Should I Pay Off Debt or Save?

There are varying views on whether it’s better to pay off debt or save money first when planning your financial goals. We’ve gone through the pros and cons from financial advisors and broken them down for you here.

Everyone’s situation and goals are different, so it’s important to decide for yourself what your top priorities are right now.

Saving First

Many experts teach that having an emergency fund with up to 6 months of expenses should be the top priority when making a savings plan. Having money stored away for a rainy day gives you security and could prevent a tough situation if you find yourself needing extra cash.

A 2017 study shows that 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and nearly 56% are saving less than $100 per month. Without an emergency fund, you could find yourself in more debt when unexpected expenses inevitably pop up.

“Putting off saving for retirement until you are debt-free could cost you your most valuable asset: time.” – Amy Fontinelle, Bankrate

Another point to consider when deciding on saving versus paying down debt is planning for retirement. If you work for a company that offers to match your contribution to your 401K, most experts advise paying the maximum percentage to put yourself in a great position in the future.

Paying Down Debt First

While a good number of financial advisors recommend at least starting an emergency fund before paying down debt, others have a different viewpoint. Depending on the interest rates on your debt, paying off your debt first might be wiser in the long run.

“You must make minimum debt payments before allocating money toward any other goal, including saving an emergency fund or investing for retirement. This is true even if you have to forego an employer match in your 401(k) because you don’t have enough to both invest and pay debt.” – Christy Bieber, The Motley Fool

Making minimum payments on your debts is important because you not only risk paying more in the long run, but you also run the risk of damaging your credit score. Take a look at the debt you have with the highest interest rates: if the rate is over 8%, consider paying this debt down first.

Dave Ramsey had this to say to a caller who has over 49K in savings with 60K in debt…

“Were you to start our classes and do the things we teach — be on a written budget, carefully managing your money and making it behave, cutting up your credit cards and all that stuff — we would take everything out of your family savings except for $1,000 to throw at this debt.” – Dave Ramsey

In fact, growing student loan debt has such a measurable impact on young people’s savings that many recent college graduates may not be able to retire until they are 75 years old. While saving as early as possible is important, it’s also important to pay down your student loan debt as soon as possible. The experts over at LendEdu suggest paying more than the minimum as often as you can, and to send any financial windfalls (like a bonus or a tax return) straight to your student loan to take a big chunk out of that debt.

Whether you decide that saving or paying down debt is the first priority for you, it’s important to note that you should definitely avoid adding unnecessary debt. Try just using one credit card with a low-interest rate and maintain a manageable balance to move you down the path of financial freedom.

Weigh in, has saving or paying down debt worked best for your financial goals?

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Notable Replies

  1. Paying debt off is the best way, My wife and I paid off all of our consumer debt and now can save so much more then before. We did the Dave Ramsey plan, it took a couple years but it was sooo worth it.

  2. Hi @andyl.pgfo4s,

    Was there any one specific tip from the Dave Ramsey plan that helped you the most?

  3. getting on a monthly budget and just following his 7 steps in order, that is it. you can youtube his 7 baby steps, they have a 1 hour video that goes thru it. it is a little dated but the concept is the same

  4. baynej says:

    I’m 72 yo. When I was in my 20’S and 30’s I had maxed out my credit cards and had trouble making the min payments. I forced myself to stop using the cards, get better jobs, and pay cash for what I absolutely needed. I made more than the min payment until the cards were paid off. Yes it was hard and I did without a lot of things I was use to having. I had everything paid off in a couple of years. The fact I had every card paid off, my credit rating went from average to excellent. I purchased my first home, always paid my charges every month, and have had an excellent rating ever since. Always lived within my means, and now I am comfortably retired with a net worth of more than I will spend in my lifetime.

  5. billg says:

    First, debt should be avoided. I admit to having a mortgage on my first home and a modest amount of college debt but have managed to avoid consumer debt. I’m 78 now and have been completely debt free for the past 40 years.

    My advice is:

    Get an education in a field that needs people and pays well.

    Live within your means. In other words, only buy things with cash on hand.

    Carefully consider value. I use a car to get from one point to another so it makes a lot more sense to do that while getting 50 MPG instead of 20 MPG and the money I save will go toward the next car. Value judgement is key to minimizing debt.

  6. Congratulations @baynej! It’s great to think Republic is part of your strategy to live within your means!

  7. Spending less than $30 a month on my Republic Wireless plan. Then moving the rest of the family members to Republic for additional savings.

    That helps a lot!!

  8. I have an Excel spreadsheet that I made to help me simultaneously pay off my debt and save. How it works. I had to open about 15 different savings accounts. My spreadsheet has a categories which are my different savings accounts. And each paycheck I get I put a small portion of my check into each account. Right now now one of my bills is $20/month so each week I put 6 dollars into that specific bills savings account. When that bill needs paid, I pull the $20. Out and that leaves me with $4 extra in that savings account which is a small start to saving and having my 6 months emergency fund. All the while I have it so I pay X amount on my credit card and it’s already worked into the equation. When a new thing arises that I didn’t foresee. I add it to my spreadsheet and calculate so that I’m not overspending my paycheck. This is very effective for me. It takes A LOT of time and active effort to continue this, but I think it’ll pay off in the end.

  9. It’s hard to know what to do. While my personal debt keeps decreasing (all I have left is a mortgage), and I have managed to save a nice chunk of money, national debt keeps climbing (~$64,000 for each citizen right now). I sometimes wonder if burying gold in the back yard is not all that bad an idea.

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