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The U.S National Debt clock continues to click with our total debt topping $22 trillion dollars. Our financial infrastructure is built on debt: credit, loans, and mortgages. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, because it is projected that the average taxpayer has over $100,000 of debt. The American Dream plunges home-buyers into a contract of debt that usually lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 years.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Owning a home can be one of the greatest joys of a person’s life. It is the place where you make memories, start traditions, grow up, and nurture family. Even if you made diligent payments on your mortgage over the years, you may not be in the black by the time you are nearing retirement. Evaluating your debts before you sail away into your golden years is a wise thing to do, and eliminating a huge portion of that debt through your mortgage should be the first thing on your list.

Worth Your Weight In Gold?

There are many colloquial phrases about retirement, and one of the main ones is your “golden years.” The phrase was born from a 1959 advertising campaign for a retirement home and has been associated with retirement rhetoric ever since.

A profitable substance, gold holds high market value in our society. Your home equity, or the value of your home, can be your form of gold. It can make you a profit when invested wisely, but the funds are often tied up in additional loans that can only be paid back through selling the house.

This brings us to our next fact about gold. Gold is heavy sitting at 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter– that is 19.3 times heavier than water! This science fact is here to say that gold can weigh you down. Your house payment, though it may be gaining momentum in equity, is adding significant pressure to your wallet. Getting rid of the excess weight of your mortgage payment is crucial to the health of your retirement finances.

All That Glitters

Shakespeare reminds us that, “all that glitters is not gold.” Your house may be your gold, but its debt should not follow you into retirement. Debt has many psychological, physiological, and emotional side effects. From depression to anxiety to fear to anger, debt lingers and can lead to increased stress which is not something you want to bring with you into retirement.

When you retire, your relationship with money changes. You no longer have the same financial security that you did while you were working. You rely on your investments, savings practices, social security, and other savings channels for your monthly income. Retaining a mortgage in retirement could present significant cash flow issues for you– forcing you to dip into your savings to front the monthly bill. You should have a clear view on your retirement finances before deciding to hold off on your mortgage.

This may not be a simple task for every family. Mortgages (and the interest payments that accompany them) are not easily paid down – they’ll be part of your financial life for a long time. What do you do if you are nearing retirement and are still left with a mortgage payment? Consider delaying your retirement.

Why Wait?

Delaying retirement is proven to have significant financial rewards. Working longer has also been proven to increase mental and physical health which leads people to live longer. When doing a job you care about, working provides us with a sense of purpose, value, and meaning. Upon first entering retirement, many early retirees struggle to find a new way they create meaning and value from their daily lives.

Working also provides you with the stability for biweekly or monthly checks which helps supplement living expenses. If you still have debt, it is worth it to delay retirement even by a few months to allow you to start fresh in this new phase of your life.

A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “The Power of Working Longer” written by renowned economists found that, “The basic result [of the study] is that delaying retirement by 3-6 months has the same impact on the retirement standard of living as saving an additional one-percentage point of labor earnings for 30 years.” A fascinating find, these economists are presenting a new way to think about retirement financial strategies: not to retire early. This theory has a few main benefits:

As seen above, you do not have to delay your retirement for years in order to reap the rewards. Debt is something that many American families struggle with, and it takes time to break free from the debt around us. Mortgage payments are one of the most frequent debts that families face. If you are nearing retirement and still find yourself paying off your mortgage, consider delaying retirement for a few months to keep your cash flow steady and your debt down. I encourage you to do what you can to shake off your mortgage debt before retirement so you can enter your golden years and let them shine.