In tough economic times, the rules go out the window. Rules like, always pay more than the minimum on your credit cards, it's smart to pay your mortgage off as early as possible, and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is the best second mortgage because you only pay interest on the money you use. These rules are a bit cute and quaint today.

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Many who diligently made extra principal payments to accelerate their mortgage payoff would like to have that money back now. Business is slow, the economy is uncertain, and money is tight. "I paid my mortgage down ahead of time," some say, "Why can't I skip a payment or two now?" Unfortunately, your loan servicer won't see it that way. In fact, you may have made it easier for the servicer to foreclose by adding to your equity when you prepaid your mortgage. Homeowners who are upside down have a lot more leverage with their lenders, because foreclosure is less attractive when lenders can't recover all of their money by doing so.

The only way of getting money back out of your home and into your wallet is by refinancing or taking out a home equity loan. And unfortunately, that is harder to do these days. Lenders require better credit scores and more equity. You also have to show enough income to satisfy the lender's requirements. So, just when you need that money back, you are much less likely to get it.

A better way to pay your mortgage off early is to take that money and, instead of giving it to your lender, put in in a savings or investment account. When you feel financially secure enough, use the account to pay down or pay off your mortgage.

For those who already gave extra money to their lenders and want it back, you can try calling your loan servicer and requesting a loan modification to get your total housing costs down to 31% of your gross income. You can also ask them to re-amortize your loan--if you have made substantial progress paying your loan down, the lender can take the new, lower balance and recalculate your payment. The fee to do this is about $250, and you should end up with a lower payment.