Ramsey’s Step 6: Pay Off the Mortgage

I’m not against paying off mortgages.  I’m not particularly in favor of it either, any more than I have a general opposition to, or support of, latex paint or front wheel drive.

Two-story_single-family_home Dave Ramsey is most certainly in favor of paying off your mortgage.  Granted, he does consider it a special category of debt, setting it aside to be dealt with in Step 6 rather than in Step 2 with the ordinary stuff. But it’s still debt, and Ramsey takes no prisoners in his fight against that evil scourge.

Arguing against this is a little difficult because there are certainly cases and situations where paying off a mortgage is indeed the best course of action, and it is hard not to fall into the trap of framing the discussion as always vs. never rather than always vs. sometimes.

The main reason why a person might not want to pay off his mortgage, even if he had the cash, is that mortgage money is cheap.  Particularly on an after-tax basis, mortgage financing can carry such a low interest rate that it makes sense to invest the money elsewhere instead of paying off the debt.

A big reason why mortgages are so cheap is that mortgage interest on your primary residence is tax deductible, meaning that your payments to the bank are (usually) subsidized by the government.  The degree by which it is subsidized, that is, the degree to which mortgage interest reduces your taxes, varies a lot from person to person and in ways that do not always make sense.  Such is life in America.  But for many people, this subsidy is significant, the equivalent of a fourth or a third off the interest rate.

Ramsey mocks this facet of mortgages and implies that people who believe that the deduction is a worthwhile thing are confused and can’t do math.  From Total Money Makeover, discussing a person with a mortgage that has $10,000 in annual interest payments:

This situation is one more opportunity to discover if your CPA can add.  If you do not have a $10,000 tax deduction and you are in a 30 percent bracket, you will have to pay $3,000 in taxes on that $10,000.  According to the myth, we should send $10,000 in interest to the bank so we don’t have to send $3,000 in taxes to the IRS.  Personally, I think I will live debt-free and not make a $10,000 trade for $3,000.  However, any of you who want $3,000 of your taxes paid, just e-mail me and I will personally pay $3,000 of your taxes as soon as your check for $10,000 clears into my bank account.  I can add. [Page 187]

Ha ha ha.  That’s pretty funny.  But I think it is fairly obvious that the choice is not between paying the bank $10,000 or not getting a $3,000 tax reduction.  The choice is between paying the bank a whole pile of money to discharge the loan or paying them $10,000 a year, $3,000 of which is returned to you by the government.  In fact, I think this is obvious to Ramsey too, much as he tries to persuade his readers not to think about it too clearly.

Right after the quote above, Ramsey addresses the reasonable idea, which he calls a “myth”, that a person might be better off not paying off a mortgage at a low interest rate and investing the money in something that paid better.  It is here that a thoughtful observer realizes that Ramsey has dug himself a bit of a hole with his own myth-making. Ramsey, you will recall, tells his readers and listeners to expect 12% from their stock market investments.  If that were so, why would you pay off a mortgage costing only half that?  Well, you probably wouldn’t, but Ramsey is not about to admit that 12% is an unrealistic number meant to build enthusiasm for saving and investing.

Instead, he obfuscates further.  He uses as an example borrowing $100,000 at 8%, a pretty high rate for a mortgage, and investing it at 12%.  He does concede that you would make $4,000 on the deal.  But not so fast, he tells us. You will have to pay taxes on the $12,000 you made from the investment, leaving you with only $9,600, for a profit of just $1,600.  Perhaps absent-mindedly, he has forgotten that the $8,000 is tax deductible and, at the 30% marginal rate he uses in the example, costs only $5,600 on an after-tax basis, leaving you with a profit of, let’s see, oh, $4,000.

Then he goes on to use the more legitimate objection to the mortgage-and-invest strategy that the investment side is risky.  But he has to tread very lightly, having previously downplayed those risks.  So instead of putting it into his usual easily understood vernacular, he says that to take into account the riskiness of investing “we must mathematically factor in a reduction in return if we are sophisticated investors.” [Page 189]  And how do we do that?  Ramsey doesn’t say.  Apparently, it is really hard stuff that you shouldn’t worry yourself about.  “Graduate-level financial people are taught mathematical formulas to make risky investments compare apples to apples with safer investments after adjustment for risk.”

Then he sums up that “The bottom line is that after adjusting for taxes and risk you don’t make money on our little formula.”  Except that he screws up the tax adjustment and leaves the details of the risk adjustment a mystery.

I’ve actually taken those graduate-level courses, and understand adjusting for risk as well as anybody.  And although there is clearly a world of difference between a 12% that is guaranteed and a 12% that is an expected stock market return, if a person really believed that the stock market would return 12% and could get a mortgage at 5%, it would be hard to make any sort of adjustment that would keep that deal from looking profitable in the long run.

