Man, nothing lights up Twitter like the question, “Should I payoff my mortgage?…Or should I invest?” People are either on one side of the fence or the other and there’s no in between! And, based on all the responses over the years, I’d say most (like…70%+) are in the camp of keeping the mortgage payments and using any excess money to invest in the stock market.
Is it really smarter to keep debt and invest excess money? What’s the logic behind this? Should everyone just keep a mortgage for as long as possible?
“Should I Pay Off My Mortgage?” Depends on the “X” Factor
I’ve thought about this question for many years now. I’ve always been in the camp of paying off your mortgage early, but I couldn’t really explain why. My argument always seemed to be missing something.
Now I’ve got it.
I’ve found that missing variable in the equation. It’s the “X” factor that will perhaps prompt you to pay off your mortgage, but could dissuade your buddy Bob from paying off his. We’ll dive more deeply into this in a minute.
First, I want to touch on the advice of the so-called “experts”.
When I search for reasons not to pay off a mortgage, the top results come from the biggest players in the finance world:
- Motley Fool: “Why You Shouldn’t Pay Off Your Mortgage Early, Even If You Can”
- Forbes: “Paying Off Your Mortgage Early Will Destroy Your Finances”
- Money Talks News: “7 Times When You’re Smart Not to Pay Off a Mortgage Early”
As a whole, their reasons for not paying off the mortgage can be summed up into 5 bullet points:
- Having extra liquidity instead (instead of your money being tied up in the house)
- You can earn more by investing
- Paying off your mortgage could increase your tax rate (while investing may actually decrease it)
- Your mortgage is a hedge against inflation
- Your job security may be uncertain (or some other hardship may be looming)
While all of these make some sense (emphasis on some), the main reason that people site for not paying off your mortgage is #2 — you can make more by investing instead. It could be true, but it also may not be… I find it’s best to elaborate on this with my personal story.
My Story of Paying Off The Mortgage
I was 28 years old. I was newly divorced and I had just spent 6 months paying my ex her share of our estate — $21,000. Believe it or not, I paid off that 5-figure amount in just 6 months while earning a $60,000/yr salary.
When I mailed out that last payment, I was flying high!
Somehow, some way, I did it.
I don’t know if I was quite sure exactly how I did it, but I felt empowered. And I was ready for the next challenge!
Soon after this debt-payoff victory, I decided it was time to tackle the mortgage
There was $54,500 left on the house and based on how quickly I paid off the $21,000 to my ex, I figured I could take down the $54k mortgage in 12 months.
Again, realize that I was still earning $60,000 at my day job and mayyybe $8,000 via my blog. And that was before tax! It really made no logical sense to make this a goal for myself, but I HATED that debt.
- I wanted it gone because I didn’t want the bank to own me anymore.
- And, my ex was still on the mortgage, which was our last and final tie to one another. If I could get rid of the mortgage, I felt that it would finally set me free from that relationship. By paying off that debt, I would finally have myself a new life and a new beginning.
That mortgage debt was. going. down.
Sure enough, just as my emotions predicted, I paid off that debt in just 345 days. December 11, 2014 – a day I won’t soon forget.
The Difference Between Paying Off the Mortgage and Investing
When I made that goal for myself to pay off the house, I knew I’d need to do something extra. Here’s a list of some of the crazy stuff I did:
- Car Flips – I bought and sold 3 cars and earned $3,000
- Article writing – I wrote articles for just $10 a post. It was cheap for the blog owners and it was a decent hourly wage for me.
- Mowing lawns – $15 per city lawn? Absolutely. I did that more than a few times.
- Driving a Honda Civic gas sipper – I bought it for $2,500, it got 38 miles per gallon, and the insurance was dirt cheap
- Riding my bike everywhere – even though I had a gas sipper, I still rode my bike as often as I could. It saved me $2 every time I rode my bike to work and back.
- Selling nearly everything I owned – Dressers, my bed, office chairs, the couch, living room chairs, my TV, my video game console and games. I wanted out of the debt way more than I wanted that fancy couch in the living room.
I paid off $54,500 in just over 11 months. That was insane. It made absolutely no mathematical sense for how I did it, but I did it. It happened.
And here’s the kicker question that I have asked myself time and time again:
“What if, instead of paying off my mortgage, I decided to invest instead? How much would I have invested?”
At that time, I was investing about $5,000 a year. If I’m honest with myself, I maybe would have kicked this up to $12,000 a year – this while making minimum payments on the mortgage. In other words, if I didn’t tackle my mortgage debt, I would have bumped up my investment by $7,000 in one year.
By choosing to pay off the mortgage, I earned and paid off $54,500 in that year.
Which would you say is the better way to go?
If you can seriously sit there and tell me that I should have invested, I need you to do two things for me: 1) Leave this site, 2) Never come back.
The obvious answer is the mortgage payoff.
I was SO emotional about getting rid of that debt, I would have done anything to make it go away.
And that’s exactly what I did.
And, at that time I really wasn’t all that passionate about investing, so I probably would have moved my contribution percentage from 10% to 15%, called it good, and then continued to live my life as usual without much change.
The “X” factor was my emotional response when it came to my mortgage. On a scale of 1 to 10, from “not really interested in paying it off” to “I want this thing gone, like yesterday!!”, I was a 10 for sure.
My emotions carried me to an extreme that I didn’t even know was in me, and it made paying off the mortgage the absolute right choice for me.
If, on your debt journey, you have already:
- Paid off your consumer debt,
- Have a 3-6 month emergency fund,
- Are saving 10-15% of your income toward retirement, and
- Have your kids’ college fund started (and funded well based on their age)…
…then it’s time to ask yourself the question, “Should I pay off my mortgage?”. And, it’s going to depend on your X-factor score.
How Badly Do You Want Out of Your Mortgage?
If debt really doesn’t bother you and you’d rather just keep your mortgage because you believe in the benefits that may have for you, then you’re probably a 1 or 2 on the Mortgage Payoff “X” Factor Scale.
If you’ve considered paying off the mortgage, but you do like the idea of keeping future savings stashed away as a just in case (or you’re still tossing around the idea of renovating the house instead), then you’re probably a 4 or 5 on the scale. Paying off the house debt isn’t right for you either.
But, if you absolutely love the idea of calling your home YOURS (and not the bank’s), and you think you’d scale up your earnings to pay the house off faster, then paying off the debt is totally for you. You’re an 8 or more on the scale.
Should I Pay Off My Mortgage? Is My “X” Factor Score an 8?
If you’re not an 8, don’t even bother trying to pay off the mortgage.
- You won’t commit to scaling back your monthly spend
- You likely won’t earn extra money to put toward the mortgage
- And, you certainly won’t sell stuff to reach your goals faster either.
The only thing you’ll accomplish is “earning” 2-3% on your mortgage interest, while missing out on 10% returns in the stock market. Not a great trade.
However, if you’re absolutely juiced up to get out of mortgage debt and you literally can’t think of anything else, you’re going to:
- Cut your monthly spending WAY back,
- Find side gigs, part-time jobs, and maybe even push for a promotion at work, and
- Discover money and opportunities you never even noticed before
In the end, you’ll pay off your house 10 times faster than it was originally scheduled. At 2-3% interest, this is kind of like earning 20-30% on your house pay-off! Then, once that’s gone, you can aggressively invest in the market because you no longer have that mortgage payment!!
So where are you? Take the poll below and leave a comment as well! We always love to hear from you!
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.