Is debt threatening to ruin your retirement before it begins? 4 tips that can help | Personal finance

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(Kailey Hagen)

Almost everyone gets into debt from time to time, and it’s not always a big deal. But as you approach retirement, you want to get as much out of debt as possible. With fewer payments to worry about, you can further expand your existing savings.

But getting rid of debt, especially high-interest debt, is easier said than done. If you’re struggling to get your finances under control, these four tips might help.

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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 into them until your high-interest debt is paid off.

The debt avalanche method is a popular strategy for paying off credit card debt across multiple cards. First, you make the minimum payment on all your cards each month. Then you put any remaining money on your debt with the highest interest rate. When you have paid off that debt, you move on to the debt with the next highest interest rate, and so on.

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You can also try using a balance transfer card or a personal loan. Balance Transfer Cards Temporarily stop your balance growing, so it’s a good choice if you’re sure you can pay off what you owe within the 0% APR introductory 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.

2. Look for other ways to make more money

Bringing in more money can help you pay off your debt faster. You might be working overtime at your current job or starting a side hustle. Or you can use windfall earnings, like year-end bonuses, pay raises, and birthday money, for debt repayment.

Again, if you have high-interest debt, focus on that first, and you might even want to put your retirement savings on hold for a while. You’re probably paying more interest on your credit card in a year than you’ll earn investing your money, so it makes more sense to spend all your money on that 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 Sooner

You may be tempted to withdraw some of your retirement savings early to pay off your debts, but this is actually counterproductive. On the one hand, you will pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you withdraw money from most retirement accounts before you turn 59.5 — and that’s on top of the taxes you’ll have to pay if the money comes from a tax-deferred account.

You will also significantly reduce your retirement savings. When you start saving again, you will need to save a lot more per month to retire on time. You’d better leave your savings alone so they can grow until retirement.

4. Delay retirement

When all else fails, you can always delay retirement to give you more time to save and pay off your debts. It’s not the ideal solution, but it’s better to run out of money early. You can also slowly transition into retirement, perhaps going part-time for a while before quitting for good.

Everyone’s debt repayment strategy will be a little different, depending on what they owe and how close they are to retirement. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it will get easier over time. The sooner you start paying off your debts, the better off you will be in the long run.

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