I have moved a mountain. It wasn’t as fast as it was for Enoch simply telling mountains to flee from before him. But it happened, nonetheless. I feel like there’s only one song that can sum up my feelings right now.
In September 2016, I wrote a HuffPost article predicting I would be debt-free in five years. That prediction failed to come true. Instead, it took five years and 11 months. As of August 3, 2022, I have paid my mortgage in full. That was my last debt. I have no student loan, car loan, or personal loan. Not even a credit card. In one sense, I’m a little late paying off my mortgage. But in another, I’m a little ahead of schedule.
Yearlong Journey to Homeownership
When I got married in 2009, I told my wife that I intended to stay out of debt. We wouldn’t get rich, but we would be perfectly comfortable. We lived quite happily for the first three years of our marriage renting apartments and living modestly. But something changed in 2012. She got pregnant with our third child, and we decided we needed something more stable than a renter’s life could afford our growing family.
So she and I embarked on a yearlong journey of house hunting. We looked at numerous types of houses in all sorts of conditions and cities. We finally settled on one that I thought was perfect from the moment I finished walking through it. Many of the houses we had visited before had low ceilings downstairs, and I had to bend down not to hit my head on their staircases. I’m not freakishly tall or anything like that, so it was strange that I kept literally running into the same problem.
But this one had a perfect staircase and ceiling height all through the house. And it had everything else I could ask for. Five bedrooms, attached garage, and located nearby everything I needed access to. It was ideal. We signed our names to a mortgage less than a month after that first visit. We moved in on February 28, 2013. Our three kids (including a newborn) felt instantly at home when they went in.
The Right Moment to Buy
As it turned out, we bought at exactly the right moment. The housing market had just reached its bottom, and interest rates were at historic lows at the same time, in early 2013. We were divinely inspired to purchase a home when and where we did. Since we purchased, our home value has only increased. Today, we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy our own home if we had to pay the full market value for it, which is more than double what we paid for it. I feel so blessed to live where I do.
There were times when we were offered chances to refinance our mortgage and take advantage of even lower interest rates. But the math never added up for us. With closing costs and other expenses, we would never break even at the breakneck speed we were going at. It made more sense to just keep pushing forward with our current payment and pay it all off instead of negotiating over nickels and dimes under the false assumption that we wanted to remain in debt.
My Plan to Get Out of Debt
Nine and a half years ago, the house was ours. But not quite. I had gone into much more debt than I ever had before in my life. It scares me to promise to pay more than I have in cash. And I certainly did that when I bought this house. Over the course of 30 years, I had promised to pay more than $90,000 in interest. But that wasn’t my plan at all. My goal was to pay off the debt within 10 years and free myself from that chain.
If that sounds ambitious, you’re in good company. My wife was incredulous, too, when she heard my plan. We’ve never been rich or made a six-figure salary. At that point, we weren’t even at the median average salary in my state. But I promised my wife that if she trusted me and followed my lead, we’d accomplish something that seemed impossible. We’d own our house outright and never have to worry about getting evicted or anything like that. Thankfully, she hearkened unto me, and we prospered as a result.
My plan was fairly simple. It relied on consistent efforts. We started small, putting an extra $100 toward principal every month. We had to conserve our money in those early days to pay my parents back. They had loaned me $10,000 to complete the purchase of the house at the beginning. I wanted to return that money within a year, but they worried I was too zealous in my repayments, and they forced me to wait three years to fully reimburse them. Which I did.
How We Did It
As I faithfully paid my parents back, I also turned my attention to the loan, attacking it piecemeal. First, I ate away at it until we got our loan-to-value ratio just a hair under 80 percent. At that point, I could get rid of the PMI, which is a monthly fee you pay if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the house price. That only took about two and a half years to accomplish. From there, I stretched myself, putting additional money toward principal whenever I could. I found that we kept having enough money, even as we put as much as $1,100 per month extra toward principal for close to a year.
