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How Alexa and Siri Could Help You Get a Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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In the distant past, if you wanted to know your bank account balance or to make a transfer, you had to call your bank, or worse, visit in person. As the Internet age has progressed, you’ve been able to do more and more of your banking online. Web services came first, followed by smartphone apps and mobile deposit technology — eliminating the need to leave the house for a financial transaction unless you wanted to withdraw cash. Voice-activated technologies like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are the latest frontiers for online banking. The Apple iPhone is the most popular smartphone on the market, and nearly a third of people between 25 and 34 years old own an Amazon Echo speaker, according to an April 2018 report by advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research.

Financial institutions are taking advantage of this trend. Some, like Bank of America, are investing in their own voice-activated technologies. Others are utilizing Alexa’s custom platform to help customers. These technologies are currently limited to basic transactions, but according to banking technology experts, mortgages could be the next big financial product for voice assistants.

How digital voice assistants are transforming banking

Both Amazon and Apple have moved progressively further into financial technology through their voice assistants.

Amazon’s Echo speaker, which comes with its built-in Alexa voice assistant, lets you interact with Amazon in a variety of ways. You can ask Alexa for the weather forecast or to read news headlines. Amazon also allows third-party brands to develop “Alexa Skills,” which give the devices additional abilities. There are now tens of thousands of them in the Alexa Skills Store.

 

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In 2016, Capital One became the first business to use Alexa Skills as a way for consumers to interact with their financial accounts. The bank’s Alexa Skill currently allows customers to check account balances, track their spending and pay their Capital One bill.

Since then, many other financial institutions have jumped in. At last count, Javelin found that 30 different banks have Alexa Skills, said Al Pascual, senior vice president of research and head of fraud and security at the firm.

However, they’re generally made for basic services like checking account balances or recent transactions, Pascual said. “They’re not designed to do anything like money movement, or in essence, higher risk transactions,” he said.

Why? Because it’s difficult to authenticate the user. For example, if you’re at your friend’s house and ask their Alexa to transfer you money, the device can’t really know if it’s you or the friend making the request, Pascual said. Requiring a PIN is how banks typically tackle authentication, but it’s not very secure.

“I think they have a while to go until they get that figured out, but once they do, I think that opens the floodgates a bit,” Pascual said.

Arguably, Siri — Apple’s digital voice assistant — is more advanced than Alexa, said Chris Ward, principal consultant at financial intelligence company Mapa Research. This is because globally, more banks have integrated with Siri, and it allows customers to make peer-to-peer payments. Alexa, on the other hand, is currently only about reviewing account information, such as balances or credit card payment dates, Ward said.

 

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‘What you see right now is still very basic’

Regardless of whether you’re looking at Alexa or Siri, “what you see right now is still very basic, and banking through these channels certainly isn’t replacing the experiences customers can have via mobile app or an online platform,” Ward explained.

But there’s clearly demand for more voice-assisted banking. The Javelin report found that 35% of respondents would use services like Siri and Alexa to transfer money between accounts, and a third would use them to contact customer support with a question. About a quarter would likely use it to send money to someone else.

Rather than having to go through Amazon or Apple’s technology, some banks are creating their own voice assistants. For example, Bank of America has developed a digital assistant called “Erica,” which is housed within the bank’s smartphone app. Because the voice assistant technology is within an authenticated (logged in) session, it offers more security. Therefore, it gives you the ability to do more, Pascual said. For example, in addition to basic transactions like checking your balance, Erica lets you transfer money between your accounts, pay bills and send money to others.

How mortgages have been affected

Currently, due to the complexities of mortgage loans, digital voice assistants have barely entered the mortgage space. LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company, has a free Alexa Skill that allows borrowers to access mortgage rate quotes from lenders and send the results to their phone.

Rocket Mortgage from Quicken Loans has an Alexa Skill that lets customers initiate their mortgage payment, check mortgage rates and get in touch with a home loan expert. There are also several Alexa Skills that have mortgage calculators or can teach you about mortgage basics. However, we couldn’t find any lenders that currently allow consumers to apply for a mortgage via voice technology.

According to a Bank of America spokesperson Betty Riess, the Erica app doesn’t have any features related to mortgages as of now. “Currently, if a customer asks Erica about applying for a mortgage, the customer will be directed to the ‘explore our products’ page to select mortgage,” she said in an email.

