Home > Managing Debt > How to Retire Debt-Free: A 4-Step Checklist

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Do you know how much you need in savings to fund your retirement? Are you factoring in your current debts? You may have just assumed that home, car and credit card payments would disappear by retirement but this doesn’t happen automatically. Since pretty much no one wants their post-work living to be focused around bills and stress, one of the best ways to ensure peace of mind is to save aggressively for retirement while also paying off any existing debt before retirement starts. Check out these tips to help you retire without debt.

1. Avoid Lifestyle Inflation

When you start to make more money, it may seem inevitable that you have to spend more on your lifestyle, but this doesn’t have to be costly. If you commit yourself to an expensive lifestyle as soon as you can (or almost can) afford it, you will be more likely to struggle with debt as a senior. It can be a good idea to live well within your means while saving regularly so you can have a comfortable lifestyle without carrying debt into retirement.

2. Prioritize Payments

You can’t necessarily tackle all your debt at once or even in the same way. Credit card debt is likely your first priority as these usually carry the highest interest. Then you can make a list of all other payments from student, home or personal loans to your investment portfolio and savings accounts. You can prioritize these by interest rate or return rate. You can also consider consolidating your debt into a single low-interest monthly payment using a personal loan, but it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of this option carefully.

Debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards will require a credit check. If you don’t know where you stand, you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

3. Assess Your Mortgage

For most Americans, mortgages are the largest debt they carry. If you can schedule your mortgage payoff to at or before your retirement date, that means you have one less (large) monthly expense in retirement. It’s important to remember that some costs, like maintenance and property taxes, will continue even after the mortgage is gone.

You may determine that you would rather hold onto your mortgage into retirement and put more money toward investing. This may especially make sense if you have a very low-interest mortgage.

You may even want to consider downsizing to a smaller home earlier than planned so you don’t miss the opportunity to sell when conditions are favorable and maybe even pay off that mortgage earlier.

4. Temporarily Reduce Retirement Contributions

Obviously you need income in retirement and that requires saving the funds ahead of time, but if you have high-interest debt that you can’t quite cover with your current budget, you may want to consider reducing your retirement savings contribution rate to focus on squashing debt.

This means paying extra on the debt while saving the minimum until debt is paid off. Keep in mind that “minimum” when it comes to your retirement funds should still allow you to meet your maximum employer match. But it’s important not to let debt repayment derail your savings efforts for too long.

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