Home Prices Are Up. Should You Make a Higher Down Payment?

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Should you adjust your down payment to account for rising housing costs?

If you've been keeping tabs on the U.S. housing market, you may be well aware that home prices have soared over the past year. We can thank limited inventory and low mortgage rates for fueling that trend.

In September, the median listing price for a U.S. home was $380,000, according to Realtor.com. That's up 8.6% from the same time last year, when demand for homes was also high.

Given the way home prices have gone up, you may be wondering if it makes sense to make a higher down payment on the property you end up buying. That way, you'll have less of a mortgage to take out, which means you'll pay less interest over the life of your loan. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of putting more money down at closing in today's market.

A higher down payment could benefit you

The less money you have to borrow in the form of a mortgage, the less money you spend on interest. Say you need a $300,000 loan at 3.2% interest that you'll pay off over 30 years. All told, you'll spend $167,300 in interest over the course of paying off your home. If you put another $20,000 down at closing to shrink your loan amount to $280,000, you'll end up spending $156,147 on interest, assuming the same mortgage rate and repayment period. That's over $11,000 in savings.

Plus, if you make that larger down payment, you'll lower your monthly mortgage payment by $86. That buys you more wiggle room in your monthly budget.

A higher down payment may not be worth it

We just saw how a higher down payment could result in a nice amount of interest savings. But let's remember that the roughly $11,000 in savings we reap in the example above is savings over a 30-year time frame. It's not like you get to enjoy that savings in a single year.

Meanwhile, to enjoy that $11,000 in savings, you'll have to fork over an extra $20,000 up front. That could result in a near-term financial strain or limit your buying power in other ways.

Say you put that extra money into your home in the form of a down payment but then want to renovate within a year of closing on your home. You may not be able to afford home improvements because you made a higher down payment. Or, you may land in a position where you have to take out a home renovation loan at a higher interest rate than what your mortgage charges you.

In fact, because mortgage rates are so low right now, it generally pays to err on the side of borrowing more, not less. Granted, you should aim to put down 20% of your home's purchase price at closing to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance, a costly premium that makes your monthly payments more expensive. But once you've hit that 20% threshold, there's no need to push yourself to make a higher down payment unless you can easily afford it and want to keep your monthly home loan payments as low as possible.

It could pay to take advantage of low rates

Home prices may be up right now, but because borrowing is still cheap, you don't necessarily need to push yourself to boost your down payment. While you may have to take out a larger loan amount due to the way home prices have risen, competitive interest rates should offset that larger loan amount so your monthly payments are still manageable on a whole.

Our Research Expert