You’re probably anxious enough about how far your money will stretch in retirement without having to factor in paying down debt on a set income. Even if you’re confident that you’ll be comfortable in your retirement, carrying debt into your post-work years is just going to add stress when you should be able to relax.
Consider these strategies for eliminating your debt before you retire.
1. Don’t pay too much for your house.
Your mortgage payment or rent shouldn’t exceed 28 percent of your monthly paycheck. Yes, keeping costs down — especially in an expensive city — can be a challenge. Let’s say you’re bringing home about $70,000 a year; that leaves you just over $1,600 per month to pay for housing expenses.
There’s no doubt you’ll have to make sacrifices, such as living in a less desirable area or having a longer commute time. But the lower your housing costs, the easier time you’ll have paying off a mortgage, paying down other debt and avoiding increasing your debt. You’ll also have more to contribute to your retirement account.
2. Get rid of that credit card debt.
Chances are you’re paying more in interest on your consumer debt than you would get if you were investing. Consider that stocks historically return about 10.4 percent a year while bonds earn 5.4 percent per year. Are you paying more than that on your credit cards? If so, make eliminating credit card debt your top financial priority.
3. Stick to a written plan that includes your goals and budget.
As you eliminate more debt, you’ll have more money to spend. It’s easy to fritter that away, but having a written budget can help keep you on track. That will reduce your risk of overdoing it and finding yourself in more debt, too.
One great way to ensure this influx of cash is put to good use: Invest it, save it or increase your retirement contributions (or a combination of all three). This way, you won’t be tempted to spend more and your money will be working for you.
To ensure that you get out of debt and are speeding merrily along the financial road to retirement, don’t forget to set concrete goals that will help you get there. Put your goals in writing, especially those that involve paying off debt. What will you put toward your debt each month? How will you track your progress? A solid debt elimination plan can get you there faster.
4. Take out shorter-term loans.
Making big-ticket purchases with shorter loan periods will require bigger payments. But that can help keep you from buying a car or house that you truly can’t afford. You won’t pay as much in interest over the term of the loan, saving you money. Plus, you’ll be reducing your chances of carrying a loan into your retirement years.
Stick with 36-month loans for your next vehicle or a 15-year mortgage for your next home. Once you’ve finished making payments, you’ll have an asset and additional cash flow.
5. Just say “no” to co-signing.
As your kids grow up, they might ask you to co-sign on a loan — for a car, for education, for a first home. Although it’s tough, you have to consider that anything you sign on will become your debt. And it may become really difficult to make payments on that debt if something happens to the person you co-signed for. Make it clear to your kids or other family members that you aren’t willing to put your name on any debt that you don’t completely control.
Once your debt is down, you can tackle how to create wealth with a plan that will ensure you’ve got liquid assets when you need them. Call us today for more about how to reduce debt before you retire and build wealth in preparation for your retirement.