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Top money moves for all stages of homeownership

woman with dog surrounded by boxes after moving into new home
September 15, 2017

By Maggie Tomasek

When we asked folks to tell us about their best money moves as part of our Smartest Financial Decision Contest, many of the 4,000-plus entrants shared stories about their homes. Whether it’s how to save for a new home, refinance a mortgage or make other smart real estate maneuvers, we can learn a lot from these money mavens.

Read on for some of their best tips for all stages of homeownership:

  • “May not sound original but opening up an equity line with Alliant and paying off credit cards and make improvements to our home. Instead of uprooting our family, we created a wonderful home that we can enjoy for years to come. Without the monthly credit card payments and high interest, we are able to pay down the equity line even faster and put additional money into our child's college fund. This has given us the flexibility to allow our child to attend the college of her choice, which is out of state and she is excelling.” – Laura S.
  • “Refinancing my mortgage last spring has been the smartest financial decision of my life so far. The interest rate was reduced from 5.875% to 2.875%, which will result in $154,160 total savings over the life of the loan. I am applying my mortgage interest savings toward retirement. That sounds terribly boring, so here's a fun fact to put my $154,160 mortgage interest savings in perspective: $77,000 is the most ever won in one day on the game show “Jeopardy!” I ‘won’ over twice that amount by simply refinancing the mortgage!” – Jessica H.
  • “My wife was paying our home mortgage and looking at the amortization schedule. Realizing how much of the payment was interest compared to the principle, she added one extra principle payment to each payment. When we sold our house it was almost paid for, and we had enough money for a large down payment on the next house. Following the same procedure, we had a paid-for house for our next move. When I retired from United, I had my primary home mortgage-free and also my second home mortgage-free. This has made it easy to overcome any other poor decisions I may have made.” – Tom B.
  • “I started saving 30% of my income for a future house. Currently, we see news stories about how millennials and the younger generation will never be able to purchase a house. That seems to be only reserved for older generations. I wish to defy expectations and show everyone that financial success is possible when you follow stringent rules when it comes to your financial situation.” – Arnoldo C.
  • “An excellent financial decision I made was to purchase a condo in Thiensville, WI. My daughter was accepted to graduate school in that area. She had to take out loans to pay the tuition already, but that did not address housing. My mind reeled at the idea of how much she (and by she, I mean her father and I) would have to pay to live there. I started looking for an inexpensive condo near the school. After a couple months, boy, did I find an ugly duckling! The price was right, so I bought it outright and got to work. After a good scrub and a coat of paint, the condo was in livable condition. One of the stipulations for my daughter to live there was that she had to have a rent-paying roommate. She found a nice, financially responsible woman also in her graduate program, and I have been reaping the additional tax benefits of being a landlord. During their school breaks, I have redone the bathroom and the kitchen. The capital gains I've benefited from have reduced my income taxes noticeably. I have kept my eye on property values in the area and found that including all my improvements, the value of the condo has risen considerably. My daughter is living free in a beautiful, safe, comfortable place and in two years when I sell, if the current trend continues, I will make a handsome profit on this two-bedroom ugly duckling that has turned into my goose that laid the golden egg!” – Susan P.
  • “Without a doubt the smartest financial decision I ever made was to refinance our home mortgage to a 15-year loan. The interest was lower than the typical 30-year mortgage at the time, so the payment was not that much more. Without a mortgage payment, my husband was able to retire at 62 years old, and I was able to save more for retirement and work less. We are in great financial shape!” – Janet K.

Maggie Tomasek is the PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.