Deciding whether to tackle retirement planning or debt reduction first is a difficult choice. Both are daunting prospects and both carry serious weight. Should you put retirement savings first or is it better to be debt-free? Or is a combined effort your best plan of action on your quest for financial health and security?
Pros of paying down debt
Some debt is better than others. A mortgage means you’re investing in a lifetime purchase as well as a literal roof over your head, and school loans mean you value education, which will propel you to greater success and higher earnings in your career. High-interest credit card debt, on the other hand, is like an unflattering choker or garish tie around your financial neck. And thanks to compound interest, credit card debt will just increase unless you tackle it immediately and effectively, according to U.S. News & World Report writer, finance author and credit card expert Beverly Harzog. If you’re buried under suffocating high-interest credit card debt, you might want to focus any extra money you can into unburying yourself.
You should put saving for retirement as your first to-do on your financial planning agenda if your company or employer will match your financial contributions to a savings plan or 401(k), according to NerdWallet writer Andrea Coombes.
“Say your employer offers ‘100 percent up to 2 percent of salary.’ That means your employer will add one dollar for every dollar you contribute, up to 2 percent of your salary. So if you make $60,000 and contribute 2 percent of it, you employer will add $1,200 a year on top of your $1,200 contribution,” she writes.
One caveat to investing in an employer-matched plan, according to The Balance writer Melissa Phipps, is if you think you’ll change jobs before you can benefit from what your company puts into your retirement account.
Research which Roth IRA or regular IRA fits your financial needs if an employer-matching plan is not an option, adds Coombes.
Simultaneous saving and debt busting
If putting all of your eggs in the retirement saving basket or toward your debt-busting efforts doesn’t make sense for you, do both. You can put a little into your future nest egg while chipping away at your debt. This allows you some creative financial control, according to Harzog. And whether your debt comes with a high, low or moderate interest rate, you can still make significant gains in reducing your debt while saving for your retirement. Harzog explains that two-thirds of the money you plan to split between savings and debt applies to high APR debt. If your debt has a low APR, she elects that two-thirds of the money be earmarked for your savings plan. The moderate APR debt is the simplest division — 50 percent for savings and 50 percent for debt payments.
“A retirement plan should be as much a part of the budget as your rent, car, cellphone and cable. Debt may come or go, retirement should always be a priority,” advises Phipps.
Saving for the future and paying for the now is crucial for your financial security. If you’re struggling with high-interest credit card debt, it might be best to focus on decreasing that debt first. If your debt is manageable, it might make sense to start planning for tomorrow right now, especially if you have an employer that can back you up. Take a good look at your finances, your budget and employee benefits to discover what the best course of action is for a healthy financial present and future.