You’ve been making monthly mortgage payments for so long that the checks almost write themselves.
But have you become financially complacent, failing to consider ways to decrease your payments or overall debt?
Here are 5 secrets to paying off your mortgage in the shortest possible time.
1. Get a Mortgage “Tune-Up”
You take your car to your mechanic several times a year to keep it in optimum running condition. The same principle applies to your mortgage, according to Ron Chicaferro, president of Thornburg Mortgage Home Loans, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Homeowners really need to do a mortgage ‘tune-up’ at least once a quarter,” he says. “To be a savvy homeowner today means more than just locking in a low-interest rate. Borrowers need to know if they’re paying too much for security they don’t need and if their lender is charging them unnecessary fees. When it comes to saving money, it pays to know when it’s right to refinance and to ask lenders about innovative mortgage products that can reduce monthly payments. There’s nothing like a mortgage tune-up to save homeowners cash.”
2. Pull the Switch
As interest rates rise, homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)–which have become increasingly popular among consumers who want to keep monthly payments low–may want to consider switching to a fixed-rate mortgage.
“The gap between long- and short-term rates has narrowed, making even hybrid ARMs–which are fixed for an initial period–not as good a deal as they used to be,” says Valerie Patterson, senior editor of RealEstateJournal.com. “Now is a good time for homeowners with adjustable rates to consider refinancing with a fixed-rate mortgage.”
Of course, a great deal depends on how long you plan to remain in your home, as well as the cost of refinancing, Patterson notes.
3. Trouble in Paradise?
Money problems and debt are key contributors to today’s high divorce rate, and most families take a financial hit after a couple parts company. As the lawyers jockey for position, a critical question emerges: Who gets the house? (And the mortgage payments…)
“If you own a home, the mortgage is likely your most significant monthly payment,” says Brad Stroh, co-CEO of the San Mateo, California-based Freedom Financial Network, LLC, a company that specializes in debt resolution services. “Be certain you understand how you’ll resolve monthly mortgage payments and how you’ll divide the home’s value–whether one partner buys out the other now or the home is to be sold after children are grown.”
4. The Early Bird Catches the Penalty
If you receive a sudden windfall and decide to pay off your entire mortgage earlier than planned, make sure there is no penalty for doing so. You always want to secure a mortgage that specifies there will be no penalty for paying it off early, but if you happened to miss this clause in the contract–something you’ll definitely want to avoid in the future–think twice before writing a check.
Speak with a certified financial planner–someone with nothing to gain from whatever decision you make–to determine the best way to handle this situation.
5. When the Unexpected Happens…
If you suddenly lose your job or suffer an illness that will create a temporary hardship, it may be difficult to keep up with mortgage payments. Protect your investment–and prevent foreclosure–by working out a forbearance agreement with your lender.
“A forbearance agreement allows for a temporary change, such as lowering–or, in some cases, eliminating–your payments for a specified period of time,” says Andrew Housser, Stroh’s partner and co-CEO. “In order to agree to this, your lender must be convinced that your hardship is temporary and that you will be able to get back on track in the future. Otherwise, they may view forbearance as merely delaying the inevitable.”
Other options, according to Housser, are:
o A loan modification, which serves as a permanent change in terms.
o A “deed in lieu,” which lets you offer the deed to your home to prevent foreclosure.
o Sale of your home.
o Refinancing your mortgage for a lower interest rate or monthly payment.
Don’t make the mistake that will cost you your home: saying nothing and defaulting on payments.