Paying off a home mortgage before you retire is a common goal, but it isn’t always the best financial strategy.
It could end up costing you in the long run — such as by leaving you without cash savings to cover an unexpected expense or without the flexibility to take advantage of an opportunity to earn a better return on your money.
What follows are some financially shrewd reasons to carry your mortgage debt into retirement.
1. You plan to sell your home
Many people decide to downsize before or in retirement. They find that a smaller, less expensive home better fits their retirement lifestyle, as we detail in “7 Unexpected Benefits of Downsizing in Retirement.”
If you think you may be selling your home soon, think hard before you pay off the mortgage on your current home. That’s because selling your dwelling may give you the money you need to repay your home loan without having to deplete your savings.
2. You plan to rent out your home — or a room
Does your retirement plan include relocating and renting out your present home? There’s no pressing need to pay off your home loan if the tenants’ rent payments will cover your future mortgage costs.
You could avoid tapping into your savings to pay off the loan. You may even realize a profit after your mortgage bill is paid each month.
That could be true even if you remain in your home and simply rent out a spare room through a vacation rental site like Airbnb.
A 2018 analysis by Homes.com found that in some cities, a homeowner could make enough money by renting out a room just four or five nights per month to cover a monthly mortgage payment. We detailed the analysis findings in “Do This a Few Days Each Month and Watch Your Mortgage Disappear.”
3. It’s more important to repay debts with higher interest rates
Before you commit to paying off a mortgage, determine whether there are better ways to spend your money.
For example, if you’ve purchased or refinanced a home in the past decade, your home loan likely has a relatively low interest rate. And if that’s the case, you will be better off financially if you first repay debts with higher interest rates, such as credit cards debt.
Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first will save you more money in interest payments over the life of your debt.
4. You’re still saving for retirement
Not everyone completes their career with enough money to enjoy a comfortable retirement. That’s why many Americans continue to work after age 65, the traditional retirement age.
If you’re contributing to a retirement account, such as an IRA or a 401(k), it may make more sense to use any extra money you have to build your retirement savings rather than to repay your mortgage ahead of schedule.
Retirement accounts are tax-advantaged. So, saving money in one will likely enable you to lower your taxable income now or avoid taxation when you withdraw funds from the account in retirement, depending on whether the account is Roth or traditional.
To learn more, check out “Confused by Retirement Accounts? Roth, Regular IRAs and 401(k)s Made Simple.”
5. You’re low on cash reserves
Maintaining an emergency fund is critical for financial stability. If paying off a mortgage will drain your cash reserves, it could leave you in a weakened position. No one can predict when an emergency will happen.
Corey Vandenberg, a mortgage banker in Lafayette, Indiana, says people who pay off their mortgages early often end up with lots of home equity but no money in the bank.
“This position is not financially healthy,” he tells Money Talks News. “You have to have an emergency fund for life’s unexpected events.”
6. You’d rather maximize your income through investments
If you pay off your mortgage, you will have less cash to invest. Much of your wealth will be tied up in the value of your home. The only way to get at it will be to sell the home or take out a loan against your home equity.
Without any liquid funds on hands, it will be more difficult to take advantage of an investment opportunity.
7. You want to deduct your mortgage interest
One of the benefits of being a homeowner is the ability to deduct the interest you pay on your home loan.
For loans taken out after Dec. 15, 2017, most homeowners can deduct the interest they paid on up to $750,000 of qualified personal residence debt on a first and/or second home, Tyson tells Money Talks News. Married couples filing separate tax returns can deduct up to $375,000.
The previous limits were $1 million and, for married taxpayers filing separately, $500,000. If you took out your home loan before Dec. 16, 2017, you’ll be allowed to deduct interest under those old limits.
Mortgage interest is an itemized deduction, however. That means you can only take advantage of it if you itemize your deductions, as opposed to taking the standard deduction. And tax reform substantially increased the standard deduction — to as much as $24,000 for the 2018 tax year.
As a result, Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that far fewer taxpayers will opt to itemize deductions on their 2018 tax returns, since claiming the new standard deduction will gain them more money. That would mean far fewer homeowners stand to gain by itemizing deductions like mortgage interest.
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