Image: Senior Couple in a Garden © Corbis

Admit it: Whether you're 35 or 65, the prospect of retiring without a mortgage is an attractive one. No more monthly checks to your lender means extra money to spend on having fun once you exit the workforce. After years of punctual principal-and-interest payments, it's the least you deserve, right?

There are several smart ways to retire without a mortgage. We've come up with six that fit a variety of retirement scenarios. Some approaches benefit from an early start -- so if you are able, try to plan ahead. Other mortgage-free-retirement options can be put into effect even if you're close to collecting Social Security.

Some retirees don't mind a mortgage, be it for the tax write-off or to keep too much money from being tied up in home equity. But if your goal is the peace of mind that comes with paying off your loan before you reach retirement, check out these six ways to retire without a mortgage.

1. Make extra mortgage payments

Over time, a few bucks here and there tacked on to your mortgage payment can translate into thousands of dollars saved on interest and years shaved off the repayment period. The trick is to find small ways to cut corners on other household expenses so you can apply those modest savings toward your mortgage. Simply swapping out traditional incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent lights, for example, can save you $50 a year in energy costs. A programmable thermostat can save you up to $180 annually.

A little extra goes a long way. A $200,000 mortgage at 6% over 30 years works out to a monthly payment of about $1,200 (excluding taxes and insurance). You'll pay just over $231,000 in interest alone. But put an extra $100 a month toward the same mortgage and you'll save nearly $50,000 in interest and retire the loan five and a half years early.

2. Refinance your mortgage

A surefire way to trim the bill for your home loan is to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate for an equal or greater period of time. You'll enjoy reduced payments and less strain on your bank account. Not a bad idea if money is tight. What you won't enjoy is a mortgage-free retirement.

To pay off your mortgage early via refinancing, you'll need to switch to a shorter-term loan. In 2011, a popular refi option for homeowners who weren't underwater was going from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year loan.

Let's say you have 25 years left on a 30-year mortgage at 6% and still owe $175,000. You'd pay about $163,000 in interest over the remaining quarter-century. For just $167 more per month, plus one-time closing costs, you could refinance to a 15-year mortgage at 4% and save $105,000 in interest. And, of course, you'd be mortgage-free a decade earlier. (Does refinancing make sense for you? Check with MSN Money's calculator.)

3. Downsize your home

Think about it: At a time when you're supposed to be enjoying the simple life, do you really need a formal living room, separate dining room and two spare bedrooms that you never set foot in? If your answer is no, think about downsizing your home.

The beauty of downsizing to a smaller home in the same area is that you don't need to say goodbye to your friends, family and community. Of course, beauty can also be found in the fact that you might be able to pay cash for your new abode. That means no mortgage.

And don't limit your notion of downsizing. Just because you spent the past 30 years in a traditional ranch doesn't mean you need to purchase another ranch with less square footage. Check out conventional alternatives (condos, townhouses) as well as unconventional options (houseboats, RVs and even tiny homes).

4. Relocate to a cheaper city

Can't find the right place at the right price to retire in your hometown? Move somewhere cheaper. Sure, there will be sacrifices, but what you'll give up in familiarity you'll make up for financially. The best places to retire combine ample activities with affordable real estate. And moving to an affordable locale will boost the odds that you won't have to take out a new mortgage.

Home prices aren't the only factor. Consider property taxes and homeowners insurance premiums as well. Both affect the overall affordability of a home. In New Jersey, for example, property taxes and insurance premiums combined average $7,270. You'd pay just $1,444 in, say, Kentucky, one of the 10 most tax-friendly states for retirees. Some state and local governments reduce or even waive property taxes for residents 65 and older.

Feeling adventurous? You might be able to pay even less for a home and enjoy lower living expenses if you retire overseas. Look into bargain-priced and retiree-welcoming countries such as Belize, Mexico, Panama and Vietnam.

5. Get a roommate

Don't discount the financial advantages of taking on a roommate. By letting out a spare bedroom and applying the rent you collect to your mortgage, you can knock years off the time it'll take to repay the loan. An extra $250 a month toward a $150,000, 30-year mortgage at 6% will erase the debt more than 13 years early. An extra $100 a month retires the mortgage seven years early.

The benefits to your bottom line extend beyond the mortgage. Rental income can help defray the cost of utilities -- gas, electricity, phone, cable, Internet -- and maintenance. Annual upkeep on a typical three-bedroom, two-bath detached home runs $7,910, on average, according to Homewyse.com, a homeownership website. As a bonus, a roommate can help with chores, providing a welcome respite for any homeowner weary of doing dishes and dusting bookshelves alone.

6. Rent instead of owning

A guaranteed way to retire without a mortgage is to sell your current home, pay off the loan in full, pocket the profits and use the proceeds to rent a place to live instead. Although it might seem as if you'd just be writing a check to a landlord instead of a lender, the differences between renting and owning are considerable.

Among the advantages of renting in retirement: no lawn to mow, no leaky roof to replace, no property taxes to pay, no assets tied up in illiquid real estate and no residential albatross around your neck preventing you from moving around as you wish.

You can even save on little things, such as insurance. The average annual premium for renters insurance is $176, compared with $791 for homeowners insurance. As for losing the ability to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage -- a popular argument in favor of homeownership -- keep in mind that the amount of interest due declines over time, so later in the life of a mortgage there is less and less interest to write off.

The single biggest risk of renting in retirement instead of owning is that you might run out of money to pay the rent. By contrast, if you own a home, you could probably resort to a reverse mortgage when savings dry up. This is a legitimate concern, and one that you should address with your financial adviser. A well-structured investment portfolio can provide a reliable income stream deep into retirement. A part-time job can also stretch your nest egg.

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