Retirement saving: How to control credit card debt

Should You Use a 401(k) Loan to Pay Off Your Credit Cards?-

Retirement saving: How to control credit card debt

Many 401(k) plans allow users to borrow against their retirement savings. It’s a relatively low-interest loan option that some people use to consolidate credit card debt — meaning, taking a more favorable loan to pay off several high-interest credit card balances. But NerdWallet cautions against taking a 401(k) loan except as a last resort.

Sign up for an account to link your cards, loans and accounts to manage them all in one place.

What is a 401(k) loan?

Employer rules may vary, but 401(k) plans typically allow users to borrow up to half their retirement account balance for a maximum of five years. The limit is $50,000. About 1 in 5 plan holders have a 401(k) loan, according to Fidelity Investments, a large retirement plan administrator.

Consider these pros and cons:


  • The loans are cheaper than credit cards; interest typically equals the prime rate plus one percentage point
  • You pay interest to your own account
  • There’s no impact to your credit score


  • It derails your retirement savings, sometimes significantly
  • Risks include tax consequences and penalties
  • Credit card debt is more easily discharged in bankruptcy
  • The loan itself doesn’t address the reasons you might have accumulated debt

“I cringe at the thought of using your 401(k) to consolidate your loans. So much could go wrong with this strategy,” says Brett Anderson, president of St. Croix Advisors in Hudson, Wisconsin.

How do I reduce my credit card debt?

Bankruptcy and debt settlement can reduce or eliminate credit card debt, but they severely impact your credit. Debt management reduces interest rates, and its effect on your credit is less severe. Debt consolidation can reduce interest rates as well. More

Is it a good idea to consolidate your debt?

Consolidate your debt if you can get a loan at better terms and/or it will assist you in making payments on time. Just make sure this consolidation is part of a larger plan to get debt and you don’t run up new balances on the cards you’ve consolidated. More

How can I pay off my credit card debt?

Break the process of paying off credit cards into steps to find your best path: 1. Get a handle on what you owe. 2. See how much extra you can pay over minimums. 3. See how payment order affects your payoff date. 4. Track your progress — and plan for life after debt. More

However, when other options are exhausted, a 401(k) loan might be an acceptable choice for paying off toxic high-interest debt, when paired with a disciplined financial plan.

“When employment is stable and a forward-looking budget stands to be reasonable because the major expense that created the debt has ended, then a one-time loan could make sense,” says Joel Cundick, a certified financial planner at Savant Capital Management, in McLean, Virginia.

The true cost of a 401(k) loan

Any money you borrow from your retirement fund misses both market gains and the magic of compound interest.

“Just imagine taking out a five-year 401(k) loan during this current bull market at 30 or 35 years old — it could severely impact your future nest egg,” says Malik Lee, a certified financial planner at Henssler Financial in Kennesaw, Georgia.

According to Vanguard’s 401(k) loan calculator, borrowing $10,000 from a 401(k) plan over five years means forgoing a $1,989 investment return and ending the five years with a balance that's $666 lower. (This assumes that you pay 5% interest for the loan and the investments in the plan would have earned 7%.)

But the cost to your retirement account doesn’t end there. If you have 30 years until retirement, that missing $666 could have grown to $5,407, according to NerdWallet’s compound interest calculator (assuming that same 7% return, compounding monthly).

Moreover, many people reduce their 401(k) contributions while making payments on a loan from the plan. In fact, some plans prohibit contributions when a loan is outstanding. This further damages retirement plans.

401(k) loans are tied to your company

If you leave your job, you’re still required to pay the balance of any 401(k) loans.

“If you don't repay, and you sever ties with your existing company for whatever reason, the IRS will deem the loan a distribution, and you will be taxed in that tax year,” says Allan Katz, certified financial planner at Comprehensive Wealth Management Group in Staten Island, New York. And if you’re younger than 59½, you’ll incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

You could be left in a deeper financial hole than the one caused by your credit card debt.

About 86% of people who leave their job with an outstanding 401(k) loan default on it, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, compared with 10% of all 401(k) loan borrowers.