Again, I am only arguing that sometimes you should not pay your mortgage off if you have the money, not that you should never pay it off.  It’s easy to imagine a plausible scenario in which Ramsey’s little formula is compellingly profitable.

Suppose a person has a $300,000 mortgage, is in the 30% tax bracket, and lives here in Massachusetts.  He can refinance into a 30 year fixed at the current average rate of 4.86%.  That’s $14,580 a year in interest, $10,206 after taxes.  Being risk averse, he could then take the $300,000 he’s not using to pay off the mortgage and loan it to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the form of a long-term municipal bond.  There’s one for sale today that runs until 2038 and will yield 4.60% tax-free, or $13,800 a year after taxes, for an annual profit of $3,594.  Sure, a loan to the Commonwealth is not risk free, but it’s pretty close, and a reasonable person might think the extra $300 a month for 29 years was worth it.

[Read the last post in this series: Step 7.]

71 Comments

  • By Rob Bennett, April 22, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    I applaud you for writing this series, Frank.

    I have nothing against Dave Ramsey. I don’t know enough about him to have a strong personal take. But lots of people I respect like him a lot. That just makes it that much more important that someone check into what he is saying and let people know the other side of the story. I think you’ve done a good job in the two Ramsey articles of yours that I have read.

    The idea that people should have been expecting to get a 12 percent return on their stock investments when we were at the prices we were at until recently makes me sick.

    I paid off my mortgage a long time ago and I think it was a good move. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to use phony arguments to make the case. And there are indeed circumstances in which it makes sense not to pay off the mortgage.

    It took guts to write this. And I don’t see anything unfair in what you wrote. I think you made a strong and balanced case.

    Rob

  • By dawn, April 22, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    i’m quite sure that when dave ramsey wrote his book, it was pre-recession. So it’s not fair to attack him on expected investment returns with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

    That being said, i wouldn’t count of 12% returns even in a bull market. I believe Ibbotson long-range average annual returns since 1926 are at about 10%?

  • By devil, April 22, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    I paid off my mortgage last month. It was the right move for me, as it was fixed at six percent. Also, my husband plans to retire in six years and we don’t want any debt of any kind hanging over us.

    Your point is well-taken. Everyone’s situation is different and a one-size-fits-all mentality is too stifling. Each person needs to crunch their own numbers.

    I like Dave Ramsey’s simple approach, though. He’s reaching people who get very intimidated by personal finance issues. They need some very, very basic guidelines and he provides them. I can’t think of anyone who would actually be harmed by having a paid-off home, so it’s generally good advice.

  • By Rob Bennett, April 22, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

    I believe Ibbotson long-range average annual returns since 1926 are at about 10%?

    The average long-term return is 6.5 percent real. When we are at the sorts of valuation levels that applied from 1995 through the first part of 2008, the likely return is much less than that. At the height of the bubble in 2000, the most likely annualized 10-year return was a negative 1 percent real.

    To get to 12 percent, you would need to engage in three bits of “spin”

    1) Ignore the effect of valuations. That brings you up to 6.5 percent real, the average long-term return;

    2) Ignore inflation. That brings you up to perhaps 10 percent.

    3) Use only recent returns (those from the wild bull years) rather than the full historical record as your guide. For example, you might compute the average return only from 1980 forward. That might bring you up to 12 percent.

    Ain’t spin wonderful?

    Rob

  • By Mr. ToughMoneyLove, April 22, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    Ramsey is a simplifier (and maybe a simpleton) and skips the steps that you explained. But I think you skipped one (and maybe two) as well. The tax benefit from mortgage interest applies only to the extent that your deductions exceed the standard deduction. To simplify using your example, if I am married and my only deduction in 2009 is the $14,850 mortgage interest, only the last $3450 of it is actually helping me because I can deduct $11,400 without having a mortgage. The other factor to consider in tax planning is that a paid-for house can provide you thousands in phantom income (shelter services) that is tax free. If you are living off investments or other income you can control, your need for income to pay for shelter diminishes, perhaps saving you much more in taxes than the interest deduction provides. That can really help if your Social Security is being taxed or if you are living off withdrawals from non-Roth retirement accounts. As you say, the issue is more complex than most folks believe or understand.

  • By Rick Francis, April 22, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

    I’ve never agreed with Dave Ramsey’s rabid anti-debt philosophy. I thought your bond example was a pretty good argument for not prepaying a low interest rate mortgage.

    A 10% compound annual growth rate is a more reasonable average for a 30 year investment but I would do a calculation with an 8% CAGR as a worst case since we don’t really know what the future holds.

    -Rick Francis

  • By Mark Wolfinger, April 22, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

    To me, there’s only one good reason for paying off a low-interest mortgage – and that’s the peace of mind it brings to some people.