The reason we could do that was twofold:
- We adjusted our spending habits to cut out waste. I stopped buying DVDs like I had done for many years, and my wife checked with me before buying things we didn’t absolutely need. We still had room in the budget for fun and games with each other and the kids, but we just made sure to be smart in how we spent our money.
- We always paid our tithing. Even in the hardest circumstances, we never shortchanged God. Ten percent of everything we took home from my work was donated to our church, along with a little extra in the form of fast offerings to help the poor and needy. I don’t know how heavenly math works, but I found that God multiplied my reserves of cash (like Elijah and the widow) to make sure we never went hungry as we met (and exceeded) our obligations.
Setbacks and Challenges
There were plenty of challenges along the way. Some threatened to halt our progress, but we found ways to continue focusing on the mortgage while dealing with them. Our fourth child arrived in 2017. In late 2019, we had to spend a few thousand dollars to clean and recarpet our house after a pipe collapsed and raw sewage backed up into our basement. And, at the start of 2022, we had to refloor our kitchen and buy a new dishwasher after our old one developed a leak and led to revelations of major flaws in our kitchen subfloor. Insurance helped with those things, but they didn’t cover everything, and it was a struggle to make it through.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 lockdown was just beginning, my wife and I had a serious talk about our priorities. We had recently gotten below $100,000 that we still owed on the house. But with so much uncertainty, she wisely counseled me to double our savings so we’d have more than a year supply of money on hand in case I lost my job or something else catastrophic happened. So we spent most of 2020 saving our money and just putting an extra $100 toward the mortgage each month, like we had in the beginning.
Once we crossed the threshold in our savings we had been aiming for, we turned the spigot on in our mortgage payments. We put an extra $1,600 toward principal for close to a year, cratering the total to approximately $59,000 in July 2022.
We finally had just enough money saved up to pay off our mortgage. Suddenly, the roles of my wife and I were reversed from earlier. Now I was the one hesitating to pay it off, while she was full of faith and vision. She wanted to pay it off immediately, even if it left us in a somewhat uncomfortable place financially for a couple of weeks. I trusted her, and we requested a payoff statement from our lender. Then we mailed the biggest check I’ve ever seen to them.
For seven agonizing days, I waited to hear that they had received it. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d send it via Priority Mail, not First-Class. Because then I could have tracked its location and progress. However, I’m grateful now for the painful waiting I had to endure. It gave me one last bit of suspense before the overwhelming relief that washed over me and is now my ever-present life.
On Wednesday, August 3, 2022, I called my lender (for the fourth time) to see if they had received my check in the mail. And I was told that it had arrived that day and was being processed. Such a relief! I felt uncoupled from the world. Like I am in the world, but not of it in a whole new way. Anyone can look at my house and not tell any difference from the ones surrounding it. Yet it’s unmortgaged. It’s mine. I have nothing to fear any longer. In fact, right now my lender owes me a little money that’s in my escrow account. That is another funny role reversal that’s happened.
Who I’m Indebted to Now
I had wanted to pay off my mortgage in 10 years. I wound up doing it in nine and a half years. So even though I’m a little late on my 2016 article’s prediction, I’m ahead of schedule by my original plan. Today, I can hold my head up high, both figuratively and literally, in my home.
From here on out, I am in debt to no man or institution. Now my debts are beyond money. I owe the Founding Fathers of the United States for bravely establishing a land of liberty I could thrive in. I owe my parents for raising me well and helping me develop into the man I am today. I owe all the people in my life who have helped me in numerous ways. Some have enabled me to learn from my mistakes by forgiving me when I humbly asked. Others have given me wise counsel in my formative years. And I owe my wife and children for bringing a richness to my life I couldn’t have obtained in any other way.
Most of all, I am indebted to God. He gave me my life on this Earth, and He constantly blesses me as I strive to faithfully keep His commandments. So I have nothing to boast of. This miracle is His doing. It is just another one of the astonishing works He accomplishes in regular people’s lives every day. He moved this mountain. I just had to have the faith to point to it and ask for His power to throw it into the sea. And it was done.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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