Consider other options first

An effective debt consolidation plan should allow you to pay off your credit cards within five years.

If you can’t pay off the consolidated debt within five years, or if your total debt equals more than half your income, you might have too much debt to consolidate. Your best option is to consult an attorney or credit counselor about debt relief options, including debt management or bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy and debt management plans require five years of payments at most. After that, your remaining consumer debt is wiped out. Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharges consumer debt immediately.

Un consumer debt, a 401(k) loan isn’t forgiven in bankruptcy. If you can’t repay, the loan is considered a withdrawal, and you’ll owe the IRS income taxes and a penalty on the money you’ve already spent trying to pay down credit cards.

Better consolidation options for smaller debt loads include a:

  • 0% balance transfer card: If you have good or excellent credit, look into a balance transfer credit card with an introductory no-interest period. These typically range from six months to two years. This is usually the cheapest option for those who qualify.
  • Personal loan: Interest rates on debt consolidation loans are lower for most borrowers than rates on regular credit cards. Your rate depends on your credit history and income.

» MORE: 3 steps to paying off debt

Minimizing retirement risk from a 401(k) loan

As a rule, money in your 401(k) should stay protected for your retirement years.

“The circumstances would have to be extraordinarily special for this to be the best option to accomplish this particular financial goal,” says B. Brandon Mackie, an associate at Hennsler Financial.

If you’ve weighed the risks and decided to use a 401(k) loan to consolidate credit card debt, keep these points in mind:

  • Take a 401(k) loan only if you know how you got into debt in the first place and aren't ly to be in the same position again
  • Stop using credit cards as you pay off debt
  • Continue contributions while you repay the loan — at least, enough to capture any company match offered by your employer — if your plan allows it
  • Limit the loan to an amount you can confidently repay in a short period of time, such as 12 months or less, Mackie says

Borrowing from a 401(k) plan to pay down high-rate debt “is only as good as not getting into debt again,” says Scot Stark, a certified financial planner in Freeland, Maryland. “As a last resort, this might be OK.”


Should You Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement?

Retirement saving: How to control credit card debt

It’s the Coke vs. Pepsi debate of personal finance. When you have extra money at the end of the month, should you pay down debt or bulk up your retirement savings?

Ask this question at a party of financial advisors and you’ll get as many different answers as there are attendees. That’s good, because it’s a very personal decision.

The answer should always depend on an individual’s financial situation and their emotional relationship to money.

That said, there are a few useful guidelines to follow, and the answer that’s best for you might not be as obvious as you think.

How to Pay Off Debt and Save for Retirement

When you ask for advice on whether you should pay off debt or save for retirement first, you’ll quickly encounter the crowd that thinks all debt is bad. They’ll tell you to pay off your credit card balances, car loans and even your mortgage as soon as possible.

There are legitimate reasons for this point of view—and from a behavioral standpoint, it’s a simple rule that’s easy to follow. It works for some people.

Read More On Debt & Retirement:

Equally as passionate is the group we’ll call the “pay yourself first” believers. They argue that not all debt is created equal. A personal bank loan with an 11% interest rate is hardly in the same class as a 3% home mortgage. Pay yourself first-ers believe there is “bad debt” and “good debt.”

The pay yourself first faction offers their own simple rule: If you can invest the money and earn a greater return than the cost of debt you are paying, why not save for retirement first?

The S&P 500 has a long track record of earning roughly 7% returns over the long haul when you account for inflation. So why pay down a 3% mortgage and throw away the chance at higher returns? The math becomes even more persuasive when you consider tax deductions for mortgage interest and the potential for decades of compound investment growth.

“You’ll be paying bills for your entire life; you might as well take care of yourself first,” says John Thomas, a retiree in Cambridge, N.Y.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and where you fit in that middle ground depends on your circumstances. Follow these five simple steps to figure out the right course of action for yourself.

1. Evaluate Your Debts

Start off by taking a long, hard look at your debts. Most people have a spectrum of debt: college loans, car payments, a few credit cards, maybe a mortgage. List your balances, your minimum monthly payments and, most importantly, the interest rates you’re paying on each balance.