    Those of us who understand how money works recognize the economic foolishness, but when emotions get in the way, logic is set aside.

  • By LHM, April 23, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    This is one site where the comments are ALMOST as useful as the blog article. Rob Bennet and Frank C on the same page is almost as good as it gets.

    I also have paid off my mortage this year. With a mortgage too low to benefit from the tax savings, the 6% risk free ROI seemed the prudent thing to do a few years before retirement. I paid off the last third of the loan with 0% balance transfer money which I will roll over until the offers dry up or I get bored messing with it and then pay it off with the money I saved in the meantime.

    I like Mr.ToughMoneyLove’s shelter income concept as well, and now until retirement I can save the amount that was going to the mortgage allowing me to put off tapping into retirement money that has lost significant value hoping it will eventually recover.

  • By GPR, April 23, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

    Of the people buying Ramsey’s book, how many do you suppose can pay off their mortgage? Or the other way round: of those people who have managed to have ~300,000 in movable investments, what percentage still feels the need to buy mainstream financial advice books?

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, April 23, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

    Dawn: Rob Bennett’s estimations of expected returns based on current valuations aside, 12% was never a sober estimate. If Ramsey got caught up in the exuberance of 2003 (when Total Money Makeover was published) then so much the worse for him.

    Mr. ToughMoneyLove: I agree that the untaxed imputed rent effect that you speak of is an important reason to own a house rather than rent it, but it doesn’t have much to do with whether or not you have a mortgage. You get to live in the place either way without paying taxes on the rent you are not paying. And sorry if I did not make clear that some people don’t get much of a tax benefit from mortgage interest, often for arbitrary reasons such as the one you give.

    LHM: I think the comments are nearly the best part of this blog too. (Although I do wish more people would participate. Don’t be shy, people.) And I’m really happy that Rob Bennett contributes so much. Even though I often disagree with him, I know a fellow iconoclast when I see one.

    GPR: Ramsey claims to have 3.5 – 4 million daily listeners, so there must be a few who really are in the position to pay off the mortgage rather than invest. Still, you make a good point. I was surprised how little material there was on his website on mortgages and step 6, relative to what is there on other debt and step 2.

  • By frugal in Europe, April 27, 2009 @ 10:42 am

    “Suppose a person has a $300,000 mortgage, is in the 30% tax bracket, and lives here in Massachusetts. He can refinance into a 30 year fixed at the current average rate of 4.86%. That’s $14,580 a year in interest, $10,206 after taxes. Being risk averse, he could then take the $300,000 he’s not using to pay off the mortgage and loan it to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the form of a long-term municipal bond. There’s one for sale today that runs until 2038 and will yield 4.60% tax-free, or $13,800 a year after taxes, for an annual profit of $3,594. Sure, a loan to the Commonwealth is not risk free, but it’s pretty close, and a reasonable person might think the extra $300 a month for 29 years was worth it.”

    The thing I do not like about these type of calculations is that they assume that you have the 300,000 sitting around to either pay of the mortgage or invest. That is just not the case for most people.

    It would be much more interesting to see a calculation that answers the following question. I pay 10,206 in interest each year and save 30,000 dollar a year for 30 years. Would it make sense for me to first pay of my mortgage and then save 40,206 a year after 10 years; or would it make sense to save 30,000 a year for 30 years and then pay of the mortgage?

    In scenario 1 you can save 10,206 dollar more for 20 years (avoided interest payments). In scenario 2 you save a lot of money in the end but then need to subtract the costs (is 300,000 for the house plus 306180 in paid interest).

    Of course the results diver given the expected interest you get on your savings. However, I ran these numbers for our household (mortgage interest = 4% and savings returns 5% and a 10% deduction in the principal on the mortgage annually) and scenario 1 outperforms number 2 (we don’t live in the US).

  • By tom, February 25, 2010 @ 9:25 am

    I came across this while trying to decide what to do myself. But if everyone followed Dave’s advice we would not be in this financial mess!

  • By Voting_Libertarian_in2010, February 28, 2010 @ 4:34 am

    “…meaning that your payments to the bank are (usually) subsidized by the government.” What? How are they subsidizing what was MY money in the first place! We are taxed at every corner of our lives (something our Founding Fathers gave their lives to prevent) and then the media and pundits such as yourself come out to numb our senses by telling us that the government is somehow doing us this great favor. We need to end capital gains and this incredibly horrible tax system that forces us to waste time trying to decide where to “hide” our money. Congratulations America, we are rapidly losing our “Economic Freedom”:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704541004575011684172064228.html

  • By Craig, March 4, 2010 @ 12:15 am

    I have decided to pay off my 5.25% 30 year fixed mortgage in year 5. I’m already maxing out my 401k, HSA, 529 contributions. While I could invest the money, I can’t bear the thought that sometime in years to come, I find that either I spend or lose part of the money and end up not having the funds to pay off the house. It only takes spending 10% of the invested funds to make your whole argument about investing instead of paying off go bad wrong.

  • By Mike, March 13, 2010 @ 12:26 am

    One other factor that one *might* want to consider: if you buy into the thesis of US dollar inflation spiraling out of control in the next few years, then paying off the mortgage early wouldn’t necessarily be the right course. Look back to the 1970s- early 1980s: even if wage increases lagged behind inflation, they still made the mortgage payments on a 30-year mortgage taken out in, say, 1975, become increasingly tiny over time. Meanwhile, despite the rough going in the stock market before 1982, if you had bought blue chip shares (say, Coca Cola and McDonalds and IBM) then the dividend increases did, over time, keep up with inflation. Which would you rather have in 1988: a paid-off house and finally the ability to *start* investing; or an ongoing mortgage payment whose monthly amount now seemed really tiny compared to your salary, even as the stocks you had bought during the horrible bear market were steadily increasing their dividends?

    So it really does depend on your thesis about whether inflation is approaching. If it is, then you don’t need a great stock market in order to make holding on to your mortgage a good idea; you would only need to own companies capable of raising their product prices and dividends at the rate of inflation.

  • By jemson, April 17, 2010 @ 2:04 am

    You people that say you would rather invest your money than pay off your mortgage crack me up. The fact is, you didn’t invest in jack, you have nothing, you spent it all on useless stuff, and anything you invested is gone now anyway. And now your house is upside down too. Ignore risk, pay the price. Congratulations math wizards. You spend 6 paragraphs justifying in your minds why it’s not worth paying off your mortgage. What you’re doing is sitting in your own poop. Enjoy suckers. LMAO

  • By alexj, April 18, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

    I agree Jemson.

    Your average person got shafted by the recession, and isn’t all that good at picking the stellar investments that some of you wizards claim to be able to pick. Come to think of it, most so-called investing experts can’t pick a stock better than amateurs. This is a cold, hard, mathematical fact.

    Here’s a simple math formula then that anyone can understand:

    Paying off mortgage = sure thing.
    Investing = not a sure thing.
    Timing our investing around a recession = not a sure thing
    Shorting a stock = bad idea for most folks

    “Devil” said it well- “I can’t think of anyone who would actually be harmed by having a paid-off home, so it’s generally good advice.”

  • By cybergal5184, May 6, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

    Paid off my mortgage this year. Haven’t regretted it a bit. I think I will invest better knowing that money isn’t essential earmarked “house” money. Also for a decent house in a LCOL area the tax deduction was pretty much nil for us since the standard deduction is relatively high. Mortgage was at 6.125% and I was going to refinance about 18 months ago but couldn’t stomach the though of paying a few grand for the privilege of me paying them interest. So I said heck with it and just paid the damn thing off.

  • By myself, July 14, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    It completely depends upon one’s circumstances.
    For instance, in the year 2009, you had to surpass the standard deduction of $11,800 before it made sense to itemize deductions.

    This of course is aside from any child tax credit one may or may not received.

    In our case, our short term (15 year) mortgage combined with our high property taxes, will cause us to end up using the standard deduction in about 7-8 years. That also coincides with the time when we will loose 2 child tax credit deductions (unless them move those up to 19 or more).
    So, if we could payoff the mortgage in the next 7 years without changing our retirement savings contributions (currently only 9%/yr), I would gladly do just that. Because we will only be paying about $4,450/yr and dropping by $1,000/yr, in interest on our mortgage for the remaining 5 years.

    You do realize in your example that you’re willing to give your lender $14,580 in interest, just to write-off $4,374 of the interest you were paid from your salary. Oh, and if you’re in the 30% bracket, you’re well over six figure income, as compared to the median income in america of about $50,000.

  • By Me, August 8, 2010 @ 10:17 am

    The math may work out against Ramsey. It also may not. All I know is that math is only ONE part of the equation, and that is what only Ramsey seems to get. He is talking to people who are “middle class”, but have no breathing room because they have taken out more debt than they can actually afford to have. These are people who are depressed, fighting with their spouse, and trying to get through work and the kids each day with no energy for such things. Their lives are drained.

    Ramsey gives what no other financial “expert” I have seen give. Hope. He simplifies things because we at our level don’t have energy or time to work out 3-page long equations to figure out what to do with our money. Does the math work out to every cent being perfect for every situation? No. Does the concept and actions and change of mindset give those families breathing room and retirement and savings for their kids college every time? Absolutely.

