We tend to think of debt as a younger person's problem, but in reality, it impacts seniors to an unhealthy degree. An estimated 30% of seniors 65 and over still have a mortgage, and as of 2015, 2.8 million seniors aged 60 and older were on the hook for student debt.
The problem, of course, is that when you carry debt into retirement, you not only lower your chances of ever paying it off, but also risk struggling financially when your debt payments monopolize too much of your limited income. So, if you're about to retire and haven't managed to pay off your various obligations, here are some tactics that will help you cope.
1. Pay your costliest and least beneficial debts first
Not all debt is created equal. There's the good kind of debt, like your mortgage, and the bad kind, like your credit cards. If you're approaching retirement with debt, your best bet is to focus on paying as much of it off as you can, but also doing so strategically. This means tackling your debts with the highest interest rates first, and then moving on to those that cost less to hang onto.
Let's say you're carrying a mortgage at 6% interest, a private student loan at 8% interest, and a credit card balance at 18% interest. It makes sense to knock out the debt costing you 18% before you pay off your other obligations.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it generally always pays to eliminate credit card debt first because you don't get any benefit from it. If you're paying off student loans, you may be eligible to deduct their associated interest on your tax returns, and you're allowed to deduct mortgage interest as well. Credit card interest, by contrast, is not deductible in any shape or form.
2. Get a job
Just because you're retired doesn't mean you can't work in some capacity. If you're entering retirement with debt and don't want those monthly payments eating up too much of your income, getting a part-time gig to generate extra cash could be just the trick. Better yet, work enough so that you're able to not only make your minimum monthly payments, but pay down your principal to get out of debt sooner. Incidentally, working part-time in retirement will give you something to do with your days, thus decreasing the boredom factor and reducing your likelihood of spending more money you don't have to keep yourself entertained.
3. Sell other assets
Maybe you're lacking the actual cash needed to enter retirement debt-free. But if you're sitting on other assets you no longer want or need, selling those might put some decent cash in your pocket -- cash you can use to keep up with your debt payments or pay down your obligations altogether.
For example, if you own a larger home that's not paid off, downsizing might serve the dual purpose of eliminating your mortgage and giving you a sum of cash to apply to other debts you might have. Similarly, if you have artwork or electronics you don't have a need for, unloading them might allow you to pay down a chunk of debt, thereby lowering your ensuing monthly payments and limiting the extent to which you continue racking up interest.
Retiring with debt is far from ideal, but for many seniors, it's reality. So if you're going to kick off your golden years with debt, be smart about managing it. Work on tackling your most expensive debts first, and be creative about generating income. This way, you might actually manage to eliminate those debts in your lifetime rather than carry them with you to the grave.
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