Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans, Week Two

Last week I spoke about the situation I found myself in, looking into planning for my retirement while paying down my student loans. This week I’d like to talk about the strategies and accounts I’ll be taking and opening to help detour some of the misdirection I received in my youth. It’s scary to think how much time I’ve lost to just not knowing how to plan for the future. But it’s never too late to start and there’s no time like the present. So let’s jump in.

I’d also like to take the time to state that I am not a financial professional and these are just my opinions of how I’m planning for retirement. If you have any questions about your own financial situation, I suggest you seek out help from a professional financial adviser.

10% or 15% How Much Should I Save?

There are a couple of different views on this front. Dave Ramsey says to save 15% of your annual income after you’ve paid off your debt and set up an emergency fund. While Ramit Sethi suggests saving 10% and doing so while you’re paying down low interest debt such as student loans.

Dave’s rational is that if you’re in debt, then paying into retirement doesn’t make any sense if it means extending the life of your loans and the interest you’ll be paying on them. This makes sense, seeing how you’re not really making money if you’re still paying somebody else at the same time.

But Ramit’s point is valid as well. His angle being that the sooner you begin to invest, the more time you have to let your money grow. And it’s better to start the process of saving as early as possible. So the question remains, should we invest 10% or 15% and should I pay off debt first or jump right in with savings?

Whether you decide to start right away, while paying down low interest student loans or to pay into retirement after you’re done with debt, that’s your call. My take on the subject is, the more I save the better and the less debt I have, the easier it will be to reach those goals. If I can put away 15%, I’m going for it. Hell, if I can put away 20%, even better. But before I go ape shit and throw everything I’ve earned towards retirement, I want to make sure that I’m not spreading my finances too thin by trying to save too aggressively. Also that I’m able to enjoy my money as well.

The goal of saving for your future isn’t only about surviving, it’s about enjoying yourself. Do I really want to look back in retirement and think, “man, I’m sure glad I missed out on all those fun things I could have done instead of saving so aggressively for retirement”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I’m not going to let saving for retirement get in the way of living my life either. Just like most things in life, there’s a balance to be struck.

The Accounts I’ll be Opening

This one was a little confusing for me when I first started thinking about investing. Should I start with an account that is tax deferred, so I’m taxed when I withdraw my money? Or should I open an account where I’m taxed when I make the deposit, and withdraw without being taxed? This all depends on your situation and I suggest that you speak with a qualified financial professional about your options.

But it’s still good to do some research on the subject before hand, so you’ll know the right questions to ask. Dave Ramsey has a good list of retirement accounts and their specific details here on his website. But as for the accounts I’ll be opening, it seems as though most people are on the same page, and me as well.

401k

A 401k is a retirement account that you can fund directly from your paycheck, allowing you to make contributions tax free. The benefits are, your money grows tax free and Uncle Sam takes his share when you make withdrawals. Also, you’re able to contribute up to 22,000 dollars a year as of 2022. You also have to wait until you are 59 1/2 to start making withdrawals or you will pay heavy fees.

This type of account is often offered by your employer. And some companies offer a match up to a certain percentage. This means that the company will offer you a certain amount of money based on how much you contribute to your fund. This may be a dollar amount set by the company, or a percentage of your annual salary.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs or Roth Individual Retirement Accounts, are personal accounts you take out independently, where your contributions are taxed before being added to the fund and are not taxed when you withdraw your money or while your investment is growing. You fund these accounts after taxes are taken out of your pay, unlike a 401k, and are capped at $6,000 annually as of 2022, $7,000 if you are over the age of fifty.

Roth IRAs are good options because they are available to everybody as long as you meet the income requirements. As of 2022 the limit for a single person is under $144,000 a year. They’re great savings vehicles and the sooner you get started investing in them, the better. Also you don’t have to start withdrawing until you’re 72. Unlike the age limit of 59 1/2 for 401ks.

Social Security

Also, don’t forget about social security! Where this isn’t technically an account that you open, it’s something you’ve most likely been contributing to your entire working career.

