Thank you for writing this, Matthew. I worked in the financial services industry for over 30 years (MBA in finance) and I saw this kind of thing "up close and personal", and how so many people pay so much money for their homes. You are basically renting and, unless it's more towards the end of the amortization cycle, not getting much in equity to show for it. Through great frugality and cooperation between the generations (in both directions), my son and I own one home free and clear, just keep up taxes, insurance, and maintenance (and pray you don't need a new roof or HVAC system at the same time!), and my mother owns another one, same circumstances, no mortgage. I have taught him, don't ever let anyone get these homes away from you --- there is no shortage of women in this world who would do precisely that, don't lose everything your grandparents and I ever worked for. Just yesterday we drove by a bank whose chief loan officer, I know her, is legendary for saddling everyone who comes through the door with a HELOC (home equity line of credit). That is an excellent way to lose your home and end up out on the street.
Several years ago, when I was visiting Poland, I had to go to the local bank, and they had signs up in the lobby advertising HELOCs. I thought, that's right, people, you've gotten out from under communism, and now here come the usurers, they'd have no problem with taking away everything you have. I went to Media Markt (their version of Best Buy) and they were offering store credit cards --- Poles didn't have that kind of money just lying around, to buy home theater equipment, stereos, and so on --- get people addicted to consumerism, things they never had before, and get them up to their ears in debt. At least under communism, nobody had anything, but nobody owed anything either. Entertainment was your friends and family around the dinner table, whatever ham, sausage, cheese, bread, butter, pickles, salad, sweets, and of course vodka, you could get your hands on, good conversation, everybody got to talk, no interrupting, in other words, people valuing each other for what they were, not what they had.
You get the idea. Treat debt as the serpent that it is. I just had to go out and buy a new Camry, kind of an emergency (though I didn't let the dealers know that), couldn't just pull money out of... whatever... and had to take on $26K in debt. I would have rather had a root canal! Over the next few months, now that my dear father (who hated debt just as much as I did, he'd plead with me "let me loan you money, no interest, don't pay interest on credit cards", advice I have followed, he even loaned my wife money to buy a car, again, no interest) has left us, when the dust settles, I'm going to find a way to refinance the car at a lower interest rate, or even pay it off entirely. I teach my son to avoid interest --- I have taught him in business math class that interest is "rent on money", and that people who have mortgages --- and this is an over-simplification to teach the concept --- are paying three times what their house is worth over 30 years, IOW, for a $200K house, you end up paying $600K. Again, if you can avoid it, do avoid it. I have taught him that Americans typically buy the most expensive house they can afford --- that's the American thing, live large, live the high life, have fun! --- and then make huge payments on it. Guess who makes money off of that! I've seen too many people get laid off, they are escorted out of the office crying, sobbing, and one of the things they're sobbing about, they can't make that huge house payment anymore, they live paycheck to paycheck, no paycheck anymore, total financial ruin. No thank you.