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Imagine $100,000 falls into your hands. Lottery, inheritance, Vegas, exceedingly generous Tooth Fairy — it doesn’t really matter how you get it, but all of a sudden you possess $100,000 you didn’t plan to have. What would you do with it?

A Redditor posted a scenario of that sort a few weeks ago, and among the expected bizarre responses (buying 10 cheeseburgers a day, 1,000 Arizona iced teas, etc.), users said they would save the money, invest it or pay off debt.

Few people responded to the thread, but it’s not surprising that paying off debt was on the list. Student loan debt seems to become a bigger burden with each graduating class, and many people consider living debt free to be the American Dream. (That’s not surprising, considering a theoretical windfall of $100,000 wouldn’t even cover some of the more extreme student debt loads.)

To Save Or Pay Off Debt?

Even though saving is a personal finance behavior crucial to long-term financial stability, it seems to be debt that weighs most on Americans’ minds. In an online poll conducted by American Consumer Credit Counseling, 83% of those surveyed said they prioritize paying down debt over saving.

There were 397 respondents to the poll, and 58% said they do not set money aside for emergencies or retirement, according to a news release about the survey.

“With outstanding consumer debt surpassing $2.8 trillion, Americans are being forced to choose between paying down rising debts and saving for a healthy financial future,” said Steve Trumble, president and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling, according to the news release.

When it comes to debt, consumers need a plan of attack, but it shouldn’t exclude savings. The longer one puts off saving for the future, the harder it is to make up for lost time. Loan consolidation, credit card balance transfers and personal loans can make debt management more affordable, but before committing to a game plan, you have to look at the big picture of your finances.

The first step is to understand your credit history. Each consumer is entitled to a free annual credit report and can use Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card to monitor changes in his or her credit score each month. With that information in hand, it’s easier to make strides toward freedom from debt.

Who knows whether or not people would actually use a surprise windfall to pay down debt or save for retirement — the point is, consumers should already be working toward those goals. Then, instead of dreaming of financial security, they can fantasize about filling a vault with iced tea. Or something like that.

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