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a “pay yourself first” or “all debt is bad” person, you’ll want to make sure you’re putting at least enough to meet minimum payment requirements. Then you can turn to interest rates.

Any debts that require you to pay double-digit rates, such as credit card balances, should stick out. Revolving credit card debt is poisonous to most consumers. That’s why even the most strident “pay yourself first” folks would suggest paying down those debts with all haste. Then you might move onto your lower-interest debt and investments.

But before you start paying bills, proceed to the following tasks.

2. See If You Have a 401(k) Match and Maximize the Match

If your company encourages retirement savings through some kind of matching arrangement, a 401(k) match, even “all debt is bad” proponents would recommend you invest at least enough to capture that free money.

If your employer pays you 50 cents for every $1 you put away up to 6% of your salary, that’s a 50% return right away, or when the savings vest. That high return leads most financial advisors to prioritize it over almost all non-mandatory debt repayment.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

The most expensive mistake many consumers make is not planning for emergencies. The car needs a new transmission, your landlord raises the rent, you lose your income. The exact nature of emergencies isn’t predictable, but having some kind of emergency is all but guaranteed.

And if you have to pull out an expensive credit card or take out a personal loan to pay for whatever that emergency is, a year or two of responsible savings can go up in smoke. That’s why you should work on building a good financial backup plan even as you pay down your debt.

“I keep 10% for savings to keep myself from going into debt further,” says Heather Young, a 34-year-old, Seattle-based IT worker.

Generally, experts recommend you have three to six months of living expenses socked away in a safe place. You shouldn’t invest this money in stocks or stock-based funds; it should be as liquid and easily accessible as possible, in a high-interest savings account.

If you can’t afford to meet your minimum debt payments, build emergency savings and save for retirement, you have options.

For instance, you can save for an emergency today while also preparing for the future with a Roth IRA.

Money deposited in a Roth IRA can be withdrawn without incurring penalties or taxes, making this individual retirement account an ideal impromptu emergency fund if you need money in a pinch.

A couple of words of warning, though: Any earnings your money makes, whether that’s interest, market returns or dividend payments, cannot be taken out without a 10% penalty plus taxes.

You’ll also want to keep the funds you placed there in safe investments, high-quality, government bond funds or money market funds.

Once you have sufficient emergency savings, you can start making your investments more aggressive and stock-based to help you grow wealth for retirement.

4. Make a Debt Repayment Plan

Once you’re meeting your minimal debt obligations, have built up your emergency savings and have maximized the free money you get to save for retirement, it makes sense to take what’s left over each month and consider a blend of debt payments and retirement investments.

But which to prioritize first? Your calculator might tell you to pay off the highest-interest, highest-balance debts first and then to invest once you’re left with debts that will cost less in interest than market performance will earn.

While that may make the most sense mathematically, human nature and cognitive biases sometimes prevent us from making the most logical financial decisions, says Jeff Kreisler, head of behavioral science at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. One example: something behaviorists call “hyperbolic discounting.” We incorrectly discount the value of cash in the future.

“We’d rather have $10 today than get $15 in a month. That’s because we’re emotionally connected to our present,” says Kreisler. Ever stronger, for many people, is the pull of loss aversion.

We hate losing money. We hate it so much that we get angrier about paying a $20 parking ticket than we are happy when we find a $20 bill.

Oftentimes, we’d need to win double the amount we’d lose to negate the pain of loss.

“We are more ly to act to avoid loss than to achieve gain,” Kreisler says. “We know we’re losing money every month to our debtors, so we’re going to be more motivated—often unconsciously so—to avoid that loss [through paying off debt] than to pursue the gain of saving for retirement.”

But the cost of that can be much higher than we realize. Over decades, the S&P 500’s roughly 7% average gain means money doubles about every 10 years. That means every $1 put away at age 25 could be worth about $16 at age 75.

Delay retirement savings by 10 years, you might if you waited to until you’d paid off your student loans, and that $1 is only worth $8 at age 75.

Take that same dollar and use it to pay off a 5% student or car loan a little early and you’d only be saving yourself a few pennies of interest costs.

