Refinance or Pay Extra on Mortgage?

Dear Dr. Don,

I bought my apartment in Brooklyn in 2003 with a 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 5.25% on approximately $310,000 with monthly payments of about $1,705. I would like to own my home outright in 15 years, and I am therefore considering refinancing. I think a new 15-year mortgage would add about $350 per month to my payments. I am reasonably sure I can afford an extra payment of about $350 per month. But is it worth it, or should I just pay an extra $350 a month to the current mortgage?

-James Juxtaposer

Dear James, Seven years in on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, you're right to consider shortening the term of the loan when refinancing. The table below estimates your existing loan balance, and shows the difference between refinancing and just making additional principal payments on the existing loan. You can use Bankrate's amortization schedule calculator to tighten up these numbers to reflect your exact situation.

The estimated after-tax expense assumes that you can fully utilize the mortgage interest deduction on your taxes and estimates a federal marginal income tax rate of 25%.

The advantage of making additional principal payments is that you don't have to pay closing costs on a refinancing. The advantage of refinancing is that you've locked in a mortgage interest rate about 1% below your current rate. For the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, I used 4.25% in the table above because it came the closest to the $350 difference in payments you mentioned in your letter.

If you're planning on staying in the apartment long term, then refinancing is the way to go. You sound a little unsure about your ability to make the increased monthly mortgage payment. If that's true, then consider refinancing into a 20-year mortgage instead of the 15-year and then make additional principal payments on that mortgage. The monthly payment will be about what you're paying now. That way you've captured the lower rate in refinancing, you haven't extended out past your existing mortgage and you can make additional principal payments when there's room in your monthly budget.

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Ask the adviser

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select one of these topics: "Financing a home," "Saving & Investing" or "Money." Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice. Bankrate's content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this web site, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation. Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this web site is governed by Bankrate's Terms of Use.