A house on a rusty old bear trap. (iStock)
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I remember well the day my grandmother Big Mama paid off her mortgage.

She shouted with relief and did a little hallelujah dance.

Not long after that day, she retired after having worked the last 25 years as a nursing assistant, emptying bed pans, making beds and shuttling patients to various specialists in the Baltimore hospital where she worked.

Big Mama seemed to stand taller having lifted that burden off her shoulders. It’s a day I live for. When it happens, the crew members on the International Space Station will hear me scream with joy.

But many retirees -- by choice or circumstance -- retire with a mortgage, according to findings by American Financing, a national mortgage banker. The survey found that 44 percent of respondents ages 60 to 70 carried a mortgage into retirement. Seventeen percent said they might never pay it off.

Research from from Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group show a large number of Baby Boomers -- born between 1946 and 1965 – are reaching retirement age with a mortgage.

“Among the oldest Boomer homeowners, who were age 65 to 69 in 2015, slightly less than 50 percent were mortgage-free, down 10 percentage points compared with Silent Generation homeowners of the same age in 2000,” the Fannie report said.

“Paying off the mortgage, once a widespread rite of passage for homeowners approaching retirement, has become less common in recent years,” wrote Fannie Mae’s Patrick Simmons director of strategic planning. “Concerns are mounting that the increasing prevalence of housing debt among older homeowners could compromise financial security in retirement by expanding housing affordability problems, crimping essential non-housing spending, increasing vulnerability to home loss through foreclosure, or limiting the accumulation of housing wealth.”

In last week’s newsletter I listed four reasons it makes sense to retire mortgage-free.

Read more: Yes, you should pay off your mortgage before retiring.

I asked readers: Did you pay off your home before retiring? How’s that working for you?

The overwhelming majority of people who responded had paid off their mortgage before retiring. Here’s how that feels.

“We’re with Big Mama!” wrote Ted Tompkins of Guilford, Conn. “Pay off that mortgage, which is what we did several years ago and will head into retirement at year-end having the month’s biggest monkey off our backs. Over the years we refinanced from a 30-year mortgage to a 20 and then a 15, always making at least the equivalent of a 13th monthly payment every year. In effect, we ended up knocking seven years of interest off the bottom line. From a psychological standpoint, feeling like a weight has been lifted in immeasurable, and it gives us some breathing room as we face a future filled (I’d guess) with rising health care costs.”

And for those who argue investments suffer, meet 69-year-old Richard Mitchell of Hudson, Mass. “I have been totally debt free for 17 years," he wrote. "I have two properties, one in Massachusetts and another in South Carolina. If I need a vehicle I pay cash. We use a credit card for convenience and pay the balance every month. I still invest in my IRA/Roth along with my wife. I retired from the fire department 10 years ago. I sent both my daughters to private high schools and colleges and at the same time maximize my 457 [retirement plan] and my wife’s 403(b). It’s not hard to pay yourself first and get rid of the mortgage. It’s nice to sit back and not worry about debt.”

Jeff Mulliner of Alexandria, Va., wrote, “Yep, we paid off our mortgage at the beginning of the this year. We had refinanced to a 15-year from a 30-year some time ago when the interest rates were low. We also made extra payments. The psychological benefit has been enormous. Plus, it’s been a $3,000 pay raise that is going to investments now. We’ll retire in about two years and pay cash for a downsized house and bank what’s left over. It was the best financial decision we ever made!”

“I paid off my mortgage when I was 52 by making extra payments,” wrote Cheryl Friend. “That move allowed me years of larger payments into investments which allowed me to retire early without having to consider the costs of a mortgage or rent. Not having a mortgage or rent to pay effectively increases my income by about $1,200 per month even allowing for taxes, maintenance, and insurance. I live very comfortably on Social Security, a very small pension and my own investments. I cringe at the thought of all of the interest I would have paid in the last 18 years if I had had a mortgage. Debt is a burden that none of us really need.”