    It is much easier to just spend your money on what you want now as compared to spending all day with your head hurting trying to figure out how to squeeze every cent out of your money. So if you make complex, most people will choose that restaurant or that brand new car over the saving for retirement that they don’t understand. There is a factor here much bigger than the math, and that is what Ramsey understands. His plan is simple. Anyone can follow it. It gives people control over their finances. It allows them to retire. What is so evil about that? Even if they retire with 1.2 million as opposed to 1.5. What is the big deal? They retire either way. And, the biggest risk of all is that the 1.5 million is way too complicated and won’t be done at all. Some of us “Simpletons” (as you so kindly put it) need a simple solution to our goals.

  • By Carlik, September 1, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Lets say instead of buying a house cash, I got a mortgage and invested it. I buy the house for the median price in America. (about $180,000) The first years “interest payments” would be $8939.69 and the only amount applied to the principal would be $2655.66. If I’m taxed at 30%, I lose only $6,257.77 in interest, while making (with Daves argument)$15,120 after taxes…the yield covers the loans interest and leaves $8,862.23. Your building equity in your home, while your home is being paid for buy money your money is earning…different strokes for different folks! Do what works best for your family…

  • By jr77, September 1, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

    Suppose you have a $300K mortgage and $100K to either save, invest or pay down the balance.

    Option A: Reduce mortgage by $100K. Continue to make regular payments.

    Option B: Invest $100K in municipals. The yield roughly offsets mortgage interest after tax consideration.

    Now suppose you lose your job. Under which scenario will you have more peace of mind?

    Option A: with limited savings you struggle to make payments and need to convince a bank to provide HELOC (good luck without a job). You may be forced to sell home quickly in a buyers market.

    Option B: You sleep well at night knowing 100K will allow you to continue mortgage payments for 3-4 years.

    I choose liquidity.

  • By Todd, September 13, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    I’m a huge fan of paying off the house while you have the income to do so. Life is uncertain. A house paid off is a liability out of the way (risk). Once paid off, I am free to risk, for example, other career opportunities. Right now, I am married to my income. I.e., somewhat trapped. Once that house is out of the way, that trap is avoided or at least reduced in impact.

    Example, a friend of mind was forced to move across the country. Why? He lost his job and that’s where he found a job. He was forced to move due to impending liabilities… to include his house. If his house was paid off, and he had a 6 month em-fund, he would have loads of options. Those two things give you a lot of breathing room. Heck, he and his wife could have worked bagging groceries for a year while looking. His house is *still* on the market, by the way.

  • By Dave, September 25, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    I bought a house almost exactly 2 years ago when things were falling apart with a VA loan at 6% and then refinanced after 1 year at 5% while paying extra on the loan the entire time. The amount went from 370k to 280k now. Keep in mind, we did not buy more house than we needed, not what the financial calculators say that you can afford as long as you struggle paying your other bills which we did not believe that bogus myth.
    We are not looking at refinancing 1 last time with a 5 year ARM at 2.875% with no points.
    My main point is that this move gives me two options:
    If I loose my job or income reduced, no big deal as the payment has been reduced by 33% of the original. (Includes taxes)
    If I continue with my income and the same rate of overpayment, when the interest rate does reset, the amount of principal will be very small, again no big deal.
    For the people who like to make all kinds of predictions with investment returns, they are thrown for a loop when the rules change over night which is our current political environment. I would rather have a sure thing than “Pie in the Sky” estimates.

  • By Anon, November 30, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

    “Paying off mortgage = sure thing.”

    Ha ya right.

    Congratulations on paying off your 400k$ house that is now worth 200k$. The only thing you’ve paid off is another greedy homeowner who ran off with your money.

    There is no sure thing either way mister. Houses go up and down, just as stocks do.

  • By kent, January 20, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

    I am positive that just about everyone on this site is smarter than me in terms of finances. I want to make that clear before I make my point. I do like Dave Ramsey very much and I think that there is a major point being missed here, and that is this: We are placing too much emphasis on the statistical/financial side of this argument and ignoring the emotional side of it.
    Most of Dave Ramsey’s teachings are focused on ‘recovery’, for lack of a better term. Most of America is drowning in debt and they don’t know what to do about it. Personally, my belief is that this is a result of our consumerism culture, which does not allow for any system-wide teachings of personal finances or financial responsibility. This is something that should be taught at an early age and it is not, but I digress….There is an emotional component to this…a sort of “battle with debt” mentality that occurs when one tries to turn their course and work towards a healthy financial status. People need encouragement in this arena, or else they become overwhelmed and give up, usually leading to worse debt. That is why Dave’s advise sometimes doesn’t line up with the percentages. It looks like the people on this site are very smart on their finances, but millions of Americans are not. One of Dave’s steps is to pay off the smallest debt, then roll that amount into the next largest debt, thus creating a ‘snowball effect’. This is something most people can identify with, and thus it encourages them to continue the process (even if the smallest debt is at a higher interest rate than the next largest debt). If you want to ‘plug in the numbers’ every time, I am sure you will be able to poke holes in some of his examples, but I think the basic message he is trying to convey is one of encouragement and motivation in how to better control your debt and finances and that less debt is better overall.

