One common piece of for people approaching retirement advice is to pay off as much debt as possible first. This makes perfect sense when it comes to credit-card debt, personal loans, and auto loans. But what about paying off your mortgage before you retire? After all, for most people, that represents the largest chunk of debt.
The answer is this: it depends on your financial situation.
Here are some factors to consider when trying to decide if paying off your mortgage is right for you:
1. Your mortgage rate. If you have a fixed-rate home loan with a great rate (let’s say below 4%), it may not make sense to pay it off before you retire, especially if you plan on pulling money from your retirement savings accounts to do so. If your investments are generating a higher rate of return (say 6%) and you withdraw that capital to pay off your mortgage, you would end up losing money.
2. Tax consequences. If you are thinking about using qualified retirement savings to pay off your mortgage, it only makes sense to run some numbers to figure out how that will affect your taxes. If you take out money from pretax savings (like those from a 401(k) or traditional IRA), you’ll pay regular income taxes on your withdrawal. You may also be subject to an additional early withdrawal penalty of 10%, depending on your age and your plan rules. Additionally, if you’re taking advantage of the mortgage interest deduction, you will lose that tax benefit if you pay off your mortgage and no longer have mortgage interest to pay.
3. Your other outstanding debt. If you have a lot of higher-interest credit card debt, you should pay that off before you consider paying off your mortgage. Not only are your investments unlikely to generate a higher rate of return, unlike your mortgage, they offer no potential tax benefits.
4. Your emergency fund. If you don’t have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses squirreled away in a savings account, prioritize building up an emergency fund before you pay off your house. (And you have significant high-interest debt, you should focus on paying that off first instead.)
5. Your overall retirement savings. If you don’t have enough money to comfortably live in retirement, consider delaying your mortgage pay-off and instead maximize your retirement contributions. Unfortunately, you may even want to consider delaying retirement to give yourself more time to save up – and increase the amount you’ll receive for your social security benefits.
If you aren’t able to fully pay off your mortgage, you still may have other options. One is to refinance to a shorter mortgage (and possibly at a lower rate) than your current home loan. Another is to make extra payments towards the principal balance on your mortgage periodically. Doing this can save you a surprising amount of interest over time and shorten the length of your payments.
Deciding whether you should pay off your mortgage before you retire shouldn’t be done on its own and the decision should be made as part of a comprehensive financial plan. Our advisors can help you make sense of your options and get you started. Click here to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation conversation with one of them.