That’s why Desmond Henry, a Kansas-based certified financial planner (CFP), thinks it’s best for young people to prioritize saving for retirement over paying down most kinds of debt (after credit card balances are paid off).

“Regardless of the remaining balances on your mortgage, student loan and auto loan debts, saving for retirement should be a line item on your budget just your utilities and groceries,” he says. “Even if your retirement is years away, it’s important to get an early start because building up what you need depends heavily on the effect of compound interest over a long time period.”

The Psychological Counter-Argument

Doing things solely by the math of the situation doesn’t work for everyone, though. Sometimes, you need the faster gratification of quick debt repayment over retirement balances decades in the future.

This psychological pull is one of the factors motivating Heather Young’s debt repayment. “I focus on debt because the sooner those are paid off, the less money in interest I have to pay and the more money I can keep. The snowball method is really working for me,” she says.

The snowball method suggests paying down the debt with the smallest balance first to give you a quick “win” and let you enjoy the rush of eliminating one bill. Then, snowball adherents tackle the second-smallest bill. This hopefully creates virtuous momentum, a snowball rolling down a hill.

How you choose to repay debts, though, is ultimately less important than getting into the practice of regularly making some kind of debt repayment.

5. Maximize Your Retirement Contributions

Once you’ve got your debt squared away, you can turn to maxing out your retirement contributions.
Many retirement savers make the mistake of maximizing their 401(k) employer matching contributions and…then stopping there.

Your employer might stop giving at 6%, but there’s no reason you can’t contribute 10% or 12% of your salary into that tax advantaged account. Or more, up to $19,500 annually (or $26,000 if your 50 or older) in 2021. And once you’ve maxed your 401(k) out, you can turn to traditional or Roth IRAs to save even more.

These tax-advantaged accounts could save you thousands in taxes over your lifetime.

While the combined $25,500 ($33,000 if you’re 50 or older) that you can contribute to a 401(k) and IRA may seem an excessive amount to save for retirement, maximizing your retirement contributions early on can have an outsized impact on your future financial stability.

Consider this Parable of the Two Twins: One invests from age 22 to age 32 and stops; the other invests the same amount each month from 32 to 62. Assuming similar average annual returns, guess who has more money at age 62? That’s right, the twin who started early but saved for only 10 years. This may seem almost too good to be true, but it’s not: See the math here!

This highlights the importance of saving early for retirement when you’re young and dealing with moderately priced debt. And even if you aren’t fortunate enough to max at your contributions early in life, you can still benefit from the growth of smaller contributions over years or decades.

Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with using extra cash to pay down debt every month. Maybe you are the kind of person who thinks if the money is sitting there in a retirement account, you’ll use it and lose it, so you’d rather pay off debt. Or perhaps you just sleep better at night without feeling you owe someone money. It’s hard to put a price tag on a good night’s sleep.

“It really comes down to personal preference,” Henry says.

“Mathematically speaking, the best route would be to maximize your retirement savings as much as possible and take advantage of the low interest rate environment we’re in on your debts [ by refinancing].

However, I don’t always do things based exclusively on the numbers. There’s a psychological and relational aspect to the world of finances…[and] I’ve yet to ever meet anyone who ever regretted paying off all their debt.”


Pay Off Debt or Save for Retirement? Which Comes First? – 401k Maneuver Pay Off Debt or Save for Retirement? Which Comes First?

Retirement saving: How to control credit card debt

If you are in credit card debt and struggling to get it under control, but are worried about saving for retirement, you’ve probably asked yourself: Do I first pay off debt or save for retirement?  

It’s a good question to ask. 

According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans owe $930 billion in credit card debt.¹ 

Value Penguin reports…

  • 41.2% of all households carry some sort of credit card debt.
  • $5,700 is the average American household debt.
  • Average for balance-carrying households is $9,333.²

From the stats above, one thing is clear: many Americans are drowning in credit card debt.  

If you’re trying to figure out if you should pay off debt or save for retirement first? Keep reading to find out. 

Pay Off Debt or Save for Retirement? 

This is the chicken or the egg question. Which comes first? 

There is plenty of advice out there that says to drop everything and do whatever it takes to pay off your debt. Now. 

