Retirement changes a lot, but it doesn't change the fact that we still have bills to pay and that those bills can sometimes be overwhelming. There's one type of debt in particular that wreaks havoc on people's finances, and it's unfortunately common among retirees. But it doesn't have to burden you.

Making this debt repayment a top priority right now can help your finances both today and in the future and improve your odds of retiring comfortably.

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It starts out small, but it rarely stays that way

Over three-quarters of retirees have some type of debt, according to a recent Clever Real Estate survey. It's not surprising to find car and mortgage payments among the most common types, but there's one kind of debt that's even more widespread.

About 67% of participants with debt said they currently carry a balance on their credit cards, and many also said they struggled to keep up with their credit card payments. Obviously, falling behind on any debt isn't ideal, but credit cards' high annual percentage rates (APRs) -- exceeding 20% in some cases -- can create long-term financial problems.

If you fail to pay back your balance in full at the end of the month, the credit card company charges interest, and this causes your balance to swell quickly. The next month, you'll have even more to pay back, and if you can't, you'll get hit with even more interest.

It's a huge problem for seniors living on a fixed income because they may have to drain what little savings they have to keep up with their credit card bills. And if they don't have adequate savings to pay what they owe, then they may need to return to work or rely on family members to avoid late fees or legal action.

Even if you're still working, credit card debt can increase your risk of financial instability in retirement because it can prevent you from being able to save for retirement in the first place. Even if you attempt to save for the future and pay off your credit card debt simultaneously, you'll probably end up losing money because you'll pay more in interest than you're earning from your investments.

How to stop credit card debt from ruining your retirement

If you have credit card debt, paying it off should be your top priority. When you have extra cash, it's pretty straightforward. You can either make a lump-sum payment or put your spare cash toward your debt each month until it's paid off. But the problem is that most people don't have extra cash, or they wouldn't have credit card debt in the first place.

Some people choose to open a new credit card -- a balance transfer card. These cards offer a 0% introductory APR for new customers for a few months before the standard APR kicks in. During the 0% APR period, your balance won't grow at all, as long as you're not racking up late payment fees. So any payments you make go toward reducing your principal balance.

Of course, to do this, you still need extra cash each month. If you don't have much to spare right now, you may have to consider working overtime or taking on a side job in order to get the money you need to pay back your debt.

You could also trade in your credit card debt for a personal loan. To do this, you take out a personal loan for the amount of your credit card debt and use the money to pay off those bills. Then you'll have a predictable monthly payment you can pay off without fear of a ballooning balance. However, you will still pay interest on what you owe with a personal loan, and it may be tough for retirees to get a personal loan without some form of income.

Whenever possible, it's best to take care of your credit card debt before you retire, but if you're already retired, that doesn't mean you're doomed. You should definitely make debt repayment a top priority, and you may need to come out of retirement, at least part-time, until you've got your finances under control again.