RBC conducted a poll at the end of last year asking Canadians about home ownership. There were some interesting finds about just how burdensome mortgage debt is.

The most shocking was that a full one-third of Canadians over 55 years of age will carry their mortgage for an average of 16 years, bringing them into their 70’s before their home is paid off.

At the same time, 72 per cent of Canadians with a mortgage are planning to be mortgage-free before they reach 65.

Is there a disconnect between optimistic younger adults and realistic older ones? Or is there some fundamental difference that will truly make it easier for younger adults to pay off their home sooner than the older generation?

Anecdotal evidence with regards to youths and student loans certainly points to an overly optimistic view of one’s earning potential. Those in their mid-50’s not only have decades of personal income data to use, they would also have a much more accurate idea of how much they’ll be making over the next 10-15 years.

What does it mean to still hold a mortgage into your 70’s? Obviously there are any number of factors which contribute to being in that situation, but one thing is certain: retirement isn’t going to be as much fun with looming debt. Unless you have ample savings (and if you do, why do you still have a mortgage?), your pension and other income should provide you with an adequate lifestyle. Having a large chunk of that going towards your mortgage, however, means potentially years of struggling during a time when you’re supposed to be enjoying the fruits of your labours.

For younger people who are planning on paying off their home earlier, it’s important to understand if this is actually based on a realistic scenario or if you’re just assuming your income will go up enough to accelerate the payoff.

Use an online mortgage payment calculator and your most recent statement to figure out how long paying off your mortgage will take at your current rate.

If that feels too long, we’ve talked before about how to accelerate your payments and own your home faster than you thought possible.

The important lesson to take from this poll is that optimism won’t get you anywhere. Whether it’s student loans, retirement, or your mortgage, just assuming that you’ll make more money later on to fix the shortcomings you have now is dangerous and unadvised.

Understanding your needs for the future is certainly important. If you know your goal is to pay off your home in the next 10 years and to do that you’ll need an extra $20,000 on top of your income, then you’ve got a firm, measurable goal to aim for. Now you can start working on getting a raise at work, starting a part-time job, creating a home business, or investing in order to achieve that goal.

Don’t make the mistake of reaching the years before retirement and realizing you should have done more planning – start now!