There’s nothing wrong with paying off credit card debt as fast as you can. 

But it’s important not to neglect saving for retirement in the process.  

Instead of asking whether you should pay off debt or save for retirement, we encourage you to ask: How do I pay off debt AND save for retirement?

Here’s why…

If you focus solely on paying down debt for the next 5 years, you run the risk of being debt-free 5 years from now, but being behind on retirement savings by 5 full years. 

You will have potentially missed out on 5 years of compounded investment returns had you consistently contributed.  

And, if you have a 401(k), and you aren’t contributing at least the company match while paying off debt, you may have missed out on 5 years of free money. 

After 5 years, you might be debt-free, but you need to play catch up all over again…only this time with your retirement savings. 

On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to rack up interest and only pay monthly minimums while you contribute to your 401(k) or other retirement funds.  

A Strategy for Success

When you have limited funds, a family to raise, bills to pay, and a life to lead, how on earth do you pay off credit card debt and save for retirement? 

You need a strategy. A plan in place that allows you to do both. 

Here’s what we recommend: 

  • Pay off high-interest credit card debt first, while saving something for retirement. If you have a 401(k), at least contribute enough to get the company match because that’s FREE money. Automate your savings and have money directly deposited into your IRA, if you have one. 
  • Once you’ve paid off your high-interest credit cards, continue paying a bit over the minimum on any lower-rate credit cards or debt you have. Then, divert more money to fund an emergency savings account. If you want to avoid getting back into debt, you need a rainy day fund. 
  • When you have a decent amount of money in your emergency savings, go back and work on paying off the rest of the debt. Up your retirement savings at this point as well. 
  • When you’re debt, now is the time to increase your retirement savings. If you’re able (which you should be without debt weighing you down), max out your yearly contributions. Keep saving money in your rainy day fund as well. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t go back into credit card debt. 

The above strategy might take you longer to get credit card debt than you’d , but you’ll be saving while paying it off.

And you may be in a better financial position.  

If the thought of saving and paying off credit cards and having a life feels squeezing blood a turnip, take a deep breath. 

There are a few things you can do today that may help you pay off credit card debt faster and without sacrificing your retirement savings. 

#1 Ask Creditors for a Lower Interest Rate

If this works, it’s a win for your debt and for your retirement savings because it doesn’t require you to divert funds that would go to saving for retirement or throw more money at debt. 

And it could potentially save you a lot of money. 

If you are a long-time customer and have a decent credit score, asking is often all it takes. So, call your credit card companies and see if they will give you a lower rate. 

Even 1 or 2 points may add up to hundreds of dollars saved on interest

Let’s say you have a credit card limit of $5,000 and the card is maxed out. The interest rate is 21.30% and the minimum payment due each month is $138. 

If you stayed at this rate, you would pay off the card in 59 months. 

If you lowered your rate just 1 point to 20.3% and paid the same $138 each month, you’d save about $273 in interest and have the card paid off in 57 months.  

$273 saved in interest might not seem a lot, but think of it this way: that’s about two regular payments’ worth of savings. 

#2 Transfer High-Interest Balances to a 0% Card or One with a Lower Balance

If you’re able to transfer a high-interest balance to a card with a much lower rate or 0%, it’s a smart move. 

However, be careful with this strategy

While balance transfers have the potential to save you hundreds, if not thousands, on interest, only transfer a balance you know you can pay off within the low-or-no interest rate window. 

Most low-interest or 0% interest cards come with terms. Typically you have to pay off the full balance within 12-18 months; otherwise, the credit card company will backdate and charge you interest. 

If you can’t pay off the transferred balance in time, you may end up paying more than you would have if you kept the balance on the original card. 

Lee transferred $8,000 from a 18.9% card to a 0% card. 

She was getting nowhere making monthly payments, and, if she transferred the balance, she’d be saving almost $6,676 in interest. 

The terms stated she had 12 months to pay it off; otherwise, she would be back charged interest. 

She set a plan in place to pay it off in 11 months at $727 a month, just in case something happened and she needed an additional month to pay it off. 

