According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning and Progress Study, around 78% of Americans are “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about not having enough money saved for their retirement. Around 66% of those surveyed think they’ll outlive their retirement savings, and a staggering 21% of Americans have absolutely no retirement savings at all. Of course, that’s all the more reason to start squirreling away money now — but it’s also a good excuse to pay off your mortgage as soon as possible.
Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, NerdWallet estimates that the average household run by someone aged 65 or above spent around $45,756 per year during their retirement. Broken down, that’s approximately $3,800 per month. Being able to live comfortably on that — particularly if you’re dependent on income from Social Security — is a challenge, but the complications that come with growing older can be an outright burden.
For example, the increased costs of healthcare in the United States can really add up: since four out of five older people take at least one daily medication and may require more frequent or specialized healthcare (or even emergency services), those bills alone can make it hard to get by.
But when you add in a mortgage, that’s where it really gets tricky. Although owning a home is part of the American dream, the payments that come with it can quickly turn this scenario into a nightmare — particularly if you carry your mortgage into retirement. Unfortunately, that’s what many seniors are now doing. American Financing, a national mortgage banker, found that 44% of respondents ages 60 to 70 carried their mortgages into retirement. Around 17% of those surveyed said they may never pay off their mortgage. Those findings are echoed by what Fannie Mae’s Economic and Strategic Research Group reported, which found that slightly less than 50% of Baby Boomer homeowners were mortgage-free in 2015.
Fannie Mae’s director of strategic planning, Patrick Simmons, noted in the report: “Paying off the mortgage, once a widespread rite of passage for homeowners approaching retirement, has become less common in recent years… Concerns are mounting that the increasing prevalence of housing debt among older homeowners could compromise financial security in retirement by expanding housing affordability problems, crimping essential non-housing spending, increasing vulnerability to home loss through foreclosure, or limiting the accumulation of housing wealth.”
In other words, it’s essential to pay off your mortgage before you retire. In fact, financial guru Suze Orman recommends that you do so as soon as you possibly can. Since a mortgage is a form of economic bondage, Orman explained to CNBC, “you will never, ever, ever have financial freedom if you have debt.”
Of course, that may be easier said than done for many. If you have very little savings and few years left in the workforce, the prospect of paying off your mortgage more quickly may feel impossible. A report published in USA Today recommends that if you’re 50 and have no savings to speak of, you should immediately start putting away at least 5% of your gross income into a retirement account, craft a strict budget, and focus on paying off your debt for at least two years. From there, you should be able to decrease both spending and debt, putting you in a position to pay off your mortgage payment by the time you retire.
You can also refinance your mortgage terms. The most common fixed rate loans are for 30 years or 15 years. The longer you have to pay off your mortgage, the lower the monthly payments will be. Fixed rate mortgages are appealing because their interest rates don’t change for the life of the loan, which can be a relief at first. But when you realize how long it’s actually going to take to pay it off, you might realize it would be more of a relief to pay off your mortgage more quickly and be debt-free come retirement. If you can afford to pay more every month to ease that long-term burden, you should do so. You may be able to eliminate several years’ worth of interest in this way. Instead of sticking to your 30-year mortgage, you could easily refinance to a 20-year or a 15-year option for better financial security in your golden years.
If you’re not yet looking ahead to retirement, you might assume you have plenty of time to worry about your financial situation. But life is nothing if not unpredictable. By preparing to pay off your mortgage before you exit the workforce, you’ll be in a much stronger position later on.