 

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Why aren’t mortgages there yet? Pascual says it’s because there are still many challenges around risk. How comfortable will borrowers feel about giving Alexa their sensitive personal information like a Social Security number if they’re not authenticated?

“People still have an element of hesitancy when it comes to interacting with machines,” Pascual said. Javelin’s report found that nearly two-thirds of consumers who aren’t interested in making financial transactions with smart speakers like Alexa say it’s due to security concerns.

Ward said many consumers, even those who own products with Siri and Alexa, have concerns about the voice-activated speakers listening to what they’re saying. Also, with Siri and Alexa, you’re interacting with your bank in addition to Apple or Amazon, which makes some people more wary about sharing their personal information, Ward said. Plus, you’d have to say confidential information aloud, which limits you to private areas. All of these security risks have to be sorted out before mortgages are ready for the big time on these devices.

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What comes next?

Banking technology experts believe that going through the entire mortgage process with digital voice assistants is possible in the future, but it might never be fully automated.

Pascual predicts that the next step for this technology would be Alexa serving as a starting point for a mortgage application. He anticipates that Alexa could help a borrower learn about mortgages — pulling potential loan terms from a bank after the user shares less-sensitive information, like their income. The borrower could even possibly provide the address of the home they want to buy, and Alexa could check on the home prices and calculate what a mortgage might cost them.

However, from that point, Pascual thinks Alexa might drive the consumer to a different digital channel. Perhaps it would send a message through their mobile banking app, or a text or an email that allows them to continue the application in more depth elsewhere.

He also said he could see banks or lenders bringing a loan officer into a conversation. For example, if you’re looking for something more complicated than a conventional loan, like a jumbo loan or low down payment loan, Alexa could say, “This sounds really complex” and pipe in a loan officer to continue the conversation with you via voice, Pascual said.

In other words, you wouldn’t use Alexa from start to finish, but it would be used to get the process started, Pascual said. After all, he explained, mortgages are complex, and there will be limitations.

He said many consumers had bad experiences in the past with old chat bots that have been less than helpful. If lenders can recognize the limitations and address them by incorporating human beings or other digital channels, applying for mortgages via voice could be a reality — especially if the lenders can find ways to make it less tedious than filling out an online form.

“It can, in some ways, just be easier to talk to somebody,” Pascual said, even if it’s not a human. “Machines are very good at collecting data, especially uniform data. Rather than me having to sit there and type it all on a tiny phone screen, I’m having a conversation with Alexa.”

Since voice assistants from banks — like Bank of America’s Erica — are housed within their secure app, there’s more trust there from customers than with Siri or Alexa, Ward says. For this reason, he anticipates that any future developments in this space might first evolve with bank-owned technology first. “To me, containing all of that in the experience of the app is going to be quite interesting and might resonate more with customers because they feel like they’re in that secure environment,” Ward said.

While Ward thinks it will be possible to complete a full mortgage application via Siri or Alexa one day, he’s not convinced that it’ll happen within the next five years or that it will be easier than an online form.

“For me, Siri or Alexa Skills need to actually deliver a smoother, easier experience than the customer can get elsewhere,” Ward said. “Until they can do that, I’m a bit skeptical about to what extent Siri and Alexa will be the interface where consumers want to go through a full mortgage application.”

What he believes is most likely to happen is that technology like Alexa could help expedite the application process by drawing in data from other sources. For example, he said, rather than having to enter all of your information manually, you could ask Alexa to give Chase Bank your Bank of America information to expedite the process of applying for a mortgage with Chase. Or you could have your professional information pulled in from LinkedIn.

Of course, we might also see developments from banks with their own digital voice assistants. Small mortgage loan originators probably won’t be getting into this space anytime soon, Pascual predicts. But he expects that bigger banks — especially tech-forward ones like BBVA and USAA — will be the ones to watch.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Emily Starbuck Gerson |

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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Should You Save for Retirement or Pay Down Your Mortgage?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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On the list of financial priorities, which comes first — paying off your mortgage or saving for retirement? The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, owning a home with no mortgage attached to it provides long term security knowing you’ll have a place to live with no monthly payment except property taxes and insurance. However, you’ll also need income to live on if you plan to retire, and how much you save now will have a big impact on your quality of retirement life.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of whether you should save for retirement or pay down your mortgage, or maybe a combination of both.

