MassMutual quoted me in Is it OK to Retire with a Mortgage? It opens,
The conventional wisdom is that you should pay off your mortgage before you retire. Yet, about 4.4 million retired homeowners still had a mortgage in 2011, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). More than half of them spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing and related expenses, a percentage that may be uncomfortably high even for working homeowners.
Not having to put such a large percentage — or any percentage — of your retirement income toward a monthly mortgage payment in retirement will certainly make it easier to meet your other expenses. But is it really so bad to have a mortgage payment during retirement?
“The logic behind the rule of thumb is that your income will go down in retirement, so it would be helpful if your monthly expenses went down significantly as well,” said David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York. But if your income from Social Security and a pension (if you have one), and to some extent your assets (the nest egg you plan to draw on for additional retirement income), will be sufficient to make your monthly mortgage payment and meet your other expenses in retirement, there is no real reason that you have to get rid of the mortgage, he said. The key is that keeping your mortgage during retirement should be part of a plan and not a response to a crisis.
More Homeowners are Retiring with a Mortgage
More homeowners retired with a mortgage in 2011 than a decade earlier, according to the CFPB’s analysis of U.S. census data.1 They’re less likely to have their homes paid off because they’re purchasing later in life, making smaller down payments and tapping equity for other purchases.1 In fact, 36.6 percent of homeowners ages 65 to 74 and 21.2 percent homeowners age 75 and older (some of whom may not be retired yet) had mortgages or home equity loans in 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. The median balance was $79,000 for the 65 to 74 age group, and $58,000 for the 75 and up age group.
The CFPB points out two problems with carrying a mortgage during retirement: less accumulated net wealth and the possibility of foreclosure if retirees can’t make their mortgage payments. Foreclosure is harder to recover from when you’re older because you may not be able to return to the workforce to compensate for the loss and because you’re more likely to have health problems or cognitive impairments, the CFPB said.1
Having less accumulated net wealth is a problem, especially if most of your wealth consists of your home equity, which is less liquid than stocks, bonds and cash. Foreclosure is a serious problem if it happens to you, but the odds are slim: even in the aftermath of the housing crisis, in 2011, foreclosure rates were only 2.55 percent for homeowners 65 to 74 and 3.19 percent for homeowners 75 and older.
Some retirement-age homeowners who haven’t paid off their mortgages undoubtedly would rather be debt free but couldn’t afford to retire their home loan sooner. But others might be putting the money that could have gone toward extra mortgage payments to a better use. (footnotes omitted)