This guest post from Caitlin of ClutterCubed (a blog about ridding clutter from your life) is part of a new feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Every Sunday will include a reader story (in the new “reader stories” category). Some will be general “how I did X” stories, and others will be examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success.
Back in September, one hour of my time cut 16 years off my mortgage! It was one of the easiest things I've ever done, but I can honestly (and sadly!) say I probably wouldn't have done it if it weren't for Get Rich Slowly.
However, this is less of a tale of ringing triumph, and more of a story that shows
how financially clueless I was, while you all point and laugh how even people who make financial missteps can put themselves back on the right track.
My shiny new mortgage
In mid-2008, my husband and I bought a shiny new house and acquired a shiny new 40-year mortgage. That's right: a 40-year mortgage. It's embarrassing to admit now, but the banks we talked to assured us that 40 years was “the new normal” for first-time home buyers like ourselves.
This was, of course, right before the crash and the economic downturn, so at the time our 5.5% mortgage rate looked pretty spiffy. As first-time buyers, we could have gotten away with a 0% down payment, but over the years we'd saved enough for a 7% down payment (thanks in part to a small inheritance my husband received). We felt smart. We felt like we were doing the right thing, like we were ahead of the game.
Unfortunately, as we later learned, there's a big difference between feeling like you're ahead, and actually being ahead. We didn't know about the trick of planning mortgage payments before you have to start making them, so we hadn't been putting away “a mortgage payment” every month prior to moving in. We also had no emergency fund to speak of.
By the numbers
We had, at least, planned our housing costs so that they wouldn't be more than 28% of our gross income. I don't remember where we got that number, since at the time we did not really read any personal finance books or blogs. I think we just pulled 30% out of Google, as a financial rule of thumb, and then aimed for a bit less than that.
Because of little things like that, we thought we were doing great, but looking back there are a lot of things I wish we had done differently. (I wish I'd started learning about personal finance before buying a house, for one thing!)
Properly taxes were included in our mortgage payments, and they'd been over-estimated to avoid needing to make a big payment once our house was reassessed this year (since the last time it had been assessed was in 2007, when it was still a dirt lot).
This September our mortgage payment came out automatically as usual, but we were really worried when $180 less than normal was taken from the account. I panicked and called the bank, thinking it was perhaps a mistake, and there would somehow be consequences for not making a full payment. The bank assured me everything was okay, and it was just that our property taxes had gone down after a reassessment, so our payment had been adjusted.
A profitable hour
The Old Me would have celebrated having an “extra” $180/month to spend. The New Me, the one that reads Get Rich Slowly and other personal finance blogs and books and is actively trying to improve my financial situation, immediately booked an appointment with the bank. My husband and I agreed that, since we'd been paying our mortgage all year without any problems, we should keep paying the same amount.
At the appointment, we not only bumped our payment back up to what it had been (paying an additional $180 on every payment, or an additional $2160/year), we also switched to a biweekly payment plan, with payments equal to half our monthly payment, so that we would be making an additional full payment (plus an additional $180 on that payment) every year.
In that one hour appointment, we watched our projected mortgage end date shrink down to 23 years. One hour of our time saved us 16 years of payments and interest.
It still boggles my mind.
All it cost us was an hour of our time. Well, an hour of our time and $45 for a one-time payment to make the switch possible. I'm not too thrilled about the $45, but I'm not upset about it, either.
Action beats inaction
I've read it dozens of times on PF blogs: overpay your mortgage, make an extra payment each year. Blah, blah, blah. Even seeing the occasional calculated example didn't really drive it home for me. It always felt like I couldn't be like “those people” — the ones with enough extra money to do fancy things like prepay a mortgage. I was afraid of screwing up, of doing it wrong. However, like J.D. says, action beats inaction, and in this case, he's 100% correct!
I say thank you, J.D., for having this blog and inspiring me to get off my butt about my personal finances. Without you, I might not have had the drive to make that appointment with the bank that saved me 16 years. Without your blog and your readers, I may have known intellectually what I should have done, but it would probably have seemed out of reach.
I might have been content with my “found” $180/month. I might have handled it responsibly, and used it to pay off debt at least, but I know I wouldn't have switched to biweekly payments. It seemed like such a hassle. It seemed like such a pain to set up. It felt like it couldn't possibly be worth my time and energy to shuffle around my schedule, get my husband home from work early and go talk to the bank. Even though I “knew” it was worth it, I didn't actually believe it until it happened. It was worth it! I had such an amazing feeling as I left the bank!
Have you had such a big payoff from investing a little bit of your time? Can you beat knocking 16 years off the mortgage in one measly little hour? Let us know in the comments!