For many, buying a home is the biggest asset they will ever own. However, you aren’t able to fully benefit from that asset until you pay off the mortgage; until then it is technically a liability. The most common length of a mortgage loan is 30 years, but most people either sell their home, refinance their mortgage – or even pay it off before the end of that term.
What are the pros and cons of paying off a mortgage early? Obviously, you no longer have to make monthly payments, so money can be directed elsewhere. It is advisable to pay off your mortgage before you retire, when most people live on a lower, fixed income. By having the mortgage paid off, that money can be redirected to other household expenses and/or provide higher discretionary income.
It should be noted that paying off your mortgage doesn’t provide relief from other routine, high-ticket home expenses such as property taxes, homeowners’ insurance or regular maintenance. However, owning your home outright means it can’t be foreclosed on and taken from you. It also provides a large financial asset from which you can tap the equity or sell for a windfall.
While paying off your mortgage can provide security and peace of mind, you should consider all the factors before going down this path. For example, you may not have enough discretionary income to devote to making extra payments to your mortgage loan principal.
Usually in the first 10 to 20 years of homeownership, buyers are juggling a multitude of financial obligations – raising a family, building an emergency fund, saving for college, taking annual vacations and investing for retirement. That doesn’t always leave a lot of money left over for your mortgage.
There are, however, different strategies you can use to pay off a mortgage early:
- Pay an extra amount toward your principal along with your regular payment every month.
- Pay an extra amount each year, such as from a work bonus or other annual windfall.
- If you continue working after retirement age, you may want to allocate required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a retirement account toward your mortgage.
- Make large payments each year from an inherited IRA transferred from a deceased parent’s retirement account. Non-spouse heirs generally have 10 years to use up these funds. By withdrawing only a portion of the funds each year, the inherited IRA may continue to grow over the full 10-year period.
- Pay off fully or a significant portion of the mortgage using other inherited funds from a deceased parent.
Not only does paying off the mortgage early shorten the life of the loan, but it also can save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments.
For some people, paying off a mortgage early may not be their best strategy. After all, if they have locked in a low, fixed interest rate on the loan for the entire term, their excess income may be better deployed to an investment portfolio. Over a 15-, 20- or 30-year period, regular contributions to an investment portfolio can earn even more than the equity built up in a home.
If you’re locked into a high-interest rate mortgage, you may want to consider refinancing when rates are adjusted downward. This can help you allocate more money toward your principal. However, don’t be quick to refinance to a lower rate if you already have a low rate, as mortgages are structured to pay a higher percentage of interest on the front end of the loan. When possible, it’s best to refinance or pay extra principal in the early years of the loan rather than the later years – because refinancing could cause you to pay more interest in another front-loaded loan for another long term. Also be aware that some mortgages have an early payoff penalty, generally during the early years of a refinance, so check before you pay it off early.
Another consideration is that mortgage interest is tax deductible, which may be a key tax saver for those in a high tax bracket.
It’s a good idea to pay off any high-interest debt you may owe, such as credit cards, auto or student loans before paying down your mortgage early. These debts may be costing you more money than you can save paying off a low-interest mortgage. Once you’re debt free, you can redeploy those payments toward your mortgage principal.
The decision to pay off a mortgage early depends on your situation and your priorities. Specifically, if you still need to build an emergency reserve fund, catch up on retirement savings, or pay down high-interest debt, you might be better off allocating money elsewhere. By the same token, if the investment markets are enjoying an upward trend and you have a low-interest mortgage, you may want to just let your money “ride” in the market so you have more available later – perhaps then you can pay off your mortgage before you retire.