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Saving for Retirement When You Have Credit Card Debt

Founder & CEO

I usually suggest prioritizing credit card debt pay down ahead of saving for retirement because credit cards charge much more than you should expect to earn on your investments.

But some people have a big employer match -- should they prioritize their employer match over credit card pay down?

Generally, no. Very rarely.

That's because not paying your balances in full each month usually indicates that your expenses exceed your income.

You need to address that core issue before you can get on track for wealth creation.

You can make yourself worse off if you put money in most retirement accounts, then realize you desperately need access to it sometime before age 59 1/2: all taxes will be immediately due, and in most circumstances you'll owe a 10% penalty payment. Ouch. And you should assume that your retirement plan will rescind the match when you do that.

Two Times It Makes Sense to Prioritize Retirement Savings Over Credit Card Paydown

1) You are among the small group of people who use credits effectively - if you're in this group, you play 0% rate offers masterfully and never pay interest or fees to a credit card company - we write about such people here

2) You have set up a clear, actionable plan to pay down credit card debt, have 3 or more months of solid compliance with the plan under your belt, and your employer offers a good match (example: 50% up to 3% of your salary)

Otherwise, putting paydown of credit card debt at the top of your list is likely the best path forward.

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Wallis is the Founder & CEO of AboveBoard Financial, a company reinventing investment advice and insurance with revolutionary transparency and honesty. Wallis spent over 10 years at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker and hedge fund investor in financial institutions. She founded AboveBoard to cut through the BS and present important choices with clarity and compassion. Wallis lives in New York City with her husband and two young children.