A Guide to Choosing a Mortgage Term

By Jody McMaster · January 21, 2024 · 5 minute read

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A Guide to Choosing a Mortgage Term

Homebuyers choose the number of years they’d like their mortgage to last. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is by far the most popular, followed by the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, but terms of 10, 20, 25, and even 40 years are available. The term that will work best for each borrower largely depends on the monthly mortgage payment they can handle and how long they plan to keep the property.

What Is a Mortgage Term?

The term is the number of years it will take to pay off a home loan if the minimum payment is made each month. Knowing how long you plan to stay in your home can affect the type of home loan that fits your situation when you shop for a mortgage — not only short or long term, but also fixed or adjustable interest rate.

Of course, every borrower’s situation is unique. But according to the National Association of Realtors®, the average homeowner tenure was 13.2 years in 2021. And in 2023, people who were selling homes had typically lived in the property for a decade.

💡 Quick Tip: SoFi’s Lock and Look + feature allows you to lock in a low mortgage financing rate for 90 days while you search for the perfect place to call home.

How Mortgage Terms Work

For fixed-rate home loans, payments consist of principal and interest, with a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. With mortgage amortization, the amount going toward the principal starts out small and grows each month, while the amount going toward interest declines each month.

A shorter term, conventional loan generally translates to higher monthly payments but less total interest paid, and a longer term, vice versa. A shorter-term loan also will have a lower interest rate.

This mortgage calculator tool includes an amortization chart that shows how payments break down over a fixed-rate loan term, as well as the total amount of interest paid, which in a fixed-rate loan is predictable.

Most adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) also have a 30-year term. You can’t know in advance how much total interest you will pay because the interest rate changes.

How Long Can a Mortgage Term Be?

A few lenders out there offer 40-year mortgages. Qualifying is more difficult, and the rates are the highest among fixed-rate loans, while ARMs can be unpredictable.

The long term means a borrower will make the lowest possible monthly payments but pay more over the life of the loan than any other.

💡 Quick Tip: Not to be confused with prequalification, preapproval involves a longer application, documentation, and hard credit pulls. Ideally, you want to keep your applications for preapproval to within the same 14- to 45-day period, since many hard credit pulls outside the given time period can adversely affect your credit score, which in turn affects the mortgage terms you’ll be offered.

Fixed-Rate Mortgages vs Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

When you’re first choosing mortgage terms or looking at different types of mortgages, start with one of the basics.

A fixed-rate mortgage is exactly what it sounds like. You lock in an interest rate for the entire term. If market rates rise, yours will not.

An adjustable-rate mortgage is much more complicated. An ARM usually will have a lower initial rate than a comparable fixed-rate mortgage, and a borrower may be able to save significant cash over the first years of the loan.

Recommended: Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) vs. Fixed Rate Mortgage

But a rate adjustment can bring a spike in mortgage payments that could be hard or impossible to bear. With the most common variable-rate loan, the 5/1 ARM, the rate stays the same for the first five years, then changes once a year.

An interest-only ARM has an upside and downside. You’ll pay only the interest for a specified number of years, when payments will be small, but you will not be paying anything toward your mortgage loan balance.

An ARM may suit those who are confident that they can afford increases in monthly payments, even to the maximum amount, or those who plan to sell their home within a short period of time.

ARM seekers may want to prequalify for more than one loan and compare loan estimates. It’s a good idea to know the answers to these questions:

•   How high can the interest rates and my payment go?

•   How high can my interest rate go?

•   How long are my initial payments guaranteed?

•   How often do the rate and payment adjust?

•   What index is used and where is it published?

•   Will I be able to convert the ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage in the future, and are there any fees to do so?

•   Can I afford the highest payment possible if I can’t sell the home, or refinance, before the increase?

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Comparing 15-Year and 30-Year Mortgages

Clearly, paying off a mortgage in 15 years rather than 30 sounds great. You’ll get a lower rate, pay much less total interest, and be done with house payments in half the time. The catch? Higher monthly payments. Here’s an example of how a 30- and 15-year fixed-rate mortgage might shake out, not including property taxes and insurance and any homeowners association (HOA) fees.

30-Year vs. 15-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage


Loan Specs



Total Interest Paid

30-year Appraised value: $375,000
Down payment: $75,000
Loan size: $300,000
4% Mortgage payment: $1,432 $215,607
15-year Appraised value: $375,000
Down payment: $75,000
Loan size: $300,000
3.2% Mortgage payment: $2,101 $78,130

There’s a reason that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage reigns supreme: manageable payments that ideally leave enough money for emergencies and retirement savings. Borrowers making lower payments can always pay more toward the principal if they want to pay off the mortgage early.

Then again, borrowers with stable finances who can afford the higher payments of a 15-year home loan may find it quite appealing.

The Takeaway

How to pick a mortgage term? Look at your budget, think about how long you plan to stay in the home, and weigh your financial goals and priorities. Consider getting prequalified so you can see what your options are.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

+Lock and Look program: Terms and conditions apply. Applies to conventional purchase loans only. Rate will lock for 91 calendar days at the time of preapproval. An executed purchase contract is required within 60 days of your initial rate lock. If current market pricing improves by 0.25 percentage points or more from the original locked rate, you may request your loan officer to review your loan application to determine if you qualify for a one-time float down. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate this offer at any time with or without notice to you.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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