Mortgage vs. Cash: Which Is the Better Option When Buying a Home?

April 29, 2014 2 Comments »
Mortgage vs. Cash: Which Is the Better Option When Buying a Home?

It’s been about eight months since my last mortgage match-up, so let’s give it a whirl again.

Today, the focus will be on taking out a mortgage versus using cash when purchasing a home.

Buying a Home with Cash Has Its Benefits

First let’s talk about buying a home with cash. This is almost certainly the favored approach of real estate investors and perhaps the mega-rich, though billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg still take out mortgages.

And investing gurus like Warren Buffett think the low mortgage rates are a great deal

But for a large swath of the population, this either/or question doesn’t even get any consideration because most of us can’t afford to buy a home (or even a small condo) with cash.

Still, there are some advantages to buying a home with cash as opposed to taking out a mortgage.

The most obvious is that you don’t pay any interest when you buy with cash. That’s right, no mortgage, no interest payments.

Additionally, you don’t have to make any payments to principal either, seeing that you own your home free and clear right off the bat.

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have recurring costs. You’ll still need to pay homeowner’s insurance (unless you’re really brave), along with property taxes and possibly HOA dues depending upon where the property is located.

The insurance thing becomes optional when you own your property outright. Not so if you have a mortgage because you don’t really own your home. Your lender does, until that loan is actually paid off in full.

Another plus to paying with cash is the negotiating power you gain when making an offer. If you’re going up against some other would-be buyers that need to finance the purchase, you’ll have the upper hand in pretty much every situation.

Sure, you could get outbid by another buyer willing to offer more for the home, but your cash offer should be king if all else is equal. And it may still be king even if you offer less than the competition.

Once your offer gets accepted, you won’t have to worry about dealing with a bank or mortgage lender. That means it doesn’t matter if your credit score is in bad shape, or if you don’t have the necessary income to qualify for a mortgage. Or if you’re a foreign national who might otherwise have difficulty getting a loan.

There is still a process to purchasing the home, but you can cut out the middleman, otherwise known as the lender. And that means you won’t have to pay lender fees, including a costly loan origination fee, or lender’s title insurance, underwriting fees, and so on.

But you might not want to skimp on the appraisal, even though it’s not a requirement. It’ll buy you some time to determine if the house is in good shape and worth what you agreed to pay.

That lack of a mortgage also means you’ll be able to move in sooner, or rent out the property sooner. Speaking of renting it out, you won’t have to worry about occupancy issues, or a higher mortgage rate because it’s an investment property.

Taking Out a Mortgage, Even If You Don’t Have To

On the other hand, there’s the traditional approach to buying a home, with the help of a mortgage.

This is kind of the default option more out of necessity than preference. As I alluded to earlier, most of us can’t afford to buy a home with cash. We need a mortgage to get the deal done.

In fact, many Americans need a sizable mortgage to get the job done, with practically zero-down FHA loans a popular choice for a large number of prospective home buyers.

So like it or not, a mortgage is often just a fact of life.

The number one downside to a mortgage is all that interest. On a $200,000 loan set at 4.5%, the total amount of interest due over 30 years is close to $165,000. Yeah, you pay nearly double what you agreed to pay for the home. Sounds pretty rough, doesn’t it?

But like I said, this is the price of not having a substantial amount of money to put down. Along with that, you also have to pay a bunch of lender fees, which can certainly add up.

If you put down a very small amount, you’ll also be subject to paying mortgage insurance premiums, possibly for life if you go with an FHA loan and never refinance.

Oh, and you don’t just get a mortgage. You need to qualify for a mortgage, and not everyone qualifies for countless reasons. Having the lender pry into your personal and financial life may also be extremely annoying and frustrating, but if you need hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’ve earned that right.

The good news is that you write off that mortgage interest as long as you itemize deductions and they exceed the standard deduction.  So some of that interest can result in a lower tax bill each April, which lessens the blow pretty significantly.

Additionally, mortgage rates are dirt cheap compared to just about every other type of loan out there. Yes, you pay a lot of interest, but it’s only because the loan amounts are so large.

That means there’s a decent chance you can invest the money that would be locked up in your home (if you paid cash) at a better return elsewhere.

Having a mortgage on your home also means you’ve got more liquidity and less at risk, assuming something goes wrong.

