If you don’t have enough money to do both, is it smarter to pay off your mortgage early or invest your money in the financial markets? For most working people, these are choices that need to be considered.
So, does it make more sense to own your home as soon as possible or make investments designed to fund your future lifestyle?
Generally speaking, there is a short answer to this question—invest first. Why? The answer is relatively simple: opportunity costs.
Opportunity cost refers to a potential loss of value from other opportunities when you choose an alternative. In this case, most people these days have a mortgage with a relatively low interest rate, 3% or 4%, and that rate is locked in for 15 or 30 years. In contrast, a standard rate of return of a diversified portfolio from 12/31/2011 to 3/31/2018 is 7.6%1 (based on representative benchmarking) —greater than the borrowed mortgage rate.
The opportunity costs appear to be clear—choose the option that offers the higher rate of return. Unfortunately, like most things financially related, this simple answer comes with a few complications.
“Average” Can Be Deceiving
The first complication is that “average” annual return rate. The stock market does not deliver returns in a neat and tidy package. When you choose to enter the financial markets and how long you plan to stay are significant factors.
The market can be unpredictable, and this volatility is one of the variables investors must consider when weighing the benefits of paying off a mortgage or investing in the stock market. Some investors are simply too risk averse to tolerate market volatility. These people may elect to pay off their mortgage, foregoing any possible excess annual stock market returns, because of the peace of mind it brings. The same applies to those who simply cannot tolerate debt. Owning their home outright may mean more to the debt-averse than any potential benefits from higher stock market returns. Others may have stronger risk tolerance and will weather market cycles by maintaining a diverse and balanced portfolio. You can assess your risk tolerance by taking Personal Capital’s free interactive quiz by clicking here.
Taxes and Mortgage Structure
The new tax legislation throws additional tax-related variables into your decision. For instance, the law increases the standard deduction, which means fewer taxpayers are itemizing. If you are no longer itemizing, then your mortgage interest deduction has lost its traditional tax-return value, which may make paying off your mortgage early an attractive decision.
The structure of your mortgage is also a factor. If you have an older mortgage with an interest rate above 5.5%, you may want to investigate refinancing to take advantage of today’s lower interest rates. In other instances, hybrid mortgages—such as adjustable-rate mortgages or loans with balloon payments—could tip the scale toward paying off a mortgage.
While no one can predict interest rates, the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) recently commented that more increases may be on the horizon. For adjustable rate mortgages, these pending increases may have a significant impact on monthly housing payments. If you have a hybrid mortgage, you may want to consider refinancing your loan before rates rise significantly.
Age May Be More Than Just a Number
If you are in your 50s and want to retire in your 60s, it probably makes sense to begin paying your mortgage down, with the goal of being mortgage free the year you retire. Housing expenses are the largest budget line item for most Americans, so owning your home outright can go a long way toward helping you manage your retirement budget.
Clearly, individual circumstances and personal preferences will play a significant role in your decision. However, if you have an average risk tolerance, you’re not unusually averse to debt, and you have some time before you plan to retire, the financial markets may provide the highest annual return on your money and, eventually, provide the most benefits.
Consulting a financial advisor can help you fully appreciate your personal circumstances and weigh your preferences before you make the decision to either pay off your mortgage or invest in the financial markets.
To learn more about the ins-and-outs of mortgages, read Personal Capital’s First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide.
1. Representative Benchmark: 41.7% US Equities (VTI), 20.8% International Equities (VEU), 23.4% US Bonds (AGG), 4.1% International Bonds (IGOV), 10.0% Alternatives (equal split VNQ/IAU/DBC) from 12/31/2011 to 3/31/2018 [Inception Date 12/31/2011]
Disclaimer: This communication and all data are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell securities. You should not rely on this information as the primary basis of your investment, financial, or tax planning decisions. You should consult your legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Third party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable. However, PCAC cannot guarantee that data’s currency, accuracy, timeliness, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. Certain sections of this commentary may contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimate, projections and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not a guarantee of future return, nor is it necessarily indicative of future performance. Keep in mind investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.
Paul Deer, CFP®
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