Making extra payments is one way to pay off your...

Making extra payments is one way to pay off your mortgage early. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/hidesy

Is a mortgage the monkey that never gets off your back?

According to a new survey from First National Bank of Omaha, of the more than 1,000 people across the United States polled, 61 percent of those who have taken out a mortgage have yet to pay it off and 48 percent have refinanced.

Home ownership is part of the American dream, but it can also keep you up at night. Here’s how to pay off your mortgage, sooner rather than not at all.

•Make extra payments. “Once you max out your retirement for the year, have no credit card debt, and a six-month cushion of savings, allocate extra money every month towards the principal.  There is no perfect number, do what you can afford, but make it a priority. Use any online calculator to determine what you would need to pay monthly to pay your loan off in 15 years,” said Jennifer Beeston, vice president mortgage lending for Guaranteed Rate Mortgage in Manhattan.

•Rethink refinancing. Every time you refinance, it chips into your equity. There are refinancing fees. “If a lender says there are no fees, then they are giving you a higher rate than if they charged you a fee. Every time you refinance from one 30-year mortgage to another 30-year mortgage you add years to your loan,” says Beeston.

A refi however, may make sense if you are replacing a 30-year with a 15-year mortgage. If you can afford a higher monthly payment, you can pay off your mortgage in half the time of a traditional 30-year mortgage, and at less cost in terms of interest, points out David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School specializing in real estate.

•Use your asset. Rather than refinancing, leverage your biggest asset, your home.

“Rent out unused space to long-term housemates. On average, homeowners can earn $10,000 a year per spare room,” says Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest, a Denver-based roommate matching service for baby boomers and empty nesters.

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