Buying a home is a sign of achievement, a huge investment and a source of pride. It can also be a source of massive debt. Americans owe a whopping $9.56 trillion in mortgage loans, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
It’s difficult to imagine ever paying off your mortgage—and ahead of schedule, at that!—when you’re mired in monthly payments, but it is possible. With the New Year here, it’s time to revisit your money goals and get serious about paying off your mortgage faster. These tips can help cut years off of your mortgage.
1. Make Biweekly Payments
Most people lock into monthly mortgage payments, but if you split the monthly total in half and submit payments every two weeks, you’ll have made the equivalent of 13 monthly payments by the end of the year without feeling additional financial strain. Making biweekly mortgage payments can shave anywhere from four to eight years off of the average 30-year loan, depending on interest rates.
Just check with your mortgage lender to see if and how biweekly payments are handled. Some lenders allow customers to make additional payments for free, while others charge an enrollment fee.
2. Work an Extra Payment Into Your Budget
If your lender charges a biweekly payment enrollment fee that you’re not willing to shell out for, you may be able to make an extra month’s payment each year at no added cost or for a nominal fee. Transfer a small amount each month into a savings sub-account designated for an extra mortgage payment. A tax refund, windfall or work bonus could also give you the cash you need to stick to this strategy. Although this method requires a bit more discipline than the biweekly payments method, it helps you avoid pesky banking fees.
3. Pay More Than Necessary
Monthly mortgage payments are always a hodgepodge of numbers, like $1,542.37. Round that total up to $1,550 (fewer than $8 more per month) or even $1,600 (fewer than $60 more), and you’ll knock years off of your balance without feel too much of a tug on your purse strings.
As always, be sure to check with your lender to see how payments exceeding the monthly amount are processed, and verify that additional contributions apply to your principal, not to interest or the next month’s payment.
4. Refinance Your Mortgage
A standard mortgage lasts for 30 years, but you can opt for a 15- or 20-year mortgage at the time of enrollment or if you choose to refinance. A shorter term means higher payments, but lower interest rates for less time.
If you don’t want to commit to such a high monthly payment, you could keep a 30-year mortgage but treat it like a 15-year mortgage by making bigger payments. You’ll have a higher interest rate, but more flexibility when it comes to payment obligations.
5. Get Rid of Private Mortgage Insurance
If you bought your house with a down payment that was less than 20%, you could be paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender if you ever stop making payments on your loan, and it usually costs between 0.5% and 1% of the loan amount each year.
It doesn’t sound like much, but PMI can tack on hundreds—even thousands—of dollars to your mortgage every year. That means on a $300,000 loan you could be paying as much as $3,000 a year ($250 a month!) for private mortgage insurance, assuming a 1% PMI fee.
You can drop your PMI once you’ve paid enough of the mortgage to have gained 20% equity in your home. Most lenders don’t automatically drop PMI, so contact yours to learn how they handle the process. Lenders usually send an appraiser to determine your home’s value before the lender confirms that you own a 20% equity stake.
6. Pay Off Other Debt
It’s great that you’re laser-focused on paying off your mortgage, but if you’ve got any other debt from high-interest credit cards or loans, focus on paying that off before you start overpaying your mortgage. When such a big chunk of your income isn’t going to other debt, you’re free to put even more money toward your mortgage.
7. Spend Unexpected Money Wisely
Work bonuses, higher-than-normal tax refunds, commissions and other windfalls are such pleasant surprises. You weren’t counting on this unexpected income, so what should you do with it? Take the family on vacation? Get new living room furniture? Dine out more? Why not put it all toward your mortgage payment and shave a few years off of your loan?
8. See Where Else You Can Save
What if there’s no way you could possibly afford to put extra money toward your mortgage each month? Well, you can.
Take a closer look at your spending habits and identify the areas where you can cut back. You might be surprised how much more money you can put toward paying off your mortgage by making a few simple tweaks to your budget:
- Automate saving. The best way to save money is when you don’t have to think about it. Set up your direct deposit at work to automatically deposit a portion of your income into a separate account that you put toward your mortgage.
- Pack your lunch. The average household spends more than $3,000 on meals out every year. That’s two mortgage payments! Going out for a $15 lunch a few times a week with your coworkers seems harmless, but it adds up quickly. Take a few minutes to make a sandwich or pack up leftovers for a quick, money-saving meal.
- Cancel subscriptions. Monthly subscriptions are sneaky. Things like Netflix, Amazon Prime, music streaming services, cable and gym memberships quietly drain your budget every month, so cancel anything you’re not regularly using. If you really miss something, you can always reactivate it.
- Cut back on groceries. Have you ever added up your total monthly grocery bill? Save money on groceries by planning meals in advance, keeping track of the items in your kitchen cabinets before you head to the store, and saying no to budget-busting snacks and junk food.
- Hit “unsubscribe.” Email marketers know the gravitational pull of a flash sale or exclusive offer. If your inbox has become a source of temptation, click “unsubscribe” at the bottom of those promotional emails. You’ll spend less and clean up your inbox.
- Freeze your spending. See if you can go just one week without buying anything that isn’t a basic necessity. It might even motivate you to go a second week, or even a month!
Trading your larger home for a smaller, less expensive one is a bit extreme, but if you’re dead set on getting rid of your mortgage once and for all, it might be a smart move—literally. You might even be able to pay for your new home with the profits from selling your bigger house. And even if you do have to take out a mortgage, you’ve still lowered your debt, which will take less time to pay off.
Your home is your largest investment. Make sure you protect it with homeowners insurance. Talk to your neighborhood Personal Express agent to determine the right policy for your needs and budget by finding a Homegrown Pro near you or calling 1-800-499-3612.