Now that the moratorium on student loans is set to end later this year, millions of borrowers will need to begin factoring payments into their budgets again after a three-year pause.
If your finances are already stretched thin, it may be tough to start making student loan payments again -- let alone while continuing to save for retirement. However, with the right strategy, you can make the most of every dollar while working toward both goals. Here's how.
1. Continue making minimum payments
Unless it's absolutely necessary, it's wise to avoid skipping student loan payments. At the very least, aim to make the minimum payments every month to avoid falling behind or hurting your credit score.
If you're having trouble making the minimum payments, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to see whether you can adjust your monthly payments to fit your budget.
2. Invest enough to earn the full 401(k) match
Once you're making minimum loan payments, you can focus more on building your retirement fund. If you have access to a 401(k) with matching contributions through your employer, it pays to invest enough to earn the full match.
The average 401(k) match is around 3.5% of a worker's wages, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're earning, say, $50,000 per year, that's $1,750 per year that you could be receiving from your employer.
If you're earning a modest 8% average annual return on your investment, that $1,750 per year could turn into more than $80,000 after 20 years -- and that's not even including your own contributions.
The employer match is essentially free money, and the sooner you begin saving, the more you'll earn over time. As long as you're able to make the minimum loan payments, it's wise to start investing as soon as possible.
3. Automate your savings and payments
Setting your savings and loan payments on autopilot can make it easier to build them into your budget. When setting aside a certain amount of money each month for each of these goals, you can more easily adjust your spending on nonessential costs. It's tempting to put off saving for retirement, but when you prioritize it in your budget, you won't even need to think about it.
If you're investing through a 401(k), you may be able to transfer a set amount of money from each paycheck directly to your retirement account before it even reaches your bank. With an individual retirement account (IRA), you can set up automatic transfers from your bank to your account on the schedule you choose.
4. Don't get discouraged
Finally, remember that no amount is too small when saving for retirement. If most of your spare cash is going toward loan repayments, it's easy to get discouraged if you can't contribute much toward your other goals.
However, even small amounts can go a long way when you start investing early. Compound earnings help your savings grow exponentially the longer they accumulate, and saving even a few dollars per week can go further than you may think.
Money is tight for millions of Americans right now, especially as student loan payments pick back up. But it's still important to start saving for retirement sooner rather than later. By getting creative with how you work toward both of these goals, you can ensure you're setting yourself up for long-term financial success.