As most Americans consider retirement planning, mortgages, health care expenses, and reduced income are typically, and rightfully, top financial concerns. These considerations, however, are not alone in the debts and costs people need to account for before retiring. Other expenses, such as student loans, credit card debt, and car loans have traditionally high interest rates and can create unforeseen and significant financial stress as you’re trying to enjoy retirement as a new and exciting chapter of life.
School loans are typically a long-lasting debt, especially for those who step in to help pay for children or grandchildren’s education, on top of their own. There are currently over 2.5 million adults over the age of 62 still facing student loans. These interest rates continue to rise and the federal relief program was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. To make this debt more challenging in retirement, student loans are not tax deductible and Social Security benefits may be diminished if you default on these loans. Prioritizing student loan payments ahead of retirement to avoid rising interest rates and adverse tax consequences can help reduce unnecessary dings to your hard-earned savings and credit score.
Similar to student loans, auto loans include interest rates much higher than other common secured debts, like mortgages. Car loan interest rates range from 5-20%, based on your credit score, and the average monthly car payment is about $700. Entering retirement on a fixed income, with costs for health care likely increasing throughout these years, can mean an additional $700 monthly is outside of your budget. Paying off auto loans before retirement saves you from high interest rates and potentially bank-breaking payments when you need to prioritize funding housing and health care in your later years.
Credit cards typically have the highest interest rates, averaging 23% in the United States. With these high interest rates and the commonality of credit card debt, reducing mortgage payments to ensure you’ll pay off these personal loans can be a sound financial strategy. Nearly 70% of Americans die with outstanding credit card debt, compared to 37% with unpaid mortgages. The lower interest rates on mortgages can mean that holding a mortgage for slightly longer to prioritize paying off credit cards will likely benefit your total savings throughout retirement.
As a first step, it’s helpful to get organized around the various forms of debt you may be holding. Track your expenses and associated interest rates alongside your expected income from investments, Social Security benefits, and other income streams you may anticipate after leaving the workforce (e.g., corporate pension, purchased annuity). As you’re going through this process, make sure to account for anticipated long-term care costs. 70% of us will need extended care and these costs range from about $30,000 to over $100,000 annually based on the care setting you’ll require. With this information you can begin to make a plan to prioritize paying off all your debts while still affording the retirement with which you’ve been dreaming.