Paying Down Debt vs Investing - Which Strategy Is Better?

What’s the best way to improve your financial position? Pay off your mortgage as fast as possible or buy an investment property? In this article you’re going to get an honest comparison of these two options.

LM b W

Laine Moger

Journalist and Property Educator for 6 Years
Introduction

If you’re like most Kiwis you want to grow your wealth for your retirement, but you’ve also got a hefty mortgage.

So what’s the best way to improve your financial position? Pay off your mortgage as fast as possible or buy an investment property?

In this article you’re going to get an honest comparison of these two options. That way you can decide which is best for your situation.

Should I Pay Off My Mortgage?

Shouldn’t I Pay Off My Mortgage Before I Invest in Property?

Being mortgage-free can become somewhat of an obsession for many Kiwis.

That could be because your parents drilled into you that: “Unless you have paid off your mortgage in full, the bank owns it – not you.”

And that’s the reason some Kiwis think they need to pay off their mortgage first before they purchase an investment property.

After all, the default term for a mortgage in New Zealand is 30 years. And the national average age of a first home buyer in this country is 35 years old, according to CoreLogic.

paying down debt vs investing

So, a person in this position would naturally think: “Oh, I’m going to be 65 before I’m mortgage-free. I want to pay this off before I take on more debt.”

While it’s normal to feel this way, this point of view is based more on emotion than evidence. That’s not to say everyone should invest rather than tackling the mortgage.

But it may surprise you to learn most first-time property investors we work with here at Opes Partners still have a sizeable personal mortgage.

And some of those who are already mortgage-free end up saying: “I wish I’d started investing sooner.”

 
One Or The Other?

Is there really a trade-off? Is it one or the other?

When buying an investment property many investors will borrow all of the money to purchase the rental.

They do this by borrowing the deposit against the equity they already have in their own house.

So it’s not a question of: “I’ve got a lump of cash, should I use it to pay off mortgage or use it as the deposit for an investment property?”

That’s not where the trade-off is. Instead, it’s more around the cashflow of the property.

At current interest rates many properties are negatively geared – the rental income doesn’t cover all the costs.

Pay down debt on your property

So, the investor has to top up the property with some of their own cash, for instance by $150 a week.

And the natural question becomes: “OK, will I get a better return investing this $150 in my own mortgage, or by using it for an investment property?” Let’s look at the numbers.

It should be pointed out there are also other ways you can invest this money, for instance shares, managed funds and term deposits.

Comparison

Show Me The Comparison … What Would Happen If I Redirected Some Of My Mortgage Repayments To An Investment Property?

Let’s see how your would-be assets play out if you allocated some of your mortgage towards another investment property, rather than paying down your mortgage as fast as possible.

Let’s say you have a $600,000 mortgage on your own home. Your minimum repayment is about $700 a week (assuming a 4.5% interest rate).

But, let’s say you have an extra $150 a week. Let’s look at the two scenarios.

Scenario #1: You use your $150 to pay down your mortgage more quickly; that shaves 9 years off your mortgage.

And over the first 15 years you would have paid off an additional $165,322 of your mortgage, compared with just making minimum repayments.

Let’s see what the alternative is.

Scenario #2: In this scenario you leave your mortgage on a 30-year loan term, and instead allocate some of that money to paying the “top up” of an investment property.

Let’s call it a $620,000 Christchurch townhouse, which you assume will increase in value by 5% a year.

After 15 years, your $150 a week returns $668,935.

So investing in property is forecast to return 4x as much as paying down your mortgage.

So, the numbers on their own appear to suggest property generates a higher return. But that doesn’t mean investing in property is always the right answer for you. We'll explore this below.

But, if you want to play around with the numbers yourself, use our Pay Down Debt vs Invest calculator.

Pay Off Mortgage?

When Is The Right Time To Pay Off My Mortgage?

In the above scenarios the numbers have shown property gives a higher return.

But this is on the basis of the property in question growing in value by an average of 5% over a 15-year period.

Property packs 004 min

However, growth in the value of the property market is not guaranteed. There’s no guarantee that topping the property by $150 a week will result in almost $669k worth of capital gains.

Yes, the property has grown by over 5% per year over the last 20+ years (on average), but there’s no guarantee it will continue.

However, if you pay $150 off your mortgage, then your equity position has definitely improved.

So, while investing in property might generally provide a higher return … paying down your mortgage provides a more certain return.

And there are some instances where paying off your mortgage might be a better financial decision, rather than investing in property.

 

#1 If you’re not in a position to buy an investment property:

It’s all very well telling you to just go and buy an investment property, but what if you can’t get the money from the bank?

What if you don’t have enough equity in your house to get a 100% investment mortgage?

In these scenarios you can’t invest in property (at least not yet), so putting your money into paying down your mortgage may be a better idea.

This will also help you get into a better financial position, which will help you get closer to being ready to invest.

Paying off your mortgage on your property

#2 If you’re close to retirement:

Similarly, if you’re close to retirement (say 5 years away) and you still have a mortgage, paying it off may be the right call.

That’s because you might decide you can’t live the lifestyle you want in retirement if you’re still making regular repayments to the bank.

Invest In Property?

