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It’s possible to manage debt while saving for retirement: Here’s how

Thomas  Charla

Posted on February 08, 2023

Thomas Charla is an expert in financial planning and wellness as well as business markets for MassMutual.
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This article will ...

Explain why it is important to pay off debt, while also saving for short-term and long-term goals.

Provide tips on how to pay off debt and save money at the same time. 

Outline the specific elements of a debt management plan


No one likes the idea of debt. When someone gets a financial windfall, “paying off debt” is often the answer to the question: “What are you going to do with all that money?” But absent winning the lottery, paying off your debt, at the expense of saving, might not be your best financial strategy.

Your debt is not your only financial obligation: Setting aside savings for both short-term financial shocks and long-term financial goals and retirement should also be on your radar. Unfortunately, many Americans may focus on paying down debt and never get to the savings part.

“The most important thing when managing finances is the need to strike a balance between savings and debt,” said Martha Slaight of Commonwealth Financial Group in Boston. “Everyone needs a plan that lets them both afford their lifestyle today and save for future, all while paying off their debts in a timely manner.”

To maintain the right balance between two competing priorities, consider creating a debt management plan instead of a debt reduction plan. To create an effective and functional debt management plan, it’s critical that you take all your finances into account.

Pay off debt or save?

A debt management plan should include:

  • A ranked inventory of all your existing debt, due dates, interest rates, and minimum payments. High-interest consumer debt tends to be the area most people want to pay off first. (Learn more: Debt goals)
  • An inventory of all your savings accounts and a list of vehicles that offer a greater return for your dollars. 
  • A categorized and prioritized budget, so you can see what expenses you can cut to pay off debt and add to savings. (Learn more: Budget basics)

Accumulating savings while you pay down your debt can help you better absorb a financial shock, manage daily living expenses and stay on track to meet your long-term financial goals.

By focusing on accumulating savings, you create a larger financial foundation on which to grow in the future. And, thanks to compound interest, your savings may outgrow the amount you owe.

Think of it this way: You can choose to be debt free within a certain period, and at the end potentially have no savings. Or you can take a little longer to pay off that debt. Yes, you’ll pay more in interest, but in the end, you just might have a good financial cushion to build upon when you are done. If you focus only on your debt, and not your savings, you may miss out on years of financial gain.

So which strategy is best for you?

For many, balance might be the answer. A debt management plan helps you control your debt while still being able to save for the future and accumulate your retirement nest egg.

Discover more from MassMutual… 

The lottery: Waiting for magic?

3 financials to check on your birthday

This article was originally published in December 2018. It has been updated.


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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.