You'll often hear that it's a wise idea to enter retirement debt-free, and the logic is as follows: When you're limited to a fixed income, you don't want a chunk of your money tied up in debt payments. And while not all debt is created equal, even the healthy kind, like mortgage debt, can hurt you when you're older.
Still, a large number of seniors are struggling to shake their mortgage debt. In fact, 33% of Americans are still paying off mortgages into retirement age, according to COUNTRY Financial.
If you're nearing retirement but are still carrying mortgage debt, it pays to focus on knocking out those payments before your golden years kick off. Here are a few ways to accomplish that goal.
1. Switch to biweekly payments
Most of us make a mortgage payment once a month, but if you split your usual monthly payment in two and make it every other week, you'll end up paying extra into your mortgage, since you'll make the equivalent of 13 monthly payments instead of just 12. Do this for a number of years leading into retirement, and you might knock out that pesky debt right in time.
2. Apply windfalls to your mortgage
Anytime you make a lump sum payment into your mortgage, it reduces the amount you pay in interest and shortens the life of your loan. Therefore, if you come into money during the year, whether it's a gift, a bonus at work, or a tax refund, applying that cash to your mortgage could help you eliminate it sooner.
Imagine you took out a 30-year fixed $200,000 home loan at 5% interest. If you make an extra $3,000 payment into that mortgage 25 years in, you'll shave close to half a year off the life of your loan and save yourself over $1,300 in interest in the process.
3. Look into refinancing
Refinancing means swapping an old loan for a new one, and while it can be a risky move when you're older, there are circumstances under which it makes sense. For example, if you're stuck with a high interest rate on your mortgage because you applied at a time when your credit was poor or rates were higher in general, refinancing could significantly reduce your monthly payments. At that point, you can then take the money you would've spent on those higher payments to make extra payments, thereby getting rid of that loan faster.
Just be aware that you'll often pay closing costs when you refinance, and that it might take some time to recoup them. Therefore, if you only have two or three years left on your mortgage, refinancing may not be worth it. But if you're looking at five years or more and a substantially lower interest rate, it could be a smart move.
Let's be clear: Entering retirement with a mortgage payment hanging over your head won't necessarily sentence you to a life of being broke, but it might limit the extent to which you're able to enjoy your golden years. If you're able to pay off your mortgage before retirement, you'll kick off that period with less stress and more peace of mind. And that alone is worth the effort.