  • By Tommy @ House Hunter, March 15, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

    Hey Frank C., great insight – though I tend to come at this decision from a different angle. I don’t think most people buy a home with a return in mind, but rather for the security and independence provided through home ownership. Home ownership evokes more than return – there’s an emotional attachment, a personal committment, and a sense of pride and accomplishment in owning your home outright that you just don’t get from investments. If return was the primary motivator, one could make a strong argument that renting and investing is a much better deal than buying a home!

  • By Loretta, April 9, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    I, 100%, agree with the comments made by ‘by me’ and ‘by kent’. They obviously see the true American picture, and are wise enough to see that Dave Ramsey’s strategy is what truly helps people and gives us hope. Most of the time, “wise” is better than “smart”.
    I haven’t done it yet, but personally, I think that if one plans to stay in their home until health sends them elsewhere, the peace of mind of paying off their mortgage outweighs the tax break. Especially, if one is retiring and has an emergency fund and a long term care insurance policy in place.

  • By شات, April 15, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    دردشة

  • By FatMickHead, May 12, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    @ Kent, you are 100% correct that Ramsey’s raison d’etre is working on the emotional side of PF. Some people do see it that way. For those of us who are more logical about money, Ramsey’s advice doesn’t work, because money, in and of itself, is not emotional. Money doesn’t care how you feel about it.

    I suppose another way to say it is that why deny the rest of us steak just because some people can only handle baby food?

  • By Steve, June 17, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    Could not agree more. Ramsey provides a much needed service to people who are in debt, and that is coaching, not expert advice.

    This area in particular bugs me about him, though. First, 12% is, as you point out, not realistic over the long haul. More like 9%.

    Second, his risk reward equation is inconsistent. If it is okay to expect 12% from a mutual fund (it isn’t, btw) if you’re going to leave it alone for 5 years, then why isn’t it okay to leave your 4.75% mortgage alone while you invest for the long term? I’m always hearing him give advice to people who have a mortgage balance of $50000 and a mutual fund balance of $100,000. He always tells them to write a check for the mortgage out of the mutual fund, asking the question, “Would you take out a mortgage on your house to invest in the stock market?” Invariably, the caller responds in the negative. If he asked me, the answer might just be an enthusiastic, “YES!”

  • By SK, July 16, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    Here’s another reason why Dave gives the advice he does: debt is described as slavery in the Bible. Dave talks a lot about being debt free as a means to freedom and becoming the generous person God wants us to be.

    If only a worldly view of finance is applied, then some of Dave’s rules may look odd. But when you put it through the lenses of spiritual and emotional well-being, it’s hard to beat his reasons for encouraging the radical elimination of all debt.

  • By Joel, August 15, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

    “Option A: with limited savings you struggle to make payments and need to convince a bank to provide HELOC (good luck without a job). You may be forced to sell home quickly in a buyers market.

    Option B: You sleep well at night knowing 100K will allow you to continue mortgage payments for 3-4 years.

    I choose liquidity.”

    This is why Dave recommends 3-6 months of expenses in savings BEFORE you pay off the home. That savings *includes* mortgage, so in the situation you describe can leave you with six months to find another job. Have a nice day! :)

