Monday, November 13, 2017

Should you Retire with a Mortgage?

While the majority of homeowners manage to pay off their mortgages before retirement, more people than ever before are retiring while they still owe money on a mortgage.  According to a 2013 survey done by the Federal Reserve, in 2001 approximately 74 percent of homeowners had managed to pay off their mortgages prior to retirement.  By 2013, that number had dropped to only 61 percent.  The median mortgage loan still had 17 years left before it would be paid off.  For some senior citizens, a large, lengthy mortgage could put their retirement at risk. Others, however, will be able to handle the expense.  What should people consider before beginning retirement with a mortgage?

Can Your Retirement Budget Handle a Mortgage?

People who retire with a large investment income in addition to Social Security and/or a pension will often be capable of handling a mortgage, especially if they are able to maintain an income which is nearly the same as their pre-retirement income.  They may even find that the mortgage deduction they get on their taxes benefits them enough to make it wise to have a mortgage.

Homeowners with a modest retirement income will need to look at the numbers more carefully.  If they have owned the home a long time and can afford the payments, it may be wise to continue to live in the home until it is paid off, especially if they only have a few years left on their mortgage.  By that time, it would feel as if they were getting a raise in their retirement income, since their expenses would drop.  On the other hand, they need to realize that they may not get a tax benefit, since they may only be using the standard deduction when they file their taxes.  They need to look at their long-term financial situation.

What If You Cannot Afford Your Mortgage?

If you decide your retirement budget will not be able to handle your current mortgage, you have a few options.

You could try to pay off the mortgage prior to retirement, while you are still employed.  You could make extra house payments or refinance your loan into a 15 year mortgage, as long as you do it ten or fifteen years prior to retiring.  However, you do not want to take money out of your retirement savings accounts or add to other debts in order to pay off your home faster.  Those moves would either reduce your future retirement income or increase your other expenses, which would not actually solve the problems caused by having a mortgage you cannot afford.

A popular choice is to sell your current home and use the equity to buy another one which is less expensive.  You might even be able to pay cash for the new home.  If not, you will at least end up with a much less expensive mortgage which will better fit into your retirement plans.  You could look for a smaller home in your current neighborhood or consider moving into an active adult retirement community.  Many retirement communities have homes which are modestly priced and well designed for people who are aging.  This could also save you from spending money to modify your current home so it is accessible for someone using a wheelchair or walker, which could be an issue for you or your spouse in your later years.

Should You Consider a Reverse Mortgage?

Reverse mortgages can be very helpful for retirees who want to remain in their home until they die.  However, it is not a good idea to get a reverse mortgage too early in your retirement, especially if you hope to retain some equity in your home so you can leave to your children, or if you hope to use your equity to cover the cost of a nursing home or memory care facility at the end of your life.  Before getting a reverse mortgage, you need to weigh the pros and cons very carefully.

You do not need to pay back a reverse mortgage as long as you remain in your home.  However, the debt and interest continue to accrue and, eventually, you may no longer have any equity left in your home.  When you die or move into a nursing home, the mortgage company can sell your house and pay themselves back the amount of the loan, plus the interest and selling costs.  You or your heirs will only receive whatever is left.  If you have had the loan a long time, there may be nothing left.  That is why it is best to wait as long as possible before you turn to a reverse mortgage.

Whether or not you decide to retire with a mortgage depends on your personal financial situation.  However, it is important for you to weigh your decision carefully.

If you are interested in learning more about retirement planning, where to retire, common medical problems, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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