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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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Do You Really Need a Home Warranty?

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.

If you’re thinking about buying a house or recently became a homeowner, someone has probably tried to sell you a home warranty. Unlike homeowner’s insurance, home warranties cover the day-to-day working parts of your home — the stove you use to cook your egg-white veggie omelet, air conditioning to cool a home on hot summer days, or the plumbing that empties out the bubbles from a toddler’s toy-filled bath.

However, there are limits to what they cover, and they may or may not be a good fit for reasons we’ll discuss as we weigh the pros and cons of whether you really need a home warranty.

What is a home warranty?

If you’ve ever bought a used car, you may have been offered an extended warranty to cover some or all of the expense of major car parts that may nearing the end of their mechanical life. A home warranty works under the same principal, covering the working parts of your home that may be near the end of their functioning life.

The important thing to understand is that home warranties are not insurance, they are service contracts. In most cases the coverage is meant to service the covered items, not replace them. Although ultimately the coverage may cover the cost of replacing an air conditioner or dishwasher, you may have to pay a premium to have a technician come out and make that determination.

You can pay the entire premium upfront, but most warranty providers prefer to bill the annual premium in monthly installments. Unless you select a higher priced premium plan, you’ll also need to pay a service fee to a technician to verify any claims you request for repairs or replacement of covered items.

Home warranties are completely optional: unlike homeowner’s insurance, mortgage lenders don’t require that you purchase or maintain a home warranty.

What does a home warranty cover?

There are a lot of moving parts in a home, and all of them contribute to the comfort and safety of your day-to-day life. Even if your home is inspected by the most proficient home inspector around, what’s behind the walls or in the mechanical components of everything from your plumbing and air conditioning to your washer and dryer may not be visible.

The graph below gives you an idea of what a home warranty covers. These are all items that are not usually covered by homeowner’s insurance.

The items listed above are the most common ones covered by a regular plan. You might be able to cover the following by paying an extra premium for each component:

  • Pool/spa
  • Septic system
  • Water softener
  • Sprinkler
  • Well pump

Look at the fine print of each covered component to make sure you understand exactly what the warranty will pay for. For example, American Home Shield’s sample contract covers all components and parts on a garage door, except for the door itself and door track assemblies.

How much does a home warranty cost?

According to Consumer Affairs, home warranty premiums range from $300 to $600 per year. The cost varies based on where you live, and you can get an idea of where whether warranties run higher or lower in your state at sites like ReviewHomeWarranties or Consumer Affairs.

The entire premium may be prepaid for the entire year by the seller if a home warranty is being provided as an incentive to buy a home, but most providers will bill the cost of the plan monthly. That makes the average monthly cost $25 to $50 for home warranties in the $300 to $600 per year range.

If you get extra coverage for items that aren’t featured on the regular plan, expect to pay more for each item you add for coverage. You can also select specific “appliance” or “system” plans, if you want coverage for one or the other instead of both. There are other factors and costs that go into the price of your home warranty that will have an impact on how much you’ll spend.

Service fees

You’ll want to take a look at your policy to find out how much your home warranty deductible is. You may also see it called a “service fee” or “call fee.” The fee pays the technician that make the service call to see what’s wrong with whatever covered item you’re calling about.

You can choose a plan with the service fee built in, but the premiums for those plans will be more expensive. If you pick a regular plan, you’ll typically pay a service fee between $50 and $125. Service fees are additional expenses that above the cost of the monthly or annual premium payment for the warranty plan selected.

Downsides to buying a home warranty

There are many arguments against buying home warranties, especially since home warranty companies have historically been one of the “worst graded” categories on Angie’s List.

  • Your claim can be denied if the problems existed before. Think of a home warranty like an insurance policy. When something happens, you file a claim (referred to as a “service call”). An adjuster comes out to assess the damage and later submits their findings to the home warranty company, which renders a decision. That decision could be a denial of your claim. One of the most common reasons home warranty companies deny claims is due to pre-existing conditions, or problems that existed before you purchased the policy. The company may even require that you turn over a copy of the home inspection report to ensure that the issue wasn’t cited during the inspection.
  • You can’t pick your contractor. Warranty providers require that homeowners work with specific, pre-approved contractors. Homeowners may sometimes be disappointed in a long wait time for service or poor quality of service provided by these contractors, but they can’t fire them and pick their own.
  • You may get repairs when what you want is a replacement. The service technician will always try to repair the appliance or system first and replace it only if it is beyond repair. That can be a hassle.

