Consumer advisory: 3 things to keep your retirement plan on track

Compared to a decade ago, there are fewer older homeowners who own their homes free and clear. Older homeowners are also carrying more mortgage debt. While the share of older homeowners with a mortgage increased from 22 to 30 percent between 2001 and 2011, the median amount of their mortgage debt grew from about $ 43,400 to $ 79,000.

For many of the roughly 4.4 million retired homeowners with mortgages, making monthly mortgage payments on a fixed income on top of other monthly expenses is a hardship. You can read more in our snapshot of older consumers and mortgage debt.

We’ve got some things you can do to keep your retirement plan on track.

1. Plan for your mortgage pay-off date

For most older homeowners, maintaining their home is their largest expense during retirement, especially if they carry a mortgage. Making your mortgage pay-off date a part of your retirement plan will help you to manage and afford your housing costs.

For some, owning their home free and clear allows them to handle their monthly expenses and have a reserve on hand in case a financial emergency arises. Aiming for a mortgage payoff date that is earlier than your planned retirement age can help you manage expenses if your income decreases unexpectedly. While carrying a mortgage in retirement may not be a hardship for everyone, it’s always a good thing to include your mortgage pay-off date in your retirement plan.

Before paying off your mortgage, you may wish to discuss any tax and estate implications with your attorney, tax accountant or other financial professional.

2. Be careful when getting a new mortgage, refinancing, or tapping into your home equity

Many consumers take on new loans or refinance their existing mortgages to get a lower interest rate and/or monthly payment. Pay attention to the term of your new mortgage as it can affect your retirement plan. For example, taking on a new 30-year mortgage when you are nearing retirement can become a hardship later. Consider choosing a shorter-term mortgage, such as 10 or 15 years, when refinancing or buying a new home when you are close to retirement. You’ll have higher monthly payments now, while you’re still working, and be less likely to still have a mortgage in retirement.

If you’re considering getting a home equity loan or a reverse mortgage, you should revisit your retirement plan. Some people use their home equity to pay for varied expenses, such as home improvements, consolidating debt, medical bills or college tuitions. Consider how you will pay for unanticipated expenses in the future if you draw down on your equity now.

Using your home equity to consolidate credit card or other debts can be risky. A home equity lender can foreclose on your home if you miss payments.

3. Estimate your retirement income and expenses

Generally, people have less income when they retire. Retirement income (from pensions, social security, annuities, and other savings) typically won’t fully replace your work earnings. One study estimates that half of retirees without a pension will receive less than 65 percent of their pre-retirement income.

Knowing your expected retirement income and expenses is important, especially if you’re retiring with a mortgage. You’ll be able to plan and budget for your mortgage payments and other living costs, even if your taxes, insurance, and other housing costs go up.

Some expenses to keep in mind:

  • Older consumers often spend more for their health care and/or long-term care needs later in life than in their younger years.
  • Monthly mortgage payments on top of paying other monthly living expenses can pose a hardship or prevent you from meeting your retirement lifestyle goals. In 2011, older homeowners with a mortgage spent $ 800 more per month than their counterparts with no mortgage.
  • If you plan to age in your home, you may need to pay for home modifications. Adapting your home to age in place can cost thousands of dollars.

Resources to take action

Get your questions answered. We’ve got answers to your questions about mortgages and other topics.

Get help. If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor. We can help you find housing counselors near you.

Start making a plan. Calculate how much you’ll need and how to budget for retirement.

Submit a complaint if you have a problem with your mortgage. You can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372 or TTY/TDD (855) 729-2372. We’ll work to get you a response from the company.

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