How it works is, you pay into it by having it taken out of your paycheck directly. Your contributions are listed as the “social security” line on your paystub. When you’re ready to withdraw, which you can start at age 62 to age 70, the government takes the highest earning 35 years or your working history, and averages them to calculate your payout. If you work less than 35 years, the years that you didn’t work will equal 0. This could hurt your total payout when you decide to withdraw.

This link from The Penny Hoarder goes into detail about how social security works and the questions you may have navigating it. It can be deceptively complicated, so take your time and do some research around this subject.

Other Accounts

The above accounts are what I’ll be using, but there are also a variety of other accounts that may be more suited to your situation. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you may want to open up a SEP-IRA. This is a plan for individuals who are self employed or small business owners. If your employer offers a pension, this is also something worth looking into as well. And again, if you have any questions on what’s right for you in your situation, get in touch with a financial planner who can help you make these important decisions about your future.

What’s My Strategy?

So now that we took a quick look at some of the basic retirement accounts and how they work, how do we put them all together to make a comfortable retirement? I’ll walk you through what I’m planning on doing as of now, with my investing. Of course this is unique to my situation so it will be helpful for you to take a look at what’s out there and what works best for you, speaking with a professional when necessary. Hopefully this will help give you some basic info when deciding what’s best for your plan.

And luckily, Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi both seem to agree about some basic money maneuvers when it comes to retirement. Their plans are something I’ve modeled my own after. So if these guys are on the same page, it’s likely that their advise should be taken into consideration. I’d also like to say that I’ll be meeting with a financial advisor once I hit some of my financial goals, to fine tune my plan. So let’s review what I’ve come up with.

Step One: 401k With a Match

The first step I took was to see if my employer had a 401k I could contribute to and if they had a match. Fortunately for me, my employer does have a 401k. Unfortunately, they do not offer a match. If my employer did offer a match, I would most definitely take advantage of this. Reason being, that any match they would give me would be the equivalent of getting free money. And it would just be silly for me to say no to free money. But since they do not offer anything in the way of a match, it’s on to step two for me.

Step Two: Roth IRA

The next step, and the one where I’ll be starting my savings journey is, opening a Roth IRA. You can open a Roth with just about any investment firm or bank. For example, Fidelity has a Roth account you can open with only a few pieces of identification and a bank account with which to start funding it.

As of 2022, you are only able to contribute $6,000 to your account annually and $7,000 if you’re over the age of fifty, incase you need to play catchup for starting late. For me, this means I can max out my Roth IRA contributions with $500 a month. And luckily for me, this fits just inside of my budget for my savings goals with a little extra to contribute to another account. So once I max out my Roth IRA, what’s my next step?

Step Three: 401k, Again?

After I contribute all I’m able to to my Roth, it’ll be time for me to revisit my 401k again. This is where I’ll be putting my overflow from my 15%+ savings goal that won’t fit in my Roth IRA after I’ve met my cap. Allowing my contribution to grow tax deferred is better than letting it sit in high interest savings like a money market account.

My money market account is solely for the purpose of housing my emergency fund and any long term savings goals I have. Such as saving a down payment for a house. And if you still need somewhere to stash your retirement savings after maxing out both a Roth and a 401k, congratulations! Because you are crushing it on your pay rate and planning!

Step Four: Social Security

The good news is, once you’ve established the above accounts, Roth IRA and 401k, by the time you’re ready to collect social security, you’ll be in pretty good shape. Social security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retired individuals. It’s supposed to be supplemental income to your other accounts. And there are benefits to taking out your social security at the later age of 70. So be mindful of how and when you decide to start collecting on all of these accounts. It will literally pay off in the long run.

Some numbers I’ve read are that social security is only supposed to account for 40%-60% of your income in retirement. This means you need a healthy amount in your retirement accounts by the time you start withdrawing from social security. So be prepared and make sure you’re spending time researching what you want your future to look like and how much it will cost to fund it.

Make a Plan and Stay Fluid

When it comes to planning for your future, it’s best to play it safe. Talk with people who know what the market looks like and who have been down this road before. I’ve been lucky enough to have some good role models in this area. One of the most valuable pieces of information being, if you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

There’s a lot of information out there and not all of it good. So be diligent and find some people you can trust to help guide you along the way. Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi are two great resources out there for handling money responsibly. Also, The Penny Hoarder and Nerd Wallet are two sites that have a wealth of general information about money matters and ones I visit when I have questions about how accounts, or things money related work.