Pros of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

The faster you pay your mortgage off, the sooner you own the home outright. However, there are other benefits you’ll realize if you take extra measures to pay your loan balance off faster.

You could save thousands in long-term interest charges

Most homeowners take out a 30-year mortgage to keep their monthly payments as low as possible. The price for that affordable payment is a big bill for interest charged over the 360 payments you’ll make if you’re in your “forever” home.

For example, a 30-year fixed $200,000 loan at 4.375% comes with a lifetime interest charge of $159,485.39. That’s if you never pay a penny more than your fixed mortgage payment for that 30-year period. Using additional funds to pay down your mortgage faster can significantly reduce this.

Even one extra payment a year results in $27,216.79 in interest savings on the loan we mentioned above. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to throw your mortgage-free party four years and five months sooner.

You’ll build equity much faster

Thanks to a beautiful thing called amortization, lenders make sure the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest rather than principal in the beginning of your loan term. Because of that, it’s difficult to make a real dent in your loan principal for many years. You can, however, counteract this by making additional payments on your mortgage and telling the lender to specifically put those payments toward your principal balance instead of interest.

Not only do you pay less interest over the long haul with this strategy, but you build the amount of equity you have in your home much faster. And to homeowners, equity is gold — you’re closer to owning your home outright, and equity can also be a resource if you need funds for a home improvement project or another big expense.

You can access that equity as your financial needs change by doing a cash-out refinance or by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HEL or HELOC).

You won’t lose your home if values drop

When you contribute extra money into a retirement account, there is always the risk that you’ll lose some or all of the money you invested. When you contribute money to paying off your mortgage, even if the values drop, you still have the security of a place to live, and are increasing the equity in the home, no matter how much it’s ultimately worth.

Making extra payments ensures you’ll eventually have a debt-free asset that provides shelter to you and your family, regardless of what happens to the housing market in your neighborhood.

Cons of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

There are some cases where paying down your mortgage faster might actually hurt you financially. Before adding extra principal to your mortgage payments, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing damage to your financial outlook with an extra contribution toward your mortgage payoff.

You might end up paying more in taxes

The higher interest payments you make during the early years of your mortgage can act as a tax benefit, so paying the balance down faster could actually result in you owning more in federal taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket in the early (first 10 years) of your mortgage repayment schedule, it may make sense to focus extra funds on retirement savings, and let your mortgage interest deduction work for you. Of course, everyone’s tax situation is different, so you’ll have to decide (with help from an accountant ideally) if it makes sense to itemize your taxes in order to claim mortgage interest payments as a deduction.

You won’t get to enjoy the return on your paydown dollars until you sell

The only real benchmark for figuring out the value of paying down your mortgage is to look at how much equity you’re gaining over time. However, the equity doesn’t become a tangible profit until you actually sell your home. And the costs of a sale can take a big bite out of your equity because sellers usually pay the real estate agent fees.

Home equity is harder to access

The only way to access the equity you’ve built up is to borrow against it, or sell your home. Borrowing against equity often requires proof of income, assets and credit to confirm you meet the approval requirements for each equity loan option. If you fall on hard financial times due to a job loss, or are unable to pay your bills and your credit scores drop substantially, you may not be able to access your equity.

Pros of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

Depending on your financial situation and savings habits, it may be better to add extra funds monthly to your retirement account than to pay down your mortgage. Here are a few reasons why.

You may earn a higher return on dollars invested in retirement funds

The growth rate for a stock portfolio has consistently returned more than housing price returns. The average return in the benchmark S&P stock fund is 6.595% for funds invested from the beginning of 1900 to present, while home values have increased just 0.1% per year after accounting for inflation during that same time period.

Assuming your portfolio at least earns 7%, if you consistently invest your money into a balanced investment portfolio, you can expect to double your money every 10 years. There aren’t many housing markets that can promise that kind of growth.

Retirement funds are generally easier to access than home equity

Retirement funds often give you a variety of options for each access, with no income or credit verification requirements, and only sufficient proof of enough funds in your account to pay it back over time. For example, a 401k loan through the company you work for will just require you to have enough vested to support the loan request, and sufficient funds left over to pay it off over a reasonable time.

Just be cautious about making a 401k withdrawal, which is treated totally differently than a loan. You aren’t expected to pay it back like you would a 401k loan, but you could get hit with taxes and penalties.