Jennifer Newlin of College Park, Md., wrote, “We paid off our mortgage early, which allowed me to retire early (at 54). I think it’s the best of both worlds. I putter, do volunteer work, work part time when I choose to.”

“We paid off our mortgage three years early after prepaying $100 a month in principal since the beginning,” wrote Sandy Walter of Highland Park, N.J., this week and Fort Lauderdale next week. “What a joy to eliminate that debt! We also retired at 60, after maxing our all employer matches and tax-deductible savings vehicles. We volunteer, bike with a club, teach online, square dance and travel. Life is a joy, and we are grateful to be in this position, and thankful we were disciplined and forward thinking.”

“It is great not to have a mortgage in retirement,” wrote Doreen Colket of Bradenton, Fla.

Charles Anderson of Chesapeake, Virginia wrote, “Mortgage has been paid off for seven years and have been retired for two. Paying it off earlier allowed us to save even more which will now come in handy, as we need to move. Children have moved away because of their jobs and we will move to be closer to them so it is easier on them as we age. (Plus we will get to see them more often). That extra savings along with selling our house will allow us to purchase a home for almost all cash. The mortgage we will have to carry will be paid off in a year with our next required IRA withdrawal.”

Maurina Rachuba of Sarasota, Fla., wrote, “We paid off our mortgage on our home in Alexandria, Virginia about five years before retiring. We knew at that time we would sell the house and move to Florida. We were also able to use some of the profit [from the Virginia house] to renovate the Florida home. We are currently mortgage free. What a great feeling, to know that no matter what, this house is ours, and can’t be taken from us by a bank, in hard times! Some of our friends said we were crazy not to invest the money, but we know ourselves, and know that being mortgage free is best for us.”

“We paid off our mortgage over a year ago, just after I was laid off, and it has been a huge source of relief,” wrote Earl Roethke of Minneapolis. “The mortgage payment represented half of my previous take-home pay, and having it gone has made the transition into semi-retirement (I still do some part-time consulting) so much easier. The best thing is that I paid it off by selling the stock in my company stock plan (which I would have had to do in any case), so we didn’t have to dip into our retirement savings or cash reserve. It was made easier by the fact that we had been paying extra towards the principal each month for the previous 5 years. Not sending in that payment every month is a great feeling.”

It took about 10 years into retirement, but Bettina Salter of Atascadero, Calif., said she and her husband are just about free.

“This month, we will pay off our mortgage,” Salter wrote. “We paid about double our payments for the last 10 years and revel in the feeling we get each month when the statement comes in showing us how much less we owe and how quickly we would be free and clear. I just sent in the request for a closing statement and await the exact amount needed for the payoff. When I "run the numbers", it gives us a feeling of a raise, allows us to dream of where that excess money will go. Don't know if we will have a mortgage burning party or not. It's still an extreme fire danger here in California!”

Read: The paperwork you should receive when your mortgage has been paid in full

Let’s continue the conversation. Next week, I’ll share responses from people who decided to invest extra funds rather than pay off their mortgage.

Of course everyone’s situation is different but I want the kind of freedom expressed by the many people who wrote to me about being mortgage-free. Once our mortgage is gone, we’re not burning any documents but we’re definitely having a party!

Read more:

How to pay off fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages early

Housing values may fall as baby boomers die off or sell off, two studies say

Retire early or keep on working? How to prepare for either choice.

Your thoughts

Are you concerned about housing costs in your retirement years? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Mortgage” in the subject line.

Retirement in the news

Some states are taking the initiative to create retirement plans for workers whose employees don’t offer them.

“Employers, especially small businesses, that don’t offer retirement plans to their workers often complain that doing so is too complicated and expensive,” Alessandra Malito wrote recently for MarketWatch.

But as Malito reports 10 states — Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Vermont and Massachusetts, Oregon, California and Illinois — have agreed to create a retirement programs for private sector workers.

Read: Don’t have a 401(k)? State governments have a retirement plan for you

Retirement rants and raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

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