One of the most challenging things about setting financial goals is managing two short-term goals at once. What should you do if one of your goals is to pay down debt as quickly as possible, but you want to build an emergency fund or save for a down payment on a home as well? If you are currently in this situation, you know that deciding what to do with that extra chunk of cash in your bank account each month is difficult. The longer you wait to pay off debt, the more you may end up paying in interest — but having solid savings is essential, should emergencies arise. If you are trying to juggle saving and paying off debt at the same time, here are some questions to ask to help you decide which to prioritize.
How Much Do You Have in Savings Right Now?
Do you have money set aside in case of an emergency? Ensuring that you are prepared for anything life throws your way is a fundamental step toward financial health. Experts recommend having an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses set up to protect against unexpected events. Without it, you could risk falling into more debt. If you do not have an emergency fund set up, that should be your first priority. Pay down what you owe each month on your education loans and credit card balance(s), then allocate extra cash to your rainy day fund.
How Much Does Your Debt Cost You?
Examine the interest rates of your debts in comparison to how much your savings earn you. For example, if you have credit card debt with an interest rate of 10 percent, and a savings account earning you 1 percent, it may be more beneficial to tackle that credit card debt before saving for a down payment or putting more money in a retirement fund.
If you have multiple loans and credit card balances, it could help to list all of them and include the corresponding interest rate beside each. Multiply the interest rate by the debt amount to see how much each debt or loan is costing you per year. Then, write out the total amount of cash you have in savings and multiply it by the interest rate of the account. What is the rate of return on your savings? How does that compare to what your debts are costing you per year? This could help put everything in perspective, not only to help you decide to start focusing on paying off your debts faster, but to know which debt to tackle first.
Remember, the earlier you pay off debt, the less you may end up paying in interest. Therefore, after establishing a solid emergency fund, your next priority is working toward paying off your debt.
Can You Potentially Lower the Cost of Your Debts?
Whether you have credit card debt, student loan debt, or both, there are a few tactics you can look into that could potentially lower the cost of your debts.
If it is credit card debt that is weighing you down, you could transfer your balance onto a new card. On her blog, Suze Orman recommends looking for cards that charge no interest for at least a year, allowing you to have a longer amount of time to pay off your debt without incurring interest. For transferring the balance, she recommends searching online for transfer deals that do not charge a fee for the amount of the transfer. From there, the goal is to use an online calculator to calculate the amount you will need to pay per month to knock out your credit card debt by the time the zero percent interest rate expires.
For education loans, find out if you qualify for student loan refinancing or consolidation through a private lender. People who possess a strong credit history and a reliable source of income may be able to take advantage of one single payment with potentially lower interest rates or lower monthly payments. With the possibility of lower interest rates or lower monthly payments, refinancing or consolidation could take you one step closer to achieving your financial goals.
To Save or to Pay Off Debt? That Is the Question.
You might think the answer is simple — but the truth is, it is a little more complicated. Both options are great financial moves, but the answer varies depending on where you are in your saving and repayment journey. A typical rule of thumb is to focus on establishing an emergency fund first, then shift to paying off your debts as quickly as possible so that you can move on to your other (more fun) goals like purchasing a home or a car. If you already have that fund set up, assess your debts to decide which ones to begin paying off first. Look at what your options are for minimizing the interest on your debts, and put those plans into action. While it might require determination and sacrifice, the feeling of being debt free with a secure savings account is worth it in the end.