Situation One: A person with $1,000,000 in a traditional retirement plan has a house valued at $700,000 and an outstanding mortgage with a balance of $152,576. The monthly mortgage payment is $2,387. This mortgage payment and outstanding mortgage balance is consistent with the person taking out a $500,000 mortgage 24 years earlier.
The only other source of income for this person is her Social Security benefit of $20,000 per year. Should this person downsize to a smaller house?
Analysis of Situation One: This person is in a difficult situation. This retiree is in danger of quickly depleting her retirement account or having insufficient funds for basic consumption, under standard guidelines governing the disbursement of retirement assets.
Financial advisors often recommend retirees follow the 4.0 percent rule. This rule sets the initial disbursement from the retirement plan at 4.0 percent of the plan’s assets and adjusts future assets for inflation.
Under the four percent rule, this retiree’s annual mortgage payment during the first year of her retirement is 71.6 percent of her total 401(k) disbursement. Higher disbursements could lead to rapid depletion of the retirement account and higher taxes because disbursements from traditional retirement assets are fully taxed.
The most obvious solution to this person’s situation is to sell the home to pay off the mortgage. The person might be able to pay off the mortgage and buy a home for $596,000. (Assuming selling, buying, and moving costs are around 7.0 percent of the value of the home.).
Other options involve a new traditional mortgage, or a reverse mortgage. Both options are unattractive and of limited practicality.
A refinancing of the $157,425 mortgage to a 30-year term would lead to a $728 monthly payment or annual mortgage payments of $8,741. The mortgage is probably not available for someone without wage income. Also, current interest rates are now higher than 4.0 percent.
A reverse mortgage allows a person to tap equity and stay in their home. The largest amount a person could borrow on a reverse mortgage is 80 percent of equity. However, a 60 percent borrowing limit is more practical since the borrower is responsible for taxes and maintenance on the home. Obtaining additional resources from a reverse mortgage might make sense for an older borrower nearing the end of her life. A younger borrow using a reverse mortgage is highly likely to outlive both her 401(k) wealth and the additional wealth obtained from the reverse mortgage.
Concluding Remark: The person in situation one prioritized savings inside a traditional retirement plan over the elimination of a mortgage during her working years. This person also chose to contribute to traditional retirement plans instead of Roth plans. Go to my collection of essays Financial Decisions for a Secure and Happy Life for discussion on prioritizing debt reduction and the use of Roth retirement accounts.
The only real option during retirement for the 401(K)-rich person with non-trivial debt is downsizing to a less expensive home. More posts on the downsizing decision will follow.