When you get your first mortgage, it’s hard for many people to focus on the end game, especially given that so many people put so much effort into saving up the minimum down payment, or even making use of grants or various cash-back programs that some lenders offer. It’s important that you keep all your options on the table so that when you’re ready to focus on your long-term strategy, your mortgage allows you to take action, whatever that may be.
Option #1: Start smart and maximize your down payment.
While it’s possible to get away with only putting 5% to 10% down on a home purchase, the single biggest cost-cutting measure you can do is to maximize your down payment. Not only will you owe less, reducing the overall interest you pay, but you’ll avoid having to pay mortgage loan insurance premiums—a fee buyers pay for the privilege of putting less than 20% down on a home.
Option #2: Buy what you can afford.
It sounds simple. Buy a home that fits your budget; the reality is when it comes to buying a home most of us struggle. On one side we want our dream home. On the other is the desire to be fiscally smart. Quite often, it’s a trade-off. But if you focus on buying within your budget (not the maximum mortgage amount your bank has agreed to lend you, but the mortgage that works with your financial plan), then you’re less likely to dip below the 20% down payment, and more likely to stick to your plan of paying off the debt sooner.
Option #3: Shop for the best rate.
Buying a home is stressful. Quite often, buyers will stick with banks or financial institutions they know. But when shopping for the best mortgage rate, it’s actually better to cast your net wide and far. Consider credit unions, as quite often these institutions can offer much better rates and terms than some major banks.
Option #4: Pay attention to when interest is charged.
Most standard mortgages in Canada charge interest semi-annually—that means twice a year the lender calculates what interest you owe, based on the outstanding principal debt and the accumulated interest on that outstanding debt. This is known as semi-annual compounding interest (compounding because it’s interest on interest). The rate at which compound interest grows depends on the frequency of compounding, the higher the frequency, or the number of compounding periods, then the greater the compound interest. For that reason, a loan with a 10% interest rate, but compounded annually, will actually accrue less interest than a loan with 5% interest that is compounded semi-annually, over the same time period.
Option #5: Accelerated payments.
When finalizing your mortgage consider going from one monthly payment to accelerated payments. This adds two extra payments per year, which reduces your principal debt just a tad bit faster.
Option #6: Lump sum or extra payments.
But the real key to paying off your mortgage debt faster is to get a mortgage that allows you to make extra payments. Most mortgages allow borrowers to make annual prepayments of 10% to 20% of principal, without extra fees. These extra payments go directly towards paying down the principal. If possible, however, try and avoid mortgages that only allow you to make extra or lump sum payments on the mortgage anniversary—as this can reduce the likelihood of the extra payment.
Option #7: Lower your amortization.
Those who want to pay off their mortgages sooner should choose the shortest possible amortization. While typical amortization periods are for 25 years, you can opt for as short as 10 years or as long as 30 years (if you made a down payment of 20% or more on your home). Forcing yourself to pay off the mortgage in fewer years translates into lower interest costs and substantial savings. The hitch? Your regular monthly or accelerated payments will be much higher.
Option #8: Increase your regular payments.
To give yourself the best of both worlds, consider going with a longer amortization, but increasing your regular payments using your mortgage loan prepayment privileges. For instance, if your monthly mortgage payment is $1,000 you could increase this to $2,000 per month if your loan terms allowed for double-up payments. In effect, you would be paying off a 20-year mortgage in just 10 years. Better still, you’d have the flexibility to switch back to the lesser regular monthly payment if you were to experience any changes like a sudden job loss or the birth of a child.
In the end, the answer as to whether or not you should pay off your mortgage early really boils down to what’s important to you in both your short-term and your long-term financial plan.