“The first three months I was on track, but then stuff came up, and I needed to use some of the money intended to pay off the balance. So, I paid what I could the next few months–$200, $500–whatever I could,” said Lee.

In December, she had four months to pay it off and a balance of $4,100. 

“I freaked out when I realized I had to pay $1,025 each month for four months if I was going to avoid all that interest,” she said.

“I had to pull back on my retirement savings of $500 a month, and I threw all the money I had at it. Not ideal, because I’m now behind on my retirement savings by $2,000, but I did it.”

Let Lee’s situation be a warning. If you are going to transfer a balance to a lower-interest or 0% interest card, make sure you do not borrow more than you can reasonably pay. 

#3 Make Two Monthly Minimum Payments

Credit cards typically charge interest on a daily basis. Every time you make a payment, your daily average balance is reduced. 

Making frequent payments throughout the month, instead of waiting until you have a large chunk of cash to pay down, means less interest you’ll have to pay

And you’ll pay it off faster.   

Pay down the minimum each month, and then a week or two later, pay the same amount. 

Let’s say you have a card with a $2,000 balance at 17% interest. It will take you 3.8 years to pay it off paying the $60 minimum and cost you a total of $726 in interest. 

If you make 2 minimum payments each month, or $120, you’ll have paid off the card in 1 year and 6 months and cost you a total of $298 in interest. 

Do this, and you would save $428 in interest and would have the card paid off in almost half the time…

Allowing you to free up that money to tackle another credit card, save more, or spend however you ! 

Not sure where to find the money to make an additional minimum payment? 

Here are 3 ways to find the money fast…

  1. Calculate how much you spend for lunches each week at work. If you cut back from 5 days at $15 per lunch and brought your lunch 3 times a week, that’s $45 extra a week. Multiply that by 4 weeks, and you now have $180 that can go toward an extra payment. 
  2.  If you already pack your lunch, look at how many times you dine out each week or order in. Cut back on that, and you’ll find the money. 

  3. Go through your budget (or if you don’t have one, your bank statements) and see if there are any subscriptions you’re paying for that you don’t use. Paying $50 a month for a gym membership, but you never go to the gym?
  4. Cancel it, and you’ll have $50 extra each month to pay over on a credit card. 

  5. Scale back.Instead of paying $50.99 each month for a streaming service, drop your plan to $11.99. That’s a $39 each month freed up to pay over on your credit card. 

Notice none of these examples has you eating Ramen every meal. And they don’t ask you to stop going out with friends or become a minimalist.  

You’d be amazed how much money you’re spending on certain things, if you just take the time to look. 

Sure, you could sell your car and bike to work, and then use that money to pay off a significant amount on a credit card. 

But most of us cannot or are unwilling to do that. 

Take time right now to see where you can cut back on one or two expenses each month, and use the money saved to make a second monthly payment. 

#4 Don’t Incur Any More Debt

This may sound obvious, but far too many people pay off a credit card and then rack up debt again. 

Decide to stop the cycle. Now. 

Avoid temptation to keep up with the Jones. 

Create a plan to tackle your debt and save for retirement, and then work the plan. 

#5 Get Help 

If you’re struggling to pay off debt or save for retirement, we strongly suggest getting third-party advice. 

If you’re hesitant to reach out for advice because you think you have too much debt or you don’t have enough money saved, don’t let that stop you from getting help!

This is your future we’re talking about. 

The sooner you seek expert advice, the higher the probability you’ll be better off financially in the years to come…and in retirement.

In fact, David Blanchett, Head of Retirement, CFP, CFA of Morningstar reported that participants that received expert guidance had as much as 40% more income during retirement versus those who received no help at all

Just think for a moment how 40% more income at retirement may change your lifestyle later in life

Chances are, it would make a significant difference. 

It doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have saved for retirement, or how much debt you are carrying…

A third-party expert may help you create a plan to get debt, fund your emergency account, and maximize your retirement savings. 

The sooner you reach out for help, the better off you may be. 

Don’t know where to start? 

Check out our guide : The Different Types of Licenses Financial Advisors Have and What They Mean to You.


Send Me The Guide!



Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: