Steve Kerby

Oregon Financial Group

Is Keeping Your Mortgage After 65 Smart or a Major Risk?

Once upon a time, the standard retirement goal was clear: pay off your home and live debt-free. However, changing economic realities have some retirees questioning this long-held belief. With historically low fixed interest rates available until recently, a growing number of seniors are opting to keep their mortgages, a gamble that could either pay off or leave them financially vulnerable.

The Case for Keeping a Low-Interest Mortgage

Those who advocate for keeping a mortgage in retirement make a compelling financial argument. Today's high-yield savings instruments, such as certificates of deposit (CDs), offer rates that may rival or even exceed the interest on a mortgage. This means that retirees could potentially earn more by investing their savings than they'd spend on interest payments.

Additionally, a mortgage allows homeowners to preserve their cash, which may be essential for unexpected expenses or simply maintain their living standards. This financial flexibility may be particularly valuable when income drops in retirement.

A Trend on the Rise

This newfound openness to mortgage debt is reflected in recent statistics. Studies show a significant increase in the percentage of homeowners over 64 who carry a mortgage. Why the shift? Experts suggest that the main factors are combining ultra-low interest rates of the past few years and rising household debt among all age groups.

Potential Downsides

While the strategy has appeal, it's crucial to acknowledge the risks. Retirees living on a fixed income may find it harder to manage a mortgage payment, especially if interest rates rise. Unexpected events, like a job loss or health crisis, may put mortgage holders in a financially precarious position, potentially even leading to their losing their homes.

Furthermore, property taxes and insurance premiums, which often increase with rising home values, may add to the cost of homeownership even without a mortgage payment. Seniors who decide to keep their mortgage need to carefully factor in these expenses.

Debt Tolerance and the Importance of Maintenance

For some, the mere thought of carrying debt into retirement is anxiety-inducing, regardless of potential financial returns. The psychological aspect of debt aversion may be a powerful factor. Additionally, homeowners must be prepared for the ongoing costs of home repairs and maintenance, which may become more difficult to manage as people age. Neglecting these costs could lead to a decline in property value – an issue for everyone, but particularly if a retiree eventually wants to tap into home equity.

What's the Right Choice?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The decision to pay off a mortgage or not involves several personal factors:

  • Your Mortgage Terms: Refinancing at a low rate makes keeping a mortgage more attractive.
  • Your Savings: Paying off a mortgage shouldn't wipe out your emergency fund.
  • Your Risk Tolerance: If debt makes you nervous, the financial benefits may not be worth the worry.

Ultimately, the best approach to managing your mortgage in retirement requires a thorough analysis of your unique lifestyle, financial health, and psychological comfort with debt. Consulting a trusted financial advisor may help you navigate this major decision.

Many people have learned about the power of using the Safe Money approach to reduce volatility. Our Safe Money Guide is in its 20th edition and is available for free.  

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Steve Kerby picture

Steve Kerby

Oregon Financial Group

5555 SW 196th Ave.

Aloha, Oregon 97078

(503) 936-3535

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