Knowing we’re in a good place and that we’ll be able to meet our monetary needs for our future is important, and also an act of self-care. Money isn’t the most important thing in our lives, but not being responsible with it can do some serious harm. For example, I just celebrated my 42nd birthday and am $55k in debt. This can be a scary place to be if you don’t have a plan. Luckily for me, there are load of resources at my disposal. And just remember, when it feels like it’s impossible, or your feeling like giving up, know that it’s never too late to start. Just be patient. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m in a LOT of student loan debt. I had no idea what I was in for when I started taking out loans for the degree I would eventually get 7 to 9 years after I started. As Melba would say, “sometimes, it’s no easy”. But you’d also know that I’m following the Dave Ramsey method of going all out and paying off my debt with everything I can throw at it.

Fortunately for me, I’m in a situation which allows me to make large payments on my loans. This isn’t the case for everybody though, and I recognize how lucky I am. But I also took out a little more than 2x the average person takes out in student loan debt. No bueno. Also, my situation will be changing soon leaving me with a sizeable amount of debt still to repay with less income to allocate towards it. And with the Biden administration not making any progress towards some form of loan forgiveness, it seems like it’s going to be a long haul.

So with all these financial uncertainties floating around in my life, my question is, “will I be paying off my student loans when I’m ready to retire? ” The short answer, no. Hopefully I’ll have my loans paid in full in the next few years, but this was only possible due to my circumstances being favorable to me paying off debt. I could have easily found myself in over my head with just over 100k in debt, with no plan or financial resources to begin to dig myself out of the hole I dug for myself. Let alone the foresight to plan for my inevitable retirement.

So now that I’m in a place where I’m able to concentrate on my financial situation while making calculated decisions on how to proceed with the future of my finances, what am I going to do with the mess I’ve created? How do I move forward with what seems like an impossible task? Take a deep breathe, relax and take it one step at a time. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Let me show you what I’ve found.

Some Resources

I’ve just started reading “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by, Ramit Sethi on a rec from a friend of mine and it got me thinking about my situation. His book is a great place to start if you’re looking for a brass tacks way to understand your personal finances. Especially if you’re new to the world of investing and taking care of your future monetary needs. Some of the tools he introduced me to are:

Bankrate

This financial website has a lot of powerful tools you can use to get a handle on your personal finances. They have an array of calculators you can use to find out when you’ll be out of debt, like this student loan calculator. They also have an investment calculator as well. Helping you to more clearly map out your future by showing you how far your money will get you into retirement or while paying back high or low interest debt.

They also stay up to date with the latest news about the state of different aspects of finance. For example, they post weekly about the highlights of what’s changing with student loans. This way you can follow what’s happening with the department of education and if their decisions will effect you in anyway. All in all, a good tool to have that specifically deals with the subtle nuances of the financial world.

Doing Away With Fees

Ramit also goes into great detail about how to choose the right bank for your needs. The main takeaway for me was, pick a bank that’s not going to nickel and dime you to death. I remember having a bank account in my early or late twenties, where it seemed as though I was accruing an overdraft fee almost twice a week. And they really added up quickly at $30 a pop. This was mostly due to having overdraft protection, which I ended up using like a line of credit. No bueno.

Since then, and nearly a decade later I’ve finally got savvy enough to switch to a credit union that not only doesn’t have overdraft protection or fees, but reimburses me for ATM fees I incur when I use a foreign bank’s cash machine. No fees while banking is something that has been long overdue and I’m able to appreciate all the more for having to pay the exorbitant penalties I had in the past.

Credit Cards

When I took control of my finances for the first time about seven years ago and realized the mess I had made, I was more than a little concerned. I’ve said before on this blog, my credit card debt was over $20k. Add that to the rest of my loans and bills and I was just north of $100k. And what really blows my mind is, that I just stumbled my way into that massive hole. How was that even possible?

