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Expensive Penny: We’re Seniors With $74K in Debt. Ought to We Save or Pay It Off?


Expensive Penny,

My husband and I are seniors who’re at the moment working full time exterior L.A. We’ve got one month’s financial savings and never a lot in retirement on account of a transfer and one in all us being unemployed for 2 and a half years. 

Our debt is $20,000 on a bank card, $3,000 in pupil loans and $51,000 in taxes. We’ve been capable of deal with debt critically since COVID-19 began and have paid off $16,000 on one other bank card and $3,000 in different pupil loans, each of which we’ve had actually for 10 to twenty years.

The $20,000 bank card debt is the following factor we’re going to deal with furiously, since we’re being charged $200 a month in curiosity. However I’m questioning if we must always put some apart for financial savings so we’ve greater than a month to fall again on.


Expensive W.,

One of many solely good issues in regards to the dumpster hearth of a 12 months that’s 2020: COVID-19 impressed lots of people to clamp down on debt, as you and your husband did. Paying off $19,000 of debt in effectively underneath a 12 months is a big accomplishment. For that, I’d offer you a high-five — or possibly a pandemic-friendly elbow bump — if I may.

Earlier than I inform you what I believe you must do, let’s acknowledge that $51,000 elephant of a tax invoice. I don’t know the circumstances, however I definitely hope you’ve spoken to a tax legal professional and negotiated a fee plan. Because you didn’t ask me in regards to the tax debt, I’m going to imagine that you simply’re on monitor to get proper with the IRS and give attention to whether or not to assault your debt full drive vs. increase your financial savings.

I believe you must make building an emergency fund the precedence. I get that it’s irritating to see your $200 a month principally go up in flames once you fork it over to your bank card firm. However the very best factor you are able to do is about yourselves up so that you simply by no means have to show to a bank card once more. In the event you can break the cycle of counting on bank cards, you’ll come out forward, even when which means losing some cash on curiosity within the brief time period.

Hold making minimal funds on all of your debt, in fact. However past that, give attention to saving sufficient so you’ve got not less than a three-month cushion. Granted, that’s simpler stated than executed, particularly since you reside exterior of Los Angeles, the place dwelling prices are little doubt excessive.

However you’ve already been capable of shed $19,000 out of your finances over simply seven or eight months to pay down debt. I’ve little doubt you’ll be able to construct your emergency fund simply as quick and furiously by placing a few of that cash you had been utilizing on debt funds into financial savings. After you have a three-month rainy-day fund, focus once more on stomping out that bank card debt as soon as and for all.

Your larger concern, although, is that you simply’re quickly approaching retirement with out a lot of a nest egg. You’ve clearly made important headway throughout the pandemic, which little doubt required self-discipline. However lots of people have discovered that it’s been simpler to reside extra frugally as a result of they’re staying house a lot extra. Your problem now’s to maintain your new regular so you’ll be able to repay debt and make investments as a lot as you’ll be able to for retirement.

In the event you contribute to a 401(k) plan and get an employer match, preserve doing so. However past that, repay your bank cards earlier than you make investments, because the curiosity might be costing you greater than what you’d earn. Plus, your eventual retirement will likely be much more comfy in case you’re as near debt-free as potential.

After you’ve paid off the bank card and pupil mortgage, make investments as a lot as potential in each an individual retirement account and an employer-sponsored plan you probably have entry. Assuming that you simply haven’t began taking Social Security, I’d urge you to maintain working and delay your advantages so long as potential to maximise your funds.

You’ve skilled some huge setbacks, however you’re getting again on monitor. Having an emergency fund and eliminating high-interest debt are two of the very best issues you are able to do to stop one other setback from derailing your plans.

Robin Hartill is a licensed monetary planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Ship your tough cash inquiries to [email protected].