Having a mortgage is a beautiful thing because it means you’re putting equity into a valuable asset. At the same time, nobody likes to have debt looming over them—and mortgages come with a lot of debt. So many people wonder how to pay off their mortgage in the most timely manner.
You may be surprised to learn that there are plenty of ways you can do this. Most of them involve finding ways to make extra payments, but there are also some other tips you can use too. For example: Switching your payment frequency and refinancing for a better deal.
Here’s my guide to paying your mortgage off faster, no matter what your means.
Make an extra payment every year (because every extra cent adds up)
One of the simplest ways to pay off your mortgage faster is to add a single payment each year. If you’re on a monthly schedule, simply make a thirteenth payment at the end of the year that’s equal to your other monthly payments.
To achieve this, you don’t need to come up with a lump sum. Just put aside one-twelfth of a payment each month, so you’ll have the money ready come the year-end.
If a full extra payment isn’t feasible for you, remember that every penny counts. Even if you set aside a few extra dollars each month to apply as an extra payment at the end of the year, it will still help save you money in the long run.
Here’s an example to illustrate the importance of extra annual payments:
You start with a $200,000 mortgage and a 4.5 percent interest rate.
For the first five years, you make the minimum payment because you just bought a house and things are tight.
After five years, your budget is more relaxed, and you start making the additional payment each year.
By the end of your mortgage, you’ll have saved nearly $20,000 in interest payments, and shaved about three years off your amortization.
Double up on regular payments whenever it’s feasible
Instead of making an additional annual payment, you can choose to increase the amount of your monthly payments. If possible, double each payment, so you’re paying twice the minimum. If you’re able to do that every month, you’ll pay your mortgage off in half the time.
Even if you can only do this a few times throughout the year, each payment will help. Furthermore, you don’t have to go full double to reap the benefits of this method.
Laura Adams, better known as Money Girl, says even minimal extra sums will help: “Let’s say you have a $100,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 4.5 percent. If you add an extra $100 to your payment each month, you’d pay it off almost nine years earlier and save over $26,000 in interest.”
Make lump sum payments whenever you have a few spare dollars
Most mortgages will allow you to prepay up to 20 percent of the principal every year, free from any fees, and you can take advantage of this to pay your mortgage off faster and save money should you come into some extra cash.
Everybody loves a windfall, but if you’ve got a mortgage on your hands that you want to pay down, you’re better off putting this money toward your loan than spending it on a fancy dinner or taking a trip. Stay focused on your goal, and you will own your home outright that much sooner.
In fact, put all your extra money toward your mortgage
The same principle holds true for any extra money you have while you’re still paying off your mortgage. Whether you’ve got extra money from a raise, bonus, gift, tax return, inheritance, or even a lucrative night at bingo, put it toward the mortgage and get it paid off faster.
Michael Saves is a finance blogger who started writing about savings after paying off his $86,000 mortgage in just two years. A big part of his strategy was working more so he’d have more money to put toward the mortgage.
“First, I made a commitment to work 10 extra hours per week, so 50 hours total. In addition to volunteering for overtime at my full-time job, I waited tables on the weekends and took care of pets around the holidays,” he says.
He also used apps like Mint to track his spending and make sure that he wasn’t wasting too much money in other areas.
On top of scrimping and saving as much as he could, another big part of his approach was making sure every penny went to the mortgage: “Any extra money that came my way went to the mortgage, including work bonuses, birthday cash and credit card rewards,” he says.
Try switching to accelerated biweekly payments instead of monthly ones
Non-monthly payments are great because you end up paying off the mortgage faster without even really noticing. The idea is simple: You end up making more payments each year, which translates to more money paid toward the debt, meaning you pay off the mortgage faster.
Let me call on Laura Adams again to explain this: “Biweekly payments aren’t magic-–they simply take advantage of the fact that there are 13 weeks in each quarter, not 12, and there are 52 weeks in a year, not 48.”
Rebecca and Trevor MacKenzie paid their mortgage off in five years. When they got married, Trevor moved into the house Rebecca already owned. They started paying off the mortgage together, but the biggest part of their strategy was switching from monthly to biweekly payments.
Rebecca told the Financial Post that “that while she was originally making payments of a little over $700, they bumped that number up to a little over $3,000.” Thanks to this strategy, they paid off the remaining $104,800 on the mortgage within two years.
Refinance to get a better rate or shorter term
There are a few ways that refinancing can help you pay off your mortgage faster, including by securing a lower interest rate or by switching to a shorter-term. Ideally, you’ll even be able to pull off both.
When you get a lower interest rate and keep your monthly payments the same, it means that more of each payment goes toward the principal, and this means you’ll pay off the balance sooner and save money in the long run.
Similarly, a shorter term means your monthly payments will go up, but also that you’ll pay the loan off faster and be debt-free sooner. Before opting for this, make sure you can afford the increased payments.
The ideal situation is refinancing to get a lower rate and a shorter term. According to Dana Dratch at Bankrate, you could save yourself thousands of dollars and years of mortgage payments if you do this right.
“Let’s say you got a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. Then, five years later, you can refinance into a 15-year loan at four percent. Doing so pays off the mortgage 10 years earlier and saves more than $60,000,” she says.
However, it’s important to note that refinancing does come with fees, so you’ll have to factor those into your budget and calculations.
Before you do anything, check your mortgage terms for penalties or special instructions
Some mortgages come with prepayment penalties. What that basically means is that if you try to make an extra annual payment, increase your monthly payments, or make a lump sum payment, you may have to pay a fee for paying your mortgage off faster.
Similarly, other mortgages allow prepayments, but they only allow them at specific times, such as the anniversary of the mortgage. The best thing to do is call your lender to ask how you can go about paying more aggressively without paying penalties.
Lastly, when you talk to your lender, ask if there are any specific instructions that you have to give along with your additional payments. Some lenders require that you explicitly state or write a note explaining that you want the payment applied to the principal.
Otherwise, your payment could be applied improperly, making your effort for naught. For example, say you sent an additional end-of-year payment. Some lenders might, without the note, simply apply the additional payment to the following month instead of doubling up.
Paying off your mortgage is a big deal, and even if you’ve managed to pay down other debts in the past, nothing brings quite the same satisfaction as mortgage-free day. Most of the strategies you can employ to pay your mortgage off as quickly as possible include making prepayments, including extra annual payments, additional monthly ones, and even lump sums when you come into extra cash.
On top of that, make sure you budget wisely and put as much money toward the mortgage as possible.