Buying a home is a long-term commitment, so it's not surprising that older Americans are much more likely than younger people to own their homes "free and clear" (see chart). If you have paid off your mortgage or anticipate doing so by the time you retire, congratulations! Owning your home outright can help provide financial flexibility and stability during your retirement years.
Even if you still make mortgage payments, the equity in your home is a valuable asset. And current low interest rates might give you an opportunity to pay off your home more quickly. Here are some ideas to consider.
Enjoy Lower Expenses
If you are happy with your home and don't need to tap the equity, living free of a monthly mortgage could make a big difference in stretching your retirement dollars. It's almost as if you had saved enough extra to provide a monthly income equal to your mortgage. You still have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, but these expenses are typically smaller than a mortgage payment.
If you sell your home and purchase another one outright with cash to spare, the additional funds could boost your savings and provide additional income. On the other hand, if you take out a new mortgage, you may set yourself back financially. Keep in mind that condominiums, retirement communities, and other planned communities typically have monthly homeowners association dues. On the plus side, these dues generally pay for maintenance services and amenities that could make retirement more enjoyable.
Paying Off the Mortgage
The percentage of homeowners with a primary regular mortgage declines steadily with age.
Borrow on Equity
If you stay in your home and want money for a specific purpose, such as remodeling the kitchen or fixing the roof, you might take out a home-equity loan. If instead you'll need to access funds over several years, such as to pay for college or medical expenses, you may prefer a home-equity line of credit (HELOC).
Home-equity financing typically has favorable interest rates because your home secures the loan. However, you are taking on another monthly payment, and the lender can foreclose on your home if you fail to repay the loan. In addition, you may have to pay closing costs and other fees to obtain the loan. Interest on home-equity loans and HELOCs is typically tax deductible if the proceeds are used to buy, build, or substantially improve your main home, but is not tax deductible if the proceeds are used for other expenses.
With mortgage rates near historic lows, you might consider refinancing your home at a lower interest rate. Refinancing may allow you to take some of the equity out as part of the loan, but of course that increases the amount you borrow. While a refi loan may have a lower interest rate than a home-equity loan or HELOC, it might have higher costs that could take some time to recoup. And a new loan comes with a new amortization schedule, so even with lower rates, a larger portion of your payment may be applied to interest in the early years of the loan. Refinancing might be a wise move if the lower rate enables you to pay off a new mortgage faster than your current mortgage.