Regardless of how I got into debt, it was me who had to get myself out. I had four credit cards that I paid off in order of lowest to highest balance. This took a while. “The snowball method” was what I used and as Dave Ramsey teaches, gives you the emotional accomplishment of paying off a balance and the added bonus of adding that minimum payment from the last paid off card to the next one.

So when I started my debt free journey, I had four minimum payments to make while I was hammering away at the smallest debt. No matter which angle I look at it from, it took me a while to build momentum enough to start making real payments on my debt. I believe I started my debt snowball with my biggest payment being around $800 towards my smallest balance. Every time I paid off a card, I was able to free up the minimum payment of the card I just paid off, and dump it onto the next target.

I’m now making close to $2k payments on my loans every month. This is psychologically empowering, to see how far I’ve come from my max payment of $800. But I still have a ways to go. And now I have the past experience, as well as the habits that I’ve been building to consistently pay down my debt. And those habits will help me to save for my future once I’m done giving my money away to other people.

I now have one credit card that I treat like my debit card. I only spend what I know I can pay off at the end of each month, aka what I’ve budgeted for. I cash in on the rewards they give me for using their card and thanks to Ramit’s advice, set my card up to pay my statement balance automatically at the end of each month. So I don’t accrue any interest on purchases made. It’s been working well so far, but I’m ready to cancel my card if things change for the worse. I’m done paying high interest rates and would happily go to an all cash system.

The Plan

So now that I have my finances and spending habits under control, what’s the plan? Well, not a whole lot has changed. I’m still planning to pay off my loans first, throwing everything I have at it. Financially it makes the most sense for me. Until I’m down to zero owed, I’m still paying interest which would be about the same amount I’d be gaining on any investments I’d start. I may switch my loan to a bank with a lower interest rate, but for now, they’re in forbearance due to the COVID relief plan. So until May, 2022 I’m not paying any interest. Bonus!

B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

So if I’m paying my student loans aggressively, as was the plan since the start, I’ll be able to fund my retirement accounts more fully, sooner. With my current plan, I’ll have my loans paid off in about four years and I’ll be putting close to fourteen hundred towards it each month.

And as I’ve learned with my previous experience of paying down credit card debt, using the snowball method, I can then use those same tactics to start paying myself. First, setting up my emergency fund of six months expenses, and second, maxing out my ROTH IRA contribution and putting any overflow into my 401k through my employer. I’ve built the healthy habits paying off my debt, now it’s time to use those newly acquired skills to make sure I’m taken care of in the future.

And Don’t Forget to Budget!

Above I glanced over a few of the accounts I’ll be using to fund my future. But if you’re like me, and most Americans, you have no idea what these accounts are, or what it means to contribute to them. I’ll be covering some strategies and the accounts I’ll be using in my next post. But for now I’d like to focus on just how important it is to get on a budget and check in with it and how well you’re sticking to it at least once a week.

The $700 Whole Foods Run, AKA I’m going to the grocery, be right back

This was something I said a lot. There’s a Whole Foods about a mile from my house. So inevitably when I would run out of something, I would head down to Whole Foods to pick it up. But while I was there grabbing whatever ingredient I was low on, I would also use this opportunity to pick up a few other impulse items. Candles and essential oil were high on my list of impulse buys (I’m looking at a wooden box full of oils as I type).

Everything was going pretty smoothly until I realized one month, when I was adding up my grocery budget from the previous month’s expenses, that I had spent about $750 on groceries alone! But the real icing on the cake was that this was the second month in a row that I had gorged on my food budget. No bueno.

There were a few contributing factors as to why I was so over my food budget on a consistent basis. One of them being, going to Whole Foods three times a week to be sure. And I’d like to state that I have nothing against Whole Foods. Their products are high quality and I agree with their values and commitment to organic foods. But I can just as easily get most of the products at its more reasonable counter part for less cash. This just makes good financial sense.

Since my realization of how far I was straying from my food budget, I’ve made a few changes to my routines. First and probably most importantly, I’ve stopped frequenting Whole Foods until I’ve paid off my student loans. As I’ve said, I like the store, but as Dave Ramsey puts it, I’m broke. I can’t afford to shop there.