  • By Lorenzo of Nashville, October 8, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    Previous readers are correct, Dave provides a good service to those who need counsel and direction to get out of the ‘slavery debt’ cycle to enjoy freedom. The reader who says paying off your $400,000 mortgage that is now worth $200,000. Well, I suppose if you compare to walking away and messing up your credit on a short sale or foreclosure thereby ruining your chances to go buy an equivalent home now worth $200,000.00 then perhaps the peace of mind of security knowing your home is free and clear and accept your losses is a good path for some and not so good for others. How many have lost in the stock or bond market, sold out, accepted their loss and had only worthless paper to show for all of it for their tax preparer to look at and then give them limited loss’ on the return.
    A free and clear home gives a person freedom for whatever economic or physical calamity may occur. For example, a world wide depression may be upon us. Would having a free and clear home to live in versus paying rent or a mortgage that gets more upside down as each day passes, be a good thing? Security is not a tangible and totally measurable thing when it comes to a home. Also, you can always get a reverse mortgage to increase cashflow on a free and clear home, borrow to the hilt on student loans with no payments until the child graduates and then re-finance to pay off the debt and thus now have interest write offs from a mortgage versus a scant small amount from student loans, and if you get cancer and can’t afford to pay a mortgage or rent due to large medical bills, etc. you at least have a roof over your head, that if need be; you can always rent out rooms for more income. We all have choices; do it when we are young and healthy or old and sick, but stocks, bonds and the other investment opportunities the government has mandated on us for retirement just is not working. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Better to be poor and/or unemployed, and/or with a terminal illness and have a free and clear home than not. Many circumstances all point to a free and clear home provides an unmeasurable amount of security that the other options don’t. And, when you get one free and clear, if still healthy and working, rent it out for the cashflow and use the cashflow to help payoff the mortgage on the next property you then buy to live in. Before you know it, that one too is free and clear, and what is wrong with having 2,2,4,5,6 or more free and clear homes for retirement income? and, back to the depression or deep recession scenario, where many more people are losing their homes, thus rentals increase in demand, and based on the law of supply and demand, rent continues to go up. If you are sitting on free and clear rental homes, you can easily do the opposite from everybody else that is trying to gouge the market, or cover their mortgage, tax, insurance payments and lower your rent, thus getting the cream of the crop in renters; cuz there are always going to be renters, there are always going to be people earning good incomes who need to rent, and on and on ad nauseum. Now that is what I am talking about. Makes sense to me, but to others, it doesn’t. Dave doesn’t totally go in to all of these things but the truth of the matter is, I would rather have mud, mortar and sticks to go kick around then a bunch of worthless computerized investment stock and bond printouts that have caused me sleepless nights, worry and stress on my body and heart, marital problems, depression, etc. etc. etc. Get to free and clear and get peace of mind and be delivered from the slavery of debt!!!

  • By شات بنات مصر, October 12, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

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  • By Eric, October 12, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

    Simple question…

    Would you rather have a paid for home that you can parlay the would be mortgage payment into investments….

    or would you rather continue making mortgage payments and have less money to invest with less peace of mind?

    Just stop it. In the global economy we live in today nobody has a “safe” job. To ask someone to absorb the risk of a 30 year mortgage is insane. If I lost my job tomorrow and had a paid for home it wouldn’t sting so bad.

    Is this post a joke or something? Don’t out think yourself on this. The crisis with the bailout the US government provided to various banks and big corporations is somewhat due to the normalization of thinking a mortgage payment is okay! It is a serious risk. Now the taxpayers are left to foot the bill for this normalization. On top of that our government is in debt up to the moon. Debt is risk and risk drags an individual just as much as an economy.

    Imagine our government having a surplus that could reinvest the surplus into infrastructure and projects that could possibly better our lives? Better yet, what if they could provide a bonus to tax payers? What I am getting at is you have options and more of them. With a mortgage payment looming every month you have less options.

    Debunk that sir.

  • By Yogi, January 16, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

    if you put your extra $ towards your mortgage every month, you are moving money from one side of your balance sheet to the other. it does not change the value of your home. why not put the extra $ you have every month in an indexed fund until you have enough to pay off the mortgage? that way you can keep your money more liquid which seems a far less risky way to accomplish the same goal.

  • By just asking, February 10, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

    Since 2000, I have lost over $250,000 in the stock market, having a rather conservative portfolio. If I had paid off my mortgage in 2000, I would be $100,000 richer today. You do the math.

  • By Brent Warr, March 8, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    You make good points from a mathematical point of view. The difference between Dave and all of the complicated financial analysts is Dave takes into account sociology. If you can get somebody to pay off their house, the psychological change that will happen will be permanent and they will never get into any debt let alone over their head.

  • By A New Perspective, April 12, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    Consider this: The easiest way in life to make yourself resistant to economic problems is to have as low of a cost-of-living as possible. Thus, paying off your mortgage (you should probably just pay cash for a home, but let’s assume you got a mortgage) is the best way to do that because you’re left with property taxes to pay for your home which is way lower than any rent or mortgage. Also, paying extra into a mortgage to get it paid off a guaranteed rate of return while the stock market, as we’ve seen, can easily leave you broke. The faster you do all of this, the better chance of success because the possibility of economic troubles are smaller for a 5 year period as opposed to a 10 year period.

    Of course, you want to save money in case there are any road bumps on the way. The long-term is extremely unpredictable and not having to spend as much money on a monthly basis to get by is the safest approach to the long-term in my opinion. I remember when everyone was doing making a lot of money and now they lost most of it. If you’re making money fast without having to actually work for it, then that should be a sign something is wrong. Some people win, but most people lose that game.

  • By ColdCache, May 23, 2012 @ 11:09 am

    “That’s $14,580 a year in interest…”.

