Almost everyone carries debt from time to time, and it’s not always a big deal. But as you approach retirement, you want to shed as much debt as possible. With fewer payments to worry about, you can stretch your existing savings further.
But getting rid of debt, especially high-interest debt, is easier said than done. If you’ve been struggling to get your finances under control, these four tips might help.
1. Focus on high-interest debt first
You should always prioritize debts with the highest interest rates first. If you have payday loans or credit card debt, this is the best place to start. Don’t worry so much about mortgages or other low-interest debt. Keep making your payments on these, but don’t put any extra money toward them until your high-interest debt is taken care of.
The debt avalanche method is one popular strategy for paying off credit card debt across multiple cards. First, you make the minimum payment on all your cards every month. Then you put any remaining cash toward your debt with the highest interest rate. When you’ve paid off that debt, you move onto the debt with the next-highest interest rate, and so on.
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You could also try using a balance transfer card or a personal loan. Balance transfer cards temporarily halt the growth of your balance, so they’re a good choice if you feel confident that you can pay back what you owe within the 0% introductory APR period. Otherwise, a personal loan might be a better option. These give you a predictable monthly payment, so you don’t have to worry about your balance growing further.
2. Look for other ways to pull in more money
Bringing more money in can help you pay off your debt more quickly. You could work overtime at your current job or start a side hustle. Or you could use windfalls, like year-end bonuses, raises, and birthday money, for debt repayment.
Again, if you have high-interest debt, focus on this first, and you may even want to put retirement savings on hold for a while. You’re probably paying more in credit card interest in a year than you’ll earn by investing your money, so it makes more sense to throw all your cash at this debt first. Then, when it’s paid off, you can save for retirement and work on your other types of debt at the same time.
3. Don’t touch your retirement savings early
You might be tempted to withdraw some of your retirement savings early to pay off your debts, but this is actually counterproductive. For one, you’ll pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take money out of most retirement accounts before you’re 59 1/2 — and that’s on top of the taxes you’ll owe if the money comes from a tax -deferred account.
You’ll also set your retirement savings back considerably. When you do begin saving again, you’ll have to save a lot more per month to retire on schedule. You’re better off leaving your savings alone so it can grow until retirement.
4. Delay retirement
When all else fails, you can always delay retirement to give yourself additional time to save and pay down debt. It’s not the ideal solution, but it’s preferable to running out of money early. You could also transition slowly to retirement, perhaps dropping to part-time for a while before quitting for good.
Everyone’s debt repayment strategy will look a little different, depending on what they owe and how close they are to retirement. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’ll get easier in time. The sooner you start repaying your debts, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
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