When Is The Right Time To Invest in Property?

As mentioned above, while paying down your mortgage tends to provide a more certain return, property tends to provide a higher return. It’s the old risk v reward trade-off.

Typically, the sort of people who will invest in property need to build their wealth – especially outside their own home.

The trouble with solely paying off your mortgage for your retirement is … you can’t eat your house.

Sure, you might have a lot of equity in your house. But, if part of your retirement is to remain living in your family home, you may be equity rich but cash poor.

Property packs 003 min

That’s where you will likely want other assets (other than your main home) to live off.

So the sort of people who will invest in property will own their own home already (but not always), are aged 30-55 (as a ballpark), and need to grow their wealth to sort out their financial future.

These people will be investing in the property market long enough to ride out any ups and downs in house prices.

And even if the property market appreciates at a fraction of what it has in the past, these sorts of investors will tend to do well.

I Dont Have Spare Income?

I Don’t Have Spare Weekly Income To Buy An Investment Property?

The majority of New Zealanders are already ahead of where they need to be on their mortgage … especially those who have had it for a while.

In fact, 68% of borrowers have paid off more than the minimum required, according to Westpac.

This happens because many people increase their mortgage repayments as their salary goes up, which means they are paying more than they “need” to.

This is something our property partners, here at Opes, often find when they sit down with investors.

For example, some investors are paying $200 a week more than they need to. This means you may have access to extra cash you just don’t know about.

So, what could the options be for this extra money? Yes, you could continue to pay down your mortgage. This will be the preferred option for people who aren’t in a position to invest, or for older Kiwis who are closer to retirement.

However, another option could be to allocate some of that money towards another investment property.

Conclusion

So … Is Investing In Property Better Than Paying Off My Mortgage?

Ultimately, this is a question for you and will depend on:

  • - Your financial situation
  • - Your time of life
  • - How conservative or comfortable with risk you are

If you rewind 20 years, we’ve seen an average of 8.2% growth in the housing market.

There may be some investors out there worried this growth is unlikely to continue.

Property Investment for retirement

Even if we halved the historical returns, and dropped the market growth to 4% for the next 20 years, the equity you would make is still higher than if you put your top-up against your mortgage, in most situations.

But, you also need to balance this against the fact that paying off your personal mortgage provides a relatively certain return. It’s less risky than topping up an investment property in purely financial terms.

But it will likely provide a lower return.

So you need to balance the risk of investing in property against the risk that solely paying off your mortgage doesn’t provide the lifestyle you want in your retirement.

Can Opes Partners Help Me?

Who are Opes Partners and can they help me?

What is the 3-Step Opes Coaching Programme?

1. Plan out your property investment portfolio

The first step in the programme is to co-create a plan using our MyWealth Plan software. We built this software specifically to help Kiwis create a financial plan in under an hour.

You'll leave this 1-hour session with a written down plan. Pen to paper.

2. Pick properties that fit with your plan

Once you've created your plan in step #1 – your property partner will go out and find properties that fit your plan. They'll search through projects from up to 58 developers to find the best ones for you.

When you meet again, you'll review the top picks, go through the analysis, crunch the numbers together, and then decide which ones to hold with the developer.

3. Dig into the details – Confirm it's the right property for you

Once you've selected a property, you'll work for 10 days to make sure it's the right property for you. So you'll work with your Property Partner and Client Relationship Manager to dig into the details of the property.

You'll go and look at the development and be introduced to mortgage brokers, solicitors, accountants, and property managers. Their sole job is to help you figure out if this property works for you.

And you’ll have access to all the resources, tools, and data … so when confirmation day comes, you have confidence you know you’re making the right decision.

Who is the Opes Coaching Programme the right fit for?

  • You understand the concept of property investment, but who wants help putting it into practice.
  • You want a “Done for you” property investment service, so you can be a hands-off investor.
  • You are someone who has at least a 10 year investment time horizon.
  • And finally, you’re ready to become a property investor.

Who is the Opes Coaching Programme is NOT the right fit for?

  • You’re more into the smell of paint or the colour of a wall than the numbers that stand behind an investment property.
  • You only want investments that are hands-on, so you can save a few dollars here and there.
  • You have plenty of time on your hands and want to do the property investment process yourselves.
  • You’re looking for an overnight success and want to get rich quickly.

What does it cost to work with Opes Partners and go through the programme?

It’s free. Complimentary. No Cost.

Why?

The developer pays us a marketing fee when you confirm that the property is the right fit for you. Very similar to the way a mortgage broker gets paid by the bank.

Now it's important to note that we are paid the same fixed rate no matter what property you invest in.

If it’s a $500k apartment in Christchurch or a $1.3 mil 3-bedroom townhouse in Ponsonby – we get paid the same rate.

That's important because then we can recommend the right property for you, and there's no incentive to recommend you invest in a more expensive property, just so we get paid more.

I want learn more about how Opes can help me

Learn more about the Opes Coaching Programme Here

LM b W

Laine Moger

Laine Moger has been a journalist and reporter for the last 6 years. She previously worked for Stuff, The North Shore Times and Radio NZ. She has a Bachelor of Communications (Honours) from Massey University and a Diploma of Journalism from the London School of Journalism.