    That amount is only during the first year, not over each of the 29 remaining years. Each subsequent year, the interest paid (in dollars) is less. So it looks like an even better choice to invest in the tax-free bonds…

  • By Peter, June 10, 2012 @ 11:28 pm

    It appears that almost nobody here understands economics at all. It is always appropriate to get rid of debt because of the unknown. If you sign a contract to buy a home and the value falls, you still owe the money. You do not want to become so underwater with debt that you lose everything. The stress isn’t worth it. If you owe money you are at the mercy of what you cannot control. If you lose your job or get sick and you are in debt you could lose everything.

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  • By Joe, August 23, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    Hey all! I think this article is great, and I think it highlights the necessity that everyone really look at their own personal situation closely before making a decision. I like Dave Ramsey’s philosophy in that, worst case you lose your job or get in a bad situation, you can ride it out.

    Personally, I am saving up money to pay off my house. If I can keep working as I have been I’ll have it free and clear, along with my two cars, by the time I’m thirty two. Sure I could invest in the markets or bonds, but the career I have chosen means periods of high income, and periods of little income. During those periods where my wife and I are not making much money, there is nothing more calming than knowing I only need to come up with four grand for my property taxes, and a few hundred a month extra for food and other small bills.

    I used to be in pretty bad debt, and now I keep it simple. I might never be super rich, but let me tell you, I feel much better about life not owing anybody anything. But again, it’s right for us. What’s right for you in not my decision.

  • By Thoughts, January 8, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Hard to know exactly what to do when it comes to paying off the mortgage, in my case. We own two mortgaged homes–one is a 2 family rental. We have 30K in cash and 30K in retirement accounts (and around 15K in other accounts to pay taxes, etc). I also have a mess of health problems, but am still working part-time. Our experience is that we have always taken 2 steps forward and 1 step back in terms of income–my husband’s paychecks get smaller several times a year (increased healthcare costs, furloughs and give-backs, now increased ss–same for me, etc.). I’ve also lost a lot of money in stocks, so have come to believe that one can reasonably expect a rate of return in stocks to be 4% long term (after inflation). The boomers are going to have to sell in upcoming years, and not enough of the rest of us to buy, so values are bound to go down…

    I think our best bet, whether we keep or sell our rental property, is to pay it off, since that is a sure almost 6% (mortgage interest).

    But I wonder if we should also save 10K per year in Roths at the same time. It’s a hard call—I just want to get rid of the mortgage, and don’t have very much faith in stocks, even long term.

    These comments have all been very helpful. I think a lot of what we chose to do depends on emotion as well as the numbers–because of how we perceive risk. I know my risk is high, considering health issues, and so paying off mortgages feels safer.

    I suppose what I am feeling right now is wondering if it’s better to concentrate my efforts on getting rid of one source of risk (rental mortgage) vs. prolonging this effort by also saving in a Roth (in which case I perceive 4% gains long-term).

    Thanks again for great comments and insights.

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  • By Rich Uncle EL, January 24, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    Both sides offer a benefit to anyone. It all relies heavily on your situation, if you foresee that your income will be reduced in 10 years then paying off your home should be a priority because then you will eliminate about 40-50% of your expenses. If you are 20 years off from retirement then I say try your luck with the bonds and increase your cash flow systematically so that when you are close to the golden years you can have extra supplemental income.

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    “Ok folks….wanna become millionaires?!?!?! Ok, here’s how……FIRST get yourself a million dollars……”

    Love your family……but not if it costs you money

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  • By Brian Goodsell, April 10, 2019 @ 1:05 am

    You have $300,000 and instead of paying off your home that’s worth at least $300,000 or invest it in something that 20 years down the road it pays you $300 a month. And you still have a mortgage payment. If you pay off your mortgage, you own something. It’s an investment. 20 years down the road, if you really needed that $300 a month you could rent a room to someone for that much. But if you’ve paid your house off and have no other debt, chances are pretty good that you’d have a decent amount of money every month after that to invest in mutual funds that may not make 12% (Dave actually always says 10-12%) but 8-10% over 20+ years is not far fetched. Even if you made horrible decisions and it was as low as 6% it’s still better than your 4.6% investment. You would bring in more than $300 a month. And the other thing is what happens if a month after you make this sound investment with Mass. You end up in some kind of accident and you spend a month in the hospital and another 6-8 months rehabilitating and obviously not working. That’s a long time to go without paying on your mortgage that you could’ve paid off but you didn’t. You could sell the house. Maybe. Or get foreclosed on or forced into a short sale. You wouldn’t have a mortgage payment anymore. You also don’t have a place to live. But hey look on the bright side. By then it’ll only be 19 more years and that $300 a month will be rolling in. I honestly think that is the stupidest thing that’s ever been thought up by anyone over the age of 10. I seriously feel sorry for anyone that takes financial advice from you. People don’t have to listen to Dave or follow his plan even though it’s pretty sound advice. But good lord help the poor idiots that listen to you. You’re a financial disaster. Debt is dumb, cash is king!

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