Imagine something devastating happens to your home that isn’t covered by insurance. Would you rather have 20% invested, or 100%?

Also consider the recent housing bust – a lot of homeowners were able to walk away from their homes relatively unscathed because they didn’t have much invested.

Those who purchased all-cash could cut their losses, but they couldn’t walk away without losing a lot of money. There’s also that old saying about putting all your eggs in one basket.

If you don’t have money in other places, it certainly shouldn’t all be tied up in your home.

Can You Get the Best of Both Worlds?

Absolutely. Most people buy homes with cash and a mortgage, not just either or. In other words, when you put 20% down, you’re paying a decent chunk of cash and financing the rest.

As a result, you avoid the requirement for mortgage insurance, you get a lower rate of interest, and you have an equity investment.

Putting down 20% or more should also put you in a pretty good position when it comes to a bidding war, though an all-cash buyer willing to make a good offer will always have the upper hand.

Additionally, you can always pay your mortgage off earlier than planned seeing that most mortgages don’t have prepayment penalties anymore.

Sure, you will subject yourself to the closing costs associated with a mortgage, along with the qualifying process, but you don’t have to pay off your mortgage over 30 years.

If you decide your money isn’t earning as much as you’d like, you can move more of it towards the mortgage balance.

Got plans to retire in 10 or 15 years? Start prepaying the mortgage faster so you’ll be free and clear by the time you’re on a fixed income.  Or go with a 15-year fixed mortgage instead.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be an either/or discussion. You can make adjustments based on your financial standing as time goes on. With cash, you can also pull equity via a cash out refinance. So both options provide flexibility.

Advantages to Buying a Home with Cash

  • No need to qualify for a mortgage
  • No need to shop for a mortgage
  • No mortgage payments (good if you lose your job or are close to retirement)
  • No interest due
  • No lender fees
  • Homeowner’s insurance isn’t required
  • You don’t need to pay for an appraisal
  • More negotiating power when making an offer
  • Lower purchase price possible
  • Faster closing process
  • Could be a better return for your money than a low-yielding CD or bond
  • Set it and forget it investing (don’t have to manage your investments)
  • Can tap home equity if and when needed
  • Can always sell or take out a mortgage
  • Less hassle overall (one less thing to manage)
  • Sense of security because it’s your home!

 

Disadvantages to Buying a Home with Cash

  • Most of us don’t have the money required to buy a home with cash
  • Mortgage rates are a cheap source of financing
  • Real estate is an illiquid asset (not easy or free to sell)
  • The property could lose substantial value
  • You could lose a lot of money if your home is destroyed and not covered by insurance
  • You miss out on the mortgage interest deduction
  • Your return on investment might be poor relative to other options
  • Poor diversification if a lot of your money is in one single property
  • House rich and cash poor if savings get depleted

 

Advantages to Buying a Home with a Mortgage

  • Mortgage rates are very low
  • Mortgage interest is tax deductible
  • Inflation should make future monthly payments “cheaper
  • You only need to bring in a small down payment
  • More cash on hand for anything else
  • Getting a mortgage isn’t really that difficult
  • A mortgage can actually improve your credit score
  • You can prepay your mortgage whenever you want in most cases
  • You can invest your money elsewhere for a better return
  • Your money is more liquid
  • Forced savings each month
  • Less risk if something happens to your home or if values drop

 

Disadvantages to Buying a Home with a Mortgage

  • Tons of mortgage interest must be paid
  • 30 years of monthly payments (maybe less, but still a long time!)
  • You need to shop for a mortgage
  • You need to get approved for a mortgage
  • You could get declined
  • More (lender) costs associated with a mortgage
  • Closing process more work and more time
  • You may buy more house than you should (get in over your head)
  • Harder to sell the property if little or no equity
  • You can lose your home if you fall behind on payments
  • You don’t actually own your home

 

Compare Today’s Mortgage Rates

2 Comments

  1. gail May 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm -

    looking for help to get cash out of a clear deed property. credit score is 529

  2. Colin Robertson May 5, 2014 at 2:56 pm -

    That’ll be tough with such a low score – even with a free and clear property. A broker might be able to shop around and see if there’s anything out there, but improving your score would make life a lot easier…

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