Second, I shop twice a week at the more reasonable grocery store in my neighborhood. Shout out to Market Basket, whose selection is amazing and matched only by their prices.

Third, I’ve upped my food budget. I was trying to live off of $200 dollars a month when I first wrote my budget. This was nearly impossible. Upping my spending in this category allowed me the freedom to buy what I needed without feeling defeated every time I would inevitably go overbudget.

I also check in with my budget once a week, usually more, to see how I’m progressing in the different areas of my spending. This is a step that is crucial in keeping yourself accountable for sticking to your budget. For instance, it’s the 9th of the month right now and I only have enough for one big shop left. So I know that I need to rely on the food I already have in my pantry to help stretch my grocery budget a little farther.

Wrapping Up By Checking In

These quick check ins are invaluable to helping you stay on track with your budget. So set a plan, follow through and check in frequently. Next week I’ll be covering some strategies to help you navigate the waters of retirement. Though I’m not a professional, these are just my opinions of what I’d like to do to plan for my retirement. It seems a little scary and overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics, you’ll see there isn’t much to it. And if you can develop some healthy savings habits, you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable retirement. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Paying your Bills: How Being Buried in Student Loans Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Financial Life

I’m in debt. I’ve talked about my debt before on this blog, but with the COVID-19 student loan forbearance ending at the end of this year, I’ve decided it was time to take the deeper dive into finding out what my best options are for repayment. And I was a little surprised with what I found out. I’ll be going over some of the specifics about my situation, but also what I’ve discovered along the way as I’m researching what my best options are. It seems like a lot, when you’re staring out the deep hole you’ve dug for yourself, but there’s hope. And it’s totally doable. You just need a plan, a positive attitude and a little help : )

What Did I Borrow?

If you’re like me, you borrowed a lot of money during the hight of the student loan lending frenzy. I ended up with close to 85k in student loan debt that I am in the middle of paying back. And I went to an in state school! I was completely clueless when it came to getting my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, or what I was even good at. I stopped going to highschool at age 16, but thought I was supposed to go to college to get a degree so I could get a job. So that’s what I did.

I started in community college when I was 19. This was a poor choice given the circumstances I was in. I was past the age of being a dependent on my caregivers and one of them told me to go to school, so that’s what I did. I failed by way of not going to classes, and subsequently was given the boot from my childhood home. I was 19, and as good as homeless. Years later, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out with no guidance and with such callous disregard, they responded with, “it’s what happened to me”.

So, with that in my rearview, I drifted around for the next five years in a haze of alcohol, seedy apartments and questionable life events (but some good stories, like the time “one” of the Allman Brothers was at my apartment telling stores), until a friend of mine got me a job at a residential program for at risk adolescent boys. This is when I decided to go back to school, only this time for social work. I wanted to help people who were in similar situations to my own. But I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to navigating the educational system. This is when I started taking out loans.

I would later switch my career focus two more times. First to architecture, but stopped that pursuit in it’s tracks when they said I would be working 80 hour plus weeks for the rest of my life. And second to journalism. This is where I received most of my education and also where I racked up most of my student loan debt.

And I did so with enthusiasm. I didn’t look for grants or scholarships, but this wasn’t surprising as I had no guidance, nor was I seeking any or knew how to ask. I was again adrift, in a financial world where I would soon be in way over my head.

It took me close to nine years to finish my degree. And when I was done, I had close to 85k in student loans and 20k in credit card debt. This was a tough pill to swallow. I fumbled my way into just over 100k in debt, with little to show for it and no idea how I was going to dig myself out of the hole I had worked so hard to get into.

Okay I Give, How do I Get Out Of This Mess?

This, in conjunction with a few other realizations, left me in one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. This was where I decided to make some needed changes in my habits and the ways I was living my life.

This is around the time I found Dave Ramsey. Here was finally where I found the guidances I needed to take hold of my financial house. This was also a difficult place to be, because growing up my caregivers were consumed with everything finance. Though they never imparted any wisdom to me about how to handle this aspect of my life. I had to stumbled upon Dave Ramsey in my mid thirties by chance before I really