How to shop for a home warranty

Negotiate a policy with the home seller. Your real estate agent is probably the best starting place for home warranty shopping. Home warranty companies often provide flyers and brochures at open houses, and tend to work with agents to help solicit their products. Sellers may offer to pay for one if the home for sale is older and hasn’t had recent upgrades.

Compare your options. There are a number of websites that provide comparison reviews of home warranty plans, as well as options to get quotes from several different companies based on the parameters you input. Once you’ve received some feedback, review them to determine how the total coverage stacks up with each offer. Look at how much the service fees are, what they cover, and what the maximums the warranty will pay for replacement.

Review your home inspection report to understand your needs. Your home inspection may give you an idea of how to shop as well. If the inspection indicates the appliances are newer and upgrades, but the air conditioning and plumbing system are older, you may just want to shop for the most competitive systems plan.

Vet companies carefully. According to Consumer Reports, most of the complaints the Better Business Bureau receives about home warranties relate to misunderstandings about what coverage is provided under their plans. This means you need to read the fine print about each covered item so you know exactly under what circumstances the item will be covered.

There are also limits to how much different plans pay out, so you may end up digging into your pocket to pay the difference for a replacement.

When it makes sense to purchase a home warranty

Home warranties can provide an extra financial buffer for homeowners, and may be a good fit in the following situations.

#1: You don’t have handyman skills

If you’re not mechanically inclined or if, as a renter, you used to call the landlord whenever the fridge made a weird noise, a home warranty will give you the comfort of calling someone trained to fix those things once you own a home.

There is always a service charge associated with visits to check a covered item, but it may be worth the cost if you obsess about whether the fridge is going to break down in the middle of the night.

#2: You’re on a tight budget without reserves for a major repair

If you’re a first-time homebuyer and had to use most of your funds to make a down payment and pay closing costs, you may not have a lot of reserves left over for a major purchase if something breaks down soon after you move in.

Although the warranty might not cover the entire expense of a new dishwasher or water heater, it may cover enough to keep you from having to use a credit card or hitting up a relative for a temporary loan.

#3: You’re buying an older home with older appliances and major systems

Not every seller updates their home’s components over the years, and although the home inspector may give you an idea of how old they are, they may be closer to the end of their natural life than you know. A home warranty will at least give you some insurance if some of the systems or appliances start having problems within the first year of buying your home.

When it doesn’t make sense to purchase a home warranty

Not everyone is a good candidate for a home warranty, and knowing that will help you allocate the funds to something more worthwhile.

#1: You’re buying a brand new home

When you have a home built, or buy a home that’s just been finished in a neighborhood, most of the appliances and systems are probably covered under the manufacturers warranties. For example, a standard 2-10 warranty offered through a builder covers you for defect over the following periods: a year for workmanship, two years for systems and 10 years on the structure. There’s really no need to spend the money on a home warranty for a newly constructed home.

#2: The seller is giving a credit toward new appliances or systems

It’s not uncommon for a seller to offer to pay some closing costs, so you have extra cash to pay for upgrades to items that are in need of upgrade. If the home inspector indicates that something like a water heater or air conditioner really is in bad shape, you may be better off asking for it to be replaced as part of the home purchase.

#3: You prefer to buy new appliances when the current ones go bad

If you prefer to buy a new car every two or three years rather than keeping an existing one running, you may have the same mindset about appliances and systems. Some homeowners prefer to the newest and best bells and whistles in their homes, making a home warranty unnecessary.

#4: You already have reserve funds for potential repairs

You can save on the expense of a home warranty and any related service calls by having money set aside for maintenance and repairs on your home, or allocate a certain amount of your budget every month to building a rainy day repair fund.

Final thoughts about home warranties

It’s never a bad idea as a first-time homebuyer to have a little extra insurance against unexpected home repair needs. You’ll probably find as time goes on that you’ll learn how to do easy DIY repairs like unclogging a garbage disposal or an annoying leaky faucet.

However, if you prefer to let someone else take care of any household repairs, or just don’t have the time or desire to learn how to do handyman-type jobs, a home warranty may be worth the money.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

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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