Cons of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

You’ll need to weather the ups and downs of the market

Most people who have invested money in the stock market or tracked the performance of their 401k over decades have stories about periods when the value of those investments dropped substantially. While the 7% return on investment is a reliable long term indicator how much your retirement fund might earn, the path to that return is hardly linear.

For example, if you were considering retirement between 1999 and 2002, you may have had to delay those plans when the S & P plummeted over 23% in value in 2002. If you look at each 10-year period since the 1930s, every decade has been characterized by periods of ups and downs.

Calculating the benefit of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

If you’re torn as to what to do with that extra cash or windfall, let’s look at an example of someone who has an extra $200 to put into either their nest egg or their mortgage each month for the next 30 years.

For this scenario, we’re going to assume their retirement account earns an average 7% rate of return and that their mortgage loan balance is $200,000.

Here’s how much they’d save:

Savings From Paying $200 per Month Down on Your Mortgage
Years PaidMortgage Interest SavingsExtra Equity in HomeTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$6,040$30,039$36,079
20 years$28,529$76,529$105,058
22 years 6 months$50,745$200,000$250,745

One thing you may notice about the mortgage savings chart — it includes how much extra equity you’re building. Often only the mortgage interest savings is cited when people look at how much you save with extra payments, but that ignores the fact that you’re building equity in your home much faster as well. So not only do you save over $50,000 in interest with your extra contribution, you replenish $150,000 of equity that was used up by your mortgage balance.

As you can see, adding that extra $200 to their mortgage principal each month saved them about $200,000 in the long haul — but the real savings don’t stop there.

By adding an extra $200 to their mortgage payment each month, this borrower turned their 30-year loan into a 22-and-a-half year loan and became mortgage debt-free seven years faster.

That means, in addition to saving $50,000 in interest savings and gaining $200,000 of equity, they also no longer have a mortgage payment. That frees up $998.57 per month that they can now use as discretionary income. That’s an extra $89,871 they could potentially save over that 7.5 year period.

When you add that to the $250,745.41 they saved on mortgage interest and earned in home equity, they’re looking at a total savings of $340,616.

That gives the mortgage paydown a $54,000 net positive edge over saving that extra $200 for retirement, as you can see in the table below.

Savings From Contributing $200 per Month to a Retirement Fund
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$34,404
20 years$102,081
30 years$235,212

The one caveat for this retirement calculation is we assumed the saver was starting at a $0 investment balance. If they already had a healthy balance in their nest egg, they might actually come out in better shape than paying down their mortgage.

There are clearly benefits to each option, and you should consider running your own calculations with your real numbers to get the best answer for yourself.

Paying down your mortgage and saving for retirement at the same time

There’s a fair case to be made for both paying down your mortgage and saving more for retirement, but why choose? If you’re somewhat on track with your retirement savings goals, and like the idea of having your mortgage paid off quicker, you could allocate a certain amount to each.

Pick a number you feel comfortable paying to your principal every month, and then to your 401k, and put it on autopilot for a year. Any time your income increases, or you get bonuses, divide up the amount between principal pay down and retirement additions.

Let’s look at what happens if you evenly divide up your $200 per month between investing your retirement and paying down your mortgage. We’ll use the same $200,000 loan at 4.375% referenced above, and look at the lifetime results.

Savings From Paying $100 Down on Your Mortgage Until Paid Off
Years PaidInterest SavingsExtra Home EquityTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$3,020$15,020$18,040
20 years$14,265$38,265$52,350
25 years$30,534$200,000$230,534
Savings From Contributing $100 to a Retirement Fund for 30 Years
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$17,202
20 years$51,401
30 years$117,607

Balancing the $100 investment in both strategies still yields a six-figure retirement balance after 30 decades, a debt-free house after 26 years, and shaves off $30,000 in mortgage interest expense. If you don’t like putting all your eggs into one financial basket, this may balance the risks and rewards of each option.

Final thoughts

Looking at the short term and the long term may provide you with the best framework for making a good decision about how to spend dollars on retirement versus extra mortgage payments. Be wary of any financial professional that tells you one path is absolutely better than another.

Having a stable source of affordable shelter is equally as important as having enough income to live when you retire, so a balanced approach to paying down your mortgage and savings for retirement may help you accomplish both goals.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Life Events, Mortgage

What Is Mortgage Amortization?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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