By: Kailey Hagen
Retiring debt-free is obviously ideal, but taking a little debt into retirement isn’t the end of the world. A mortgage payment you’ve budgeted for in your retirement plan probably isn’t going to threaten your financial security. But the same can’t be said of the three types of debt listed below. If you have any of these, come up with a debt repayment plan ASAP so you can ditch these bills before retirement.
1. Tax debt
Your retirement savings is generally safe from creditors — except the IRS. If you owe back taxes, the federal government could take the money from your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account and you’ll have no recourse to stop it. That’s a huge problem for seniors who rely on their retirement savings to cover their monthly bills.
Instead of waiting for this to happen, reach out to the IRS directly to discuss your options. You may be able to set up a payment plan that allows you to pay your debt off slowly over time, rather than in a large lump sum.
These payment plans do have one-time setup fees and your balance will accrue penalties and interest until it’s paid in full. But once you have one in place, you won’t have to worry about the IRS tapping your retirement savings, as long as you keep up with your monthly payments.
2. Payday loan debt
Payday loans can have annual percentage rates (APRs) close to 400%. A single $500 loan with a two-week repayment term and a 400% APR could balloon to $2,500 in a single year if you’re not able to pay it off. Often, people end up rolling over or renewing these loans, which essentially kicks the problem further down the road. The balance continues to grow, making it virtually impossible to get out from under the debt on your own.
A debt like this can be dangerous to take into retirement because there’s virtually no cap on how large your balance can grow. You could end up draining your savings faster than you anticipated to keep up with it, leaving you without enough for your other expenses.
If you have a payday loan, your best bet for getting rid of it is a personal loan. These loans are available without collateral and while their interest rates can be high, they’re nowhere near as high as payday loans. Once you’re approved, your lender will give you a lump sum you can use to pay off the payday loan. Then, you’ll make regular monthly payments until you’ve paid back what you borrowed. You won’t have to worry about your balance swelling as long as you make your payments on time.
3. Credit card debt
Credit card APRs aren’t quite as high as payday loan APRs, but they can still exceed 30% in some cases. If you’re only making the minimum payment on your cards, your balance could grow quickly, especially if you continue to make new purchases every month. Before you know it, you could be tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
You can use a personal loan to help with your credit card debt or you could open a balance transfer card. This enables you to transfer your balances from other credit cards to this card for a small fee. Balance transfer cards have a 0% introductory APR, usually for at least six months and sometimes much longer. During this time, your balance won’t grow at all, so you can focus on paying down your debt without worrying about interest charges.
What if you can’t pay off your debt before retirement?
If you don’t think you’ll be able to pay off the above debts before retirement, you can either look for ways to boost your income today, like working overtime or starting a side hustle, or consider delaying retirement. Or you could use a combination of these strategies. Think about what makes the most sense for you.
Find a debt repayment strategy that works with your budget, then check in with yourself every month or two to see how you’re progressing. If you need to, adjust your retirement plan until you find a solution that gives you the best shot of remaining financially secure for the rest of your life.
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