Expert Q&A

3 ways to pay off your mortgage early


With $65,000 and 12 years left to go, a reader wants to know how to go about paying off her mortgage in five years or less

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Question for the expert

Dear To Her Credit,
How can I pay off my mortgage early? I have 12 years left on my 30-year loan, and my current balance is $65,000. I would like to pay it off in five years or less. Is that possible? — Minnie

Answer for the expert

Dear Minnie,
It’s not only possible, but it’s a very with-it thing to do. Paying off one’s mortgage is once again coming into vogue. For years, too many people thought their homes were piggy banks they could raid every time the value went up. Instead of paying off their mortgages, they refinanced them for ever-larger amounts — and we all know how that turned out!

Here’s why I’m so sure you can do it.

Common sense would say that to pay off a $65,000 debt in five years, you have to come up with $13,000 per year plus interest. That’s true on the face of it, but it’s also true that you are making monthly payments anyway. The more you pay down your balance, the smaller your monthly interest expense becomes and the more your regular payment goes directly to principal. So there’s a little bit of magic when you pay extra on your mortgage, and the sooner you do it, the better that magic works!

Assuming your mortgage rate is 6 percent, your payments are probably about $634, not including taxes and insurance. To pay off your mortgage in five years, you could:

  • Pay an additional $605 per month on your mortgage. You might be able to come up with that $605 per month by some combination of brown bagging your lunch ($200), canceling cable ($100), finding a better deal on auto insurance ($30), eating out half as often ($200), and getting rid of your car with payments and buying one you can afford with cash ($400). Or you might choose instead to work extra hours or take on occasional evening or weekend work.
  • Make a big payment now, and then continue making your regular payments for five years. If you pay $32,000 next month and then continue making payments as usual, you’ll be done in five years. Possible sources of the lump sum might be savings or the sale of an investment such as another piece of real estate. (Don’t touch your retirement accounts, especially if you’re not age 59-1/2 yet!)
  • Make an extra payment every year; for example, when you get an annual bonus. An extra annual payment of $8,000 would eliminate your mortgage by Christmas five years from now. (Let’s hope your tax refund isn’t that big — if it is, adjust your withholding and add the increase in your monthly take-home pay to your mortgage payment.)

If each of these strategies sounds impossible, don’t give up! Use a mortgage calculator to try different strategy combinations until you find one you can manage.

For example, say you have $5,000 you can take from savings without depleting your emergency fund. Plus, you get $1,000 back on your income tax return every year. If you apply the $5,000 now and another $1,000 every February to your principal balance, you’ll only have to add $450 to your payments every month to meet your five-year goal.

Another tactic to consider is refinancing at a lower interest rate. If you expect to pay your loan off in five years, a five-year ARM could be the way to go. Rates on ARMs are now under 4 percent. If your current interest rate is 6 percent, for example, just refinancing could save you $90 per month that you can use to reduce your principal balance.

Keep working the numbers until you find a way to reach your goal. It will be worth it when you have the security and financial freedom that comes with owning your home free and clear.

See related:Inheritance strategy: Pay off mortgage or credit cards?, Think twice before rolling credit card debt into mortgage refinancing


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