three rental homes on 5Arm under commercial loan and want to get them.under residential 30yr mortgage.
    Second question.. I got an email from AllStateFinancialUSA that they do finance rental propty without W2 amd base it only on rental income. Thats the first I have heard of..is this legit in case u hppen to knowiot this company…
    Maybe the larger question is, is it wise to go with small name lenders vs big banks or credit unions?
    Thanks Mark..love your posts!

  5. Hi Mark… I’m late to the party… maybe too late. What about when you turn your current home that has a 15 year mortgage (13.5 years left) into a rental property. Should I refinance it to the 5 year ARM or just leave it alone. Current rate on my 15 year is 2.75%
    Thanks,

  6. Thank you for the information. If you want to sell the property in 3-5 years and get a bigger property later, which option is better for the short term property- 15 year or 30 year?.

  7. In Canada, all mortgages are ARMs with a 20 or 25 year amortization. No such thing as a 15 or 30 fixed loan. the long term/ fixed loAn would be 10 years which very few people would even touch because their interest rate would be 4.5 vs 2.75 on a 5 year term.,
    Mark, what you would consider to be a fairly short ARM at 5 years, Canadians would consider that as conservative long term for a mortgage. Personally though, I think that your 5 year arm with a 30 Year loan is the way to go for Canadians. Now if we could only get our average house price down below 440000$.

  8. Hey Mark,…

    Is a rental property appraised the same way as a primary resident / owner occupied home…?

    The property in question has been rented for 36.4 months solid with cash flow and has room for improvement in terms of cash-flow.

    Howard

    • Hi Howard, It depends on what type of rental it is. If it is a single family home it will be appraised for its best and highest use which is a single family home. If it is a four unit rental then it would be appraised for income as that is its best use.

  9. Would this apply to people buying properties through commercial refinancing? I feel like building equity quicker (15 year) would be more ideal for my situation. It’s easier for a Canadian to buy mulitple properties in cash then refinance them after.

  10. Great post Mark. I never thought about using a 30 year ARM but I really like the way you think. If you have a strong cash flow then the 5 or 7 year adjustment really won’t affect you.

    I would rather have the cash today.

  11. Very timely article and great advice as I am working with a portfolio lender for my next rental. I went with a 30-yr. fixed rate on my first rental and am excited to go with a 5 or 7 year ARM amortized for 30 years on this next one. Wish I had known this information before! Thanks so much Mark!

  12. As you get more and more properties, you will find that you cannot get any loans, unless you get commercial loans or get more creative.

    Once you get a 5-unit or more, it’s commercial. Once you get 10+ mortgages, it’s commercial. Even anything over 4 mortgages is a bit tough to get Freddie/Fannie loans. Some banks will not do them,

  13. We have done a 20 year ARM with a fixed rate for 5 years on our most recent deal. It seemed like a happy medium but now I’m not so sure. What do you think? How easy is it to change the terms? On our next loan I think I’ll consider the 30 year ARM as you suggested. That will make it easier to build up our emergency fund or to invest in a new fix and flip. This post really gave me some good practical tips thanks!

  14. The timing of this post was perfect. I’ve been considering the terms of a recent purchase and was trying to decide what would be better a 15 year or 30 year mortgage. Your post helped clarify for me the advantages of the 30 year over the 15 year. On the surface 15 year seems much better, but after reading this I realize now that’s not the case.

  15. Agreed. I’m looking at a $120K loan, and the difference is nearly $300/mo between the 30 yr term and 15. Even though the property should be very cash positive, an extra $3600/yr will help protect against repair cost or vacancies. I’m not counting on increased value, just the good cap rate. The cash can always be used to pay the mortgage down sooner, if not used for the next deal.

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