Pay off debt first for a happier retirement

After decades in the workforce, retirement is finally in sight. But as you look forward to a leisurely future, does debt threaten to darken your sunny horizon?

In 2020, the average baby boomer had $97,290 in debt, according to Experian data. Starting retirement with debt can be worrisome. You can get out of debt by following these steps and holding yourself accountable.

Know your total debt.

Review all your accounts and add up any balances to calculate your total debt. This might include:mortgage, auto or personal loans, mome equity loans or lines of credit, and credit cards.

Paying down your highest-interest debt first will reduce the amount you spend on interest. For example, if you have a credit card balance with an 18.99 percent annual percentage rate (APR) and a car loan with a 3 percent APR, paying off the credit card should be your priority. This way you can save more money to put toward your other debts.

Create a budget.

Your income and expenses may change significantly in retirement. Creating a budget for retirement can help you better manage your money once you’re no longer bringing home a paycheck.

Add up all your sources of income for the month. Then subtract your fixed monthly expenses—things such as a mortgage, insurance premiums, or a car payment. Finally, estimate your discretionary spending—expenses that vary each month, such as groceries or dining out.

Next, look for places to cut spending so you can pay down debt faster. Could you eat out less often? Stop buying new clothes? Shop around for insurance to lower your premiums?

Taking steps to reduce spending gives you more money to put toward paying down your debt. Also look for ways to bring in more money, such as:freelance or consulting work (offer to consult for former employers or similar businesses, or seek freelance work on sites such as Fiverr, Upwork and,.teaching (music or art lessons, for example, or tutor local students), driving for a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft, and selling your castoff furniture, clothing, books and other items on eBay or Craigslist?

Review pay-off options.

Two strategic approaches to paying off debt are the avalanche method and the snowball method.

With the debt avalanche plan, you make minimum monthly payments on all debts except the one with the highest interest rate. Each month, pay as much as you can toward that debt until it’s paid off. Then focus on the debt with the second-highest interest rate, and so on.

The debt snowball plan prioritizes the debt with the smallest balance. Make the minimum monthly payments on all other debts, and put as much as possible toward your smallest debt until it’s gone. Then move to the debt with the second-smallest balance, and so on.

The avalanche plan typically saves you more money on interest, but the snowball plan gets faster results, which can motivate you to keep paying down your debt.

Some other options:

  • If you have several different debts to pay off, you might save on interest by consolidating them into one personal loan. Personal loans generally charge lower interest rates than credit cards, making them a good way to pay off high-interest credit card debt. Unlike secured loans such as mortgages and car loans, personal loans generally require no collateral, so your assets aren’t at risk. Because these loans are unsecured, however, it’s easier to qualify (and get better rates and terms) if you have good credit. You can get personal loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders. Before applying, check your credit report and credit score. This will help you identify personal loans for which you’re likely to be approved.
  • A balance transfer credit card with an introductory 0 percent APR is another way to pay off high-interest debt. Balance transfer cards are most often used to transfer high balances from one or more credit cards to the new card. When you are approved for the card, the card issuer will pay off the debt you wish to transfer and move it to the new card. Some may send you a check to put toward other debt, such as a loan. A balance transfer card works best if you have good to excellent credit and a relatively small amount of debt that you can pay off before the intro 0% APR period expires. The transfer amount can’t exceed your card’s credit limit, and you can’t transfer a balance from one card to another from the same issuer.

Get help through credit counseling.

What if you’ve considered all your options and still aren’t sure how to get out of debt? Non-profit credit counseling agencies offer free or low-cost services from certified counselors who can help you create a budget and develop a plan to pay down debt. They can even negotiate with creditors on your behalf to reduce interest rates or waive fees as part of a debt management plan.

To find a reputable credit counselor, look for one that belongs to a certification organization such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Financial Counseling Association of America, or check out the U.S. Department of Justice’s list of approved credit counselors by state.

As you pay down debt, consider free credit monitoring from Experian, a consumer and business credit reporting and marketing service.


Source: Experian