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Should I Pay Down the Mortgage or Invest the Difference?

To quote a reader, this article is “worth getting to the end,” so, make sure you get to the end!

“Worm or beetle – drought or tempest – on a farmer’s land may fall,
Each is loaded full o’ ruin, but a mortgage beats ’em all.”
–Will Carleton


This is one of the most common questions I’ve faced as a planner. It’s a question that we ourselves faced at one time. We had a mortgage on our condo and extra income, and then, when I sold down my shares in the company I co-founded, we had a windfall of extra money coming in.

What to do with the extra money?

Pay down the mortgage or invest it?

There are two schools of thought.

Pay down the mortgage because it’s a known return.

Even if you’re already getting enough itemized deductions outside of the mortgage so that your mortgage interest can be completely deducted from your taxes, you’re still getting (1- your tax rate) * your mortgage rate as a return on your investment. Given how volatile the stock market is, it’s tempting to rest easy at night knowing that you’ll get the mortgage paid off sooner and reduce your expenses going forward.

For those playing along, this is the route that we chose.

Invest in the markets because the average return is higher than the mortgage.

The compound average growth rate of the S&P 500 from 1871 through 2013 is 9.07%. The current average mortgage rate hovers around 4.5%, so you’d be getting double the return, assuming that you got the average growth of the S&P 500 over time.

Of course, averages mean that you’d have ups and downs. You could run into a series of down years such as when the tech bubble burst or the Great Recession. Would you be able to handle the swings in your portfolio if you were making less than your mortgage rate?

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John Davis
John Davis is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books about his expertise in the field and has been featured extensively in numerous media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, CNBC, Fox Business, and many more. With over 20 years of experience helping consumers understand their credit and identity protection rights, John is passionate about empowering people to take control of their finances. He works with financial institutions to develop consumer-friendly policies that promote financial literacy and responsible borrowing habits.

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