With hotspots like Las Vegas, much of California and Florida still enjoying a good real estate market, many banks and mortgage companies are now spreading out payments over 50 years to make them more affordable. Prior to these 50-year mortgages, interest-only mortgages were promoted and sold as the way to go. The real question here is which is better?

Let’s first digress on what an interest-only mortgage is. Interest-only home loans or mortgages aren’t as a general rule permanently interest-only. The bank or mortgage company will normally offer the borrower 2 to 5 years at interest-only; after that they must start paying off the principle. During this time, the principle has grown. A great many borrowers may find themselves unable to pay the higher payments that come at the end of this interest-only period.  In this case, interest-only loans are similar to ARMs, and have similar default and foreclosure rates (higher than for regular fixed mortgages where the payment stays the same throughout).

The 50-year mortgage simply spreads your payments out over a longer time period and greatly increases the amount of interest you will payback; this also tends to reduce your build-up of equity.  Alex Diaz Jr., Vice President of Statewide Bancorp in Rancho Cucamonga, stated that “the 50-year mortgage has particular appeal in California because prices are higher than the rest of the country. The 30-year fixed mortgage is great, but with gas prices so high, people we're dealing with are concerned about making prices work, and the 50-year mortgage is something they're starting to consider."  The real estate market has grown by leaps and bounds in California with the average home selling in excess of $300,000.

The 50-year mortgage was designed to do three things. First, it makes it much easier for someone to buy a home in these high price areas. Second, it can help buffer and insulate the borrower against a housing bubble or possible localized deflation. Third, it keeps the selling prices high.  However, many so-called real estate experts will tell you that the interest-only loan does the same thing, but does it? The main problem with the interest-only loan is that it does not insulate or offer any protection for the borrower from increasing principle, negative equity (which can happen should there be a drop in housing prices), and, of course, those increasing payments when the term you agreed is over.

Keeping this in mind, plus the fact that there is only a very minor difference in initial payments (payments over the interest-only period), clearly the 50-year mortgage should be a better way to go.

If your budget allows, a good tactic to use is to make bi-monthly payments which will reduce the interest and term of the loan saving you many thousands of dollars. There are many lenders out there now offering this option to their borrowers.  As they say, the real money in real estate is made from buying low and selling high.

The problem is that in most of these hot communities, the selling price often ends up being much higher than the asking price, plus houses do not stay on the market for very long at all.  So, buying low is normally out of the question.  Just try finding a bargain foreclosure or HUD homes for sale in California, it's a little like trying to find gold in the old days.  In these hot communities, the real money is made by buying and holding for a number of years allowing for the yearly increases and returns on additions and upgrades.  Money can be made for sure, but with a uncertain future. It is really best to have a payment program set in stone – always use a fixed term and rate mortgage. You can still sell in five years or less, make money, and have the added comfort of a fixed payment.

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