Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 9, 2015

Paid off Mortgage in Three Years

By David Reiss

Sean Cooper

Sean Cooper quoted me in Why the Guy Who Paid Off His Mortgage in 3 Years Isn’t as Smart as You Think.  You’ll want to read about this guy:

You’ve gotta hand it to Sean Cooper: In a mere three years, this Toronto homeowner made epic sacrifices to pay off a $255,000 mortgage on his $425,000 house. His reason: “For a lot of people, their mortgage is like a life sentence,” the 30-year-old explained to the press. “I just wanted to not have a mortgage hanging over my head.”

After his story broke in publications such as the Toronto Star and The Hamilton Spectator, thousands applauded this as a feat of frugality.

But some experts say the opposite—that Cooper made a colossal mistake.

Forget the fact that to pay off his mortgage this pension analyst took on two extra jobs (including in the meat section of a supermarket even though he’s a vegetarian) and worked over 100 hours per week. Let’s also set aside the fact that he stopped using his car and claims Kraft dinners were his “best friend” (because clearly his real friends stopped hanging out with him). No, experts argue that Cooper’s extreme mortgage-paying regimen may have actually damaged his financial health.

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“Having a mortgage is not really such a bad thing,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “When you think about what a mortgage is, it makes sense to pay it off over a long period of time. You use a mortgage to buy something that will last a long time—a home—so you would probably want to spread the payments for that expensive thing over the whole period you’re using it, just as you would with a car. [Cooper’s paying off his mortgage quickly] may work for him, but not for the typical person.”

So if you’re inspired to follow in Cooper’s footsteps, think twice and consider less drastic measures.

“There are less extreme ways of doing this,” Reiss says. “Some people make payments every four weeks instead of every month. This results in one extra payment every year and does not seem so painful. Others will put extra payments into their mortgage—a tax refund, a bonus, money from a consulting gig. This is also less painful because you were probably paying your regular expenses without that money already.”

Bottom line: Don’t beat yourself up for having a mortgage. Embrace the benefits, relax, and live a little. Cooper, for one, is now playing catch-up. Now that he’s debt-free, he’s moved on to his next goal: He’s looking for love. Because let’s face it, most bachelorettes aren’t into eating mac ‘n’ cheese on a date.

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