In my last Marvelous Money post, I shared our current Big Goal: paying off our mortgage early, in the next five years. I’ve had some questions about how and why we are doing that, so I thought we could chat about it today!
Why we are paying off our mortgage early:
Though paying off our mortgage early seems like a slam-dunk choice to us, there are pros and cons. Here are a few:
To expand a bit on these reasons:
— Save (probably many) thousands of dollars in interest payments: By paying off our mortgage more than 20 years early, John and I will save roughly $120,000 (!!!!!) That is a LOT of vacations and dance lessons and flights to see loved ones and delicious dinners out over a lifetime. That excites us!
— Reduce your nut: Megan McArdle describes your financial “nut” as “the amount of money that you absolutely have to pay every month if you don’t want scary-looking men to start repossessing your possessions.” Think: fixed expenses like car loans, student loans, mortgages, and the electric bill.
— Increase your freedom: The smaller your nut – the fewer obligations you have per month – the more freedom you have. If your nut is tiny, you can quit your job for one you love with a lower salary, or start your own business, or stay home with your kids. You can travel, or support charities that matter to you, or buy the most delicious-looking food at Whole Foods every week.
— Increase your share of ownership in an asset: As you pay off your mortgage, you’re buying more and more of your house from the bank and building equity (money in your pocket if you choose to sell one day!).
— Earn a guaranteed rate of return: You can think of eliminating a future payment as earning a guaranteed rate of return. For example, if your mortgage has a 4% interest rate, you’re effectively earning 4% interest on the money you use to pay off your loan.
On the other hand…
— It requires sacrifice and tradeoffs: This is the hard part, as we already discussed! For us, paying off our mortgage early means forgoing vacations, reducing our grocery budget, delaying clothing purchases, cooking at home, (almost) never going to the movies, not purchasing alcohol, and more.
— You potentially miss out on higher returns: The most common argument against paying off your mortgage early is that if you instead invested those extra payments in the stock market, you could earn a higher rate of return (since the stock market averages 9ish% per year over the long term). While this is true, it’s also true that most people don’t have the willpower to actually set aside that money and watch it build without dipping into it.
— You’ll eventually lose the mortgage deduction when you pay off your mortgage: This is true, but it’s still not a good reason to keep your mortgage, because the math doesn’t work out. Dave Ramsey explains more here, but the upshot is you’d always be paying more in interest than you’d save in taxes.
For us, the freedom and peace of mind we will gain from having no mortgage before June enters school far outweighs the sacrifices we’re making now and the potentially higher returns we’re missing out on.
So that’s our why! Let’s talk about our how.
Very simply, we’re paying a set amount per month over and above our normal payment. Since we live and die by our budget, we’ve found that budgeting for that expense just like everything else has been the most helpful instead of waiting for “extra” funds to pop up.
When we first started attacking our mortgage three years ago (after we paid off our student loans and car loans), we did the simplest thing: we put the extra money directly toward our mortgage. (Our mortgage lender allowed us to make manual online payments, which we did every month.)
A year and a half ago, however, we decided to take things up one more notch by aiming for the best of both worlds. Since the main critique of paying off a mortgage early is that it doesn’t make sense to pay off a low interest rate mortgage when you could be earning higher rates of return by investing, we decided to invest the extra money we had been paying toward our mortgage.
So, instead of directly applying the money to our mortgage, we now transfer our extra payment (the same amount as before) to a brokerage account every month, where it is invested in a mutual fund. When we reach the full amount we need to pay off our mortgage, we’ll pay it in one lump sum. That will be a sad day for our bank account, but a happy day for our assets :)
A word of caution: I would only consider doing our “next level” system if you have a long track record of steely willpower with your money. It is so tempting to just take a little here or there as we watch that fund grow and other needs come up, but for this plan to work, you have to consider it absolutely untouchable!
Also, this approach requires a willingness to take the risk that the money you’re saving for paying off your mortgage could actually lose value.
If you’re nervous you’d be tempted or don’t want to stomach the risk, just apply the extra payments straight to your mortgage – done and done. Also a fantastic option.
We’ve still got a few years to go, but once we get under $100k owed, I think we’ll make a visual countdown somewhere in our home! I remember watching the Rays $90k chalkboard countdown dwindle month after month whenever we went over for dinner. SO exciting, and such a great teaching opportunity for kids!
One caveat and one piece of encouragement before I sign off of this exceedingly lost post.
Caveat: Paying off your mortgage early may not be the right money goal for you right now. Dave Ramsey considers it baby step 6 of 7, after paying off all other debt, building an emergency fund, and saving for retirement and college. It is an awesome goal, but one you should probably tackle after everything else is squared away.
Encouragement: Just because most Americans have a mortgage doesn’t mean you have to!! When you live like no one else, you get to live like no one else – free from worry about money, and at peace with whatever the future holds. If paying off your mortgage is important to you, I truly believe you can do it! I’ll be cheering you on!!
There’s about a million more things I could add to this post, but I’ll leave it there for now! If you’d like to read more about paying down debt in general (including info about how we freed up enough money in our budget to make our extra payments), click here.
I’d love to hear: Are you hoping to pay off your mortgage early? What financial goal are you working on right now? What’s holding you back from getting ahead with your finances, or where do you feel you need the most help?