Key Takeaways

  • If you want to pay off your mortgage in a shorter period of time, you should make greater payments more frequently
  • Any extra money should be put toward your mortgage payments
  • Although it is possible, paying off your mortgage in 5 years may not always be the best decision if you have other financial priorities

The idea of paying off your mortgage in full early can be pretty daunting. After all, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Paying that much money off today would likely be impossible (unless you've won the lottery or had a rich uncle die). And, it's not like you can just swipe your credit card and be done with it. However, it's actually quite easy to shave years or even decades off the payment schedule, increasing your equity and saving you plenty of money in interest payments by paying off your mortgage early.

1. Make mortgage payments more frequently

Instead of making one monthly payment toward your mortgage loan, you can make a half-sized payment every two weeks resulting in extra payments during the year. In other words, if your usual mortgage payment is $1000 a month, you would instead pay $500 every other week. These extra payments will have nearly the same impact on your budget as paying one monthly payment, but because there are 52 weeks in a year, a biweekly payment schedule will result in 13 full-sized payments a year instead of the normal 12. You'll be making an entire extra payment every year without having to scrounge around for the extra money. To look at some real-life numbers, if you have a 30-year $200,000 mortgage at an interest rate of 5%, making biweekly instead of monthly payments would save you $34,328 in interest, save you from extra mortgage payments, and allow you to pay off the mortgage balance almost five years early.

2. Make extra principal payments

When you send in your monthly payment, most mortgage lenders will allow you to make an extra payment and mark it "principal only," meaning that this payment will go to paying down the principal rather than both the principal and interest on the loan. Paying down even a little bit of extra principal early on in the loan can save you quite a lot in interest charges, not to mention getting you out of the loan several years ahead of schedule. So consider sending just a little extra to the loan holder every month as an extra principal payment. For example, if you have an odd payment amount such as $1046 per month, you can round it up to $1100 and dedicate the extra bit as a payment on the principal. Even if it's only paying an extra $50 or so a month, the principal payments will add up faster than you'd believe, speeding up the mortgage payoff process

3. Refinance your mortgage into a shorter-term loan

Got a 30-year mortgage? Refinancing it as a 15-year loan will blast you through that mortgage a whole lot faster, and will probably get you a better interest rate as well -- shorter loan terms are typically paired with lower interest rates. And thanks to the shorter time frame, you'll pay a lot less money in interest -- so the payments on a 15-year loan are not double the payments of a 30-year loan; they're significantly less. Pull up a mortgage payoff calculator and play around with the numbers to see how much you'd have to pay to do a 15-year refinance. And if the monthly mortgage payment for such a loan would be more money than you can afford, consider a 20-year loan instead.

4. Allocate extra funds towards your mortgage

Many taxpayers get a tax refund every year. If you use most, or all, of that money as an extra payment on your mortgage, you can make serious progress in getting your house paid off. Other potential windfalls include a bonus from work, a successful garage sale, or a gift from a relative. And if you get a raise, consider putting all the extra income into your mortgage. For example, let's say your monthly take-home pay was $4,000 and your 3% raise means that you're now getting $4,120 per month. Put the extra $120 into your mortgage every month and you won't even miss the money, since you're not used to having it, and you'll end up paying off down your mortgage faster than you think.

Should you pay off your mortgage early?

I have a 30-year mortgage, but I'm not trying to pay it off early. Why not? Because the interest rate on my mortgage is 3.25%, and I can get a better financial payoff by putting all my extra money into investments instead. If you're in a similar situation, by all means direct your extra cash into retirement accounts or other investments and let the mortgage run out on its own.

You may also have other long-term financial goals, such as paying off credit card debt or financing an emergency fund or savings account. These financial issues should definitely have a higher priority than paying down your mortgage. Once you've dealt with them, especially paying off debt, you can go back to getting rid of your house payment.

And, unlike other forms of debt, if you itemize deductions you can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage from your income taxes -- so you'll get at least part of your money back from the federal government. That's not enough of a reason by itself to make stretching out your mortgage fiscally wise, but combined with other factors it can be a nice extra benefit to help you reach your financial goals.