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Paying Off a Home Early: Calculations and Considerations

Should you make a point of paying off a home early? While it would be nice to save on interest and put monthly house payments behind you, early repayment isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

About Mortgages

It’s good to get a mortgage. Seriously, without the ability to finance such a large purchase, the real estate market wouldn’t be what it is today and it would instead be controlled by the very well-off.

Banks have been financing real estate since there was real estate to be purchased. Mortgages help fuel the economy in many other areas as well. When people obtain a mortgage to purchase a home, multiple parties benefit.  This can include the appraiser, the real estate agent and even home remodelers. Real estate investors in particular can benefit from the ability to finance investment properties. Mortgage interest is also one of few expenses that are tax deductible.

While the utility of a mortgage is well-defined, it is a debt. So, shouldn’t you strive to pay it off as soon as possible?

Does it make sense to aggressively pay down your mortgage loan? If so, what are the incentives for doing so? Are there any other considerations that need to be made?

If you’re like most homeowners, your monthly mortgage payment is probably your single largest recurring expense. It makes good sense to eliminate that payment and free up cash to be used for other goals such as paying off other debt, saving for college or investing for retirement.

Most mortgage loans today are amortized over 30 years, yet the reality is that few 30-year loans ever actually last that long. Mortgages are refinanced, and homes are sold long before the loans can be paid off.

In the light of this backdrop, let’s take a look at the calculations and considerations of paying a home off early.

Paying Down Pros

If you have ever looked at a mortgage amortization schedule, you understand that far more interest is paid in the early stages of a loan repayment period. If we examine a 30-year loan amount of $300,000 and use a 3.5% rate, we will see that only $472 of the $1,347 monthly payment goes towards principal in the first payment! Nearly twice as much, $875, goes towards interest in this same period.

Mortgage payments are more heavily weighted with interest than principal early on, because the interest rate is applied to the outstanding loan balance. As the mortgage is gradually paid down, the interest rate is applied to an increasingly lower loan amount.

As a result, after five years of making the mortgage payment, the outstanding loan balance has decreased by less than $40,000.  This is despite the fact that more than $80,000 in mortgage payments have been made over that same time period. At the end of five years, the loan balance is $262,234. The interest is an expense and goes to the lender, not toward the homeowner’s equity.

That’s why many borrowers make extra payments on their loans in order to send more to principal sooner and save on interest. Today, there are no prepayment penalties whatsoever on any government-backed or conventional loans. This means that anyone can pay against a mortgage at any time they choose. With an accelerated payoff, homeowner equity is increased. By how much?

Let’s take that same $1,437 payment. By making just one extra payment per year, after five years the loan balance drops to $254,245 instead of $262,234. The one extra payment made each year goes directly toward the loan balance. After 10 years of making one extra payment? The loan balance is $206,611 vs. $224,114. This math can be applied to any property type, whether it be a primary residence, a second home or an investment property. Mortgage amortization works the very same way in all cases.

Paying Down Cons

If paying down a mortgage makes sense, are there ever times when it may not be the best option?

Yes, there are a couple. With rates as low as they have been recently, you could be leveraging your borrowing costs nearly as low as they can go. When a 15-year fixed rate is in the 2.50% range or so, that’s cheap. Instead of paying down your low-interest mortgage, take a look at how your retirement fund is coming along. Yes, getting rid of your mortgage before you retire is the single biggest thing you can do, but can you have the best of both worlds?

When you retire after having devoted your extra funds to paying down the mortgage, without a healthy retirement fund you’ll be “house rich and cash poor.” You may instead be able to find investments now that will provide a higher rate of return over time, or you may want to purchase a rental property with those extra funds.

Feel Good Time

Finally, let’s admit that no longer having a mortgage and still having a safe, secure roof over your head could bring a lot of self-satisfaction. It simply feels good not to have a mortgage payment every month.- and as humans we often makes decisions based on what feels good, not what is mathematically sound.

Also, there’s no mortgage balance to pass along to your heirs when there is no mortgage. It’s an emotional advantage that other retirees may not have as they use their retirement and social security income to make the mortgage payments each month.

Finally, weighing the pros and cons of paying down a mortgage should warrant a meeting with your financial planner or wealth manager. The mortgage is typically your biggest expense and accounts for a large portion of your income. If you are considering paying down your mortgage quickly, take some time out and review your options with someone who can help you see the bigger picture and the long-term benefits and costs of being mortgage free.

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