Save for retirement or pay down debt?
You'd like to pay off your high-interest plastic, but you also need to save for retirement. Which should you do first?
This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.
According to the most recent report from the Federal Reserve, credit card debt stands at $864 billion, which equals an average of $7,226 per U.S. household. (The average for households that have debt is actually much higher since more than half don't carry a balance from month to month.)
If your household is one of those that is struggling with credit card debt, you know how important it is to reduce those balances. But you also know it's not the only priority you have. Saving for retirement is also a critical goal. So, when you find yourself with an extra dollar or two, where should it go -- to reducing debt or increasing retirement savings?
That's a question we heard when we took our camera to the streets to talk to people about their money concerns. Check out the answer in the video below, then read on for details.
Whatever your goals, you obviously want to get the biggest bang for your buck. Compared with the rate of return on a typical savings account, CD, or stock investment, you'll get a much higher rate of return by paying off your credit cards first.
It's useful to use a credit card calculator, like this one from the Federal Reserve or this one from MSN Money, to see what can happen when you pay extra on a credit card balance. For example, plug in a balance of $7,000 and an interest rate of 13%, and you'll find that by paying only a 2% minimum monthly payment, it will take 24 years to pay off the card, and cost more than $7,500 in interest.
But instead of paying the minimum 2% payment -- $140 a month to start -- suppose you jacked the payment up to a flat $300 every month. You'll pay the card off in two years and pay $1,100 in interest. Which means you'll keep $6,400 that otherwise would have gone to the bank.
As Stacy said in the video, paying off a high-interest debt is like earning that interest risk-free and tax-free, which is tough to beat. So the rule is to pay off that kind of debt as soon as possible. But as with most rules, there's an exception.
Many 401ks and other types of retirement plans offer a company match up to a certain amount, typically 50% of whatever you contribute, capped at 6% of your annual salary. For instance, if you earn $50,000 annually and contribute $3,000 (6%) to your retirement plan, the company will contribute $1,500.
That's like earning a risk-free return on your investment of 50%.
So, if your company matches your 401k contributions, make sure you're contributing enough to get every free penny being offered by your plan. After that, put any extra income you have left into paying off your debt. Once your debt is wiped out, you can start contributing more to your 401k or look into other investment options.
Getting it done
Now that you know what to pay and when, you'll need to come up with the cash.
First, talk to your HR department, find out what your company matches in 401k or retirement contributions, and set up the appropriate automatic deposit into a retirement account.
Then follow these steps to find the money to pay off those credit cards:
- Create a simple budget. Don't let the word "budget" freak you out. All it means is keeping track of the money you have coming in and going out. There are apps and websites that can help you do it almost automatically and plenty of how-to articles that can help.
- When you see where your money's going, you'll know how much you have left over to apply to credit card debt. Stay motivated by plugging your new payments into a debt payoff calculator to see how much faster you'll be debt-free.
- Not finding extra money in your budget? There are loads of ways you can save without sacrificing your quality of life, from cutting the cable to raising insurance deductibles. Check out "25 simple ways to save an extra $1,000" for more ideas.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
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A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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