✔Save for an emergency—consider saving enough to cover 3 to 6 months of expenses.
✔Consider a health savings account if you’re eligible, and contribute to your workplace retirement plan.
✔Pay down debts with the highest interest rate first.
Student loans, credit card balances, car loans, and mortgages—oh, my. You probably have a variety of debt—most people do. So which should you focus on paying off first? And how can you save at the same time?
Of course, make sure to pay at least the minimum required—and on time—to keep all loans in good status. After all, defaulting on credit cards, car loans, student debt, or home mortgages can destroy your credit rating, and risk bankruptcy.
Assuming you are meeting those primary obligations, here’s a guide to help you pay off debt while saving for emergencies and long-term goals like retirement. It may seem counterintuitive, but before you tackle debt, make sure you have some «just in case» money and save for retirement.
1. Pay this debt down first: high-interest credit card balances
It can be easy to run up a large credit card balance. And once you do, it’s not easy to pay it off. The minimum payments are typically low, which means you are paying mostly interest, so it will take much longer to pay off the balance. And it will cost you more. So if you can, consider paying more than the minimum each month.
2. Pay this debt down next: private student loans
Private student loans for college carry higher interest rates than government student loans, in general. Currently, rates on private student loans range between 5% and 14% compared with 2.75% for government undergraduate student loans.4,5 You may be able to deduct the interest on a student loan, however, but only up to $2,500 a year, and only if you are a single filer earning less than $85,000 or $170,000 for married filing jointly for the 2019 tax year. If you make more than that, you can’t deduct the interest.
In general, it is a good idea to pay down student debt above 8% interest as a rough rule of thumb. What you really want to do is compare your expected after-tax investment return (if you invested the money) with the student loan interest rate. If your student loan is at 9%, paying off your loan is like getting a risk-free return of 9% on your investments. All this can get pretty complicated so you may want to consult with a professional financial planner. This is especially true when this debt is not tax-deductible.
3. Pay monthly minimum on government student loans, car loans, mortgages
These loans have lower interest rates, and some offer tax benefits. That’s why it generally makes sense to make only the minimum monthly payments on them. For instance, mortgage interest is deductible for federal tax purposes. Homeowners can deduct the interest paid on mortgages up to $750,000 for homes purchased after December 15, 2017. For mortgages taken out before December 15, 2017, interest paid on mortgages up to $1 million may be deducted. Interest rates have been at historical lows, right now around 3% for a 30-year fixed loan. Car loans are about 4.75% for a 60-month new-car loan.
Government undergraduate student loans are currently 2.75%, and the interest may be tax-deductible.