Dave Ramsey has convinced (too many) people to pay off their mortgage and be “debt free.” Then you have Robert Kiyosaki telling people not to buy a house because its a liability, but never seems to address that you still have to pay for a roof over your head somehow. We subscribe to a different view – make your money work for you. There are certain types of debt that could truly benefit you, and a mortgage is one of those.
If we worried about paying down our mortgage, we wouldn’t have near the savings and investments we do, and wouldn’t be able to establish enough rental income to replace Mrs. ODA’s income, and being well on our way to replacing Mr. ODA’s.
We lived below our means, took some loans, and bought a house in one of the more expensive regions of the country – DC suburbs (oh, and while paying for a wedding). We knew we’d have no trouble qualifying for a mortgage and paying the monthly payment, but we didn’t want to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), which meant coming up with 20% to put down (i.e., about $80,000). In fact, we were pre-qualified for double the purchase price of a house than we were comfortable with because we were more focused on our down payment threshold than what we could support as a monthly payment (which is how a bank will pre-qualify you based on your other monthly debt payments).
Our primary goal to enhance our savings in the months leading up to the house purchase was to keep the cost of our daily food intake below $10 between the two of us. We were cautious with how we spent money on groceries, whether we ate out (meaning no buying lunch during the work day), and the types of activities we did. While most of our meals consisted of macaroni and cheese and pb&j, we did ‘splurge’ a little more once in a while (read splurge as meaning “2 for $20” at Applebee’s, not steak dinners). That year of actively watching what we spent paid off in ways we wouldn’t know down the road.
Three and a half years later, we sold our house for a $60,000 profit and purchased a home in the Richmond area for less than what that first house cost us when we bought it. That left a substantial balance in our savings account that needed to get to work.
We’re not interested in preparing for doomsday. In an emergency, there’s hardly anything that can’t be put on a credit card. If we can’t pay off the credit card, we have money in the stock market that can be liquidated within 24 hours to pay it. This perspective is particularly possible because we live a lifestyle that allows for a high savings rate while Mr. ODA is still W-2 employed, which means we’re even more unlikely to need stock liquidation to cover expenses. We weigh the risk of a possible emergency against not having our money make more money, which gives us the ability to live less conservatively. Since we’re not interested in maintaining 3x our monthly income in a savings account at 0.01% interest rate, the next option to discuss is paying down our primary residence mortgage.
Our mortgage rate was 2.875%, a very cheap lending rate [this was a 5-year Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM), a topic we can discuss in a future post on weighing mortgage options]. The question we had to ask was whether paying down the mortgage at a low interest rate was more beneficial than the income we could bring in with a rental property. If we paid more than 20% for our new primary residence’s down payment, was that going to provide us a greater cash flow to leave our careers before typical retirement age?
No, it wouldn’t allow us to leave our careers. So, we put the balance of money from the sale of our first home into the stock market and investment properties to make it generate income instead.
Our first investment property purchase was in February 2016. Since then, we’ve purchased twelve other investment properties, with the most recent two being in September 2019. Mrs. ODA’s income was replaced by our rental property cashflow by the time our son was born in August 2018; that’s within 2.5 years after we purchased our first investment property.
Of our 12 investment properties, two have mortgages paid off. First, there’s a maximum of 10 mortgages you can have when lending under Fannie Mae. There are ways around this in theory, but that’s another post. One of the mortgages we paid off because it had a balloon payment coming due. Another mortgage was paid off because it had a low balance and was one of the higher interest rates among our properties. Currently, we’re working to pay down two other mortgages due to their relatively high interest rates (5.1% and 4.95%), and each have a balance around $26,000 now. We’re choosing to pay down mortgages in this season instead of purchase new rental properties because we are not finding properties in decent condition that meet the 1% Rule. Plus, not having a mortgage on a property immediately increases your cash flow if you want to live off that monthly income rather than W-2 employment.
Had we chosen to pay down our primary residence mortgage instead of leverage our funds through mortgages, we’d still have a mortgage payment of over $1,500 per month and no other income strings. Instead, we still have a mortgage payment for our primary home, but we also have the cash flow that replaced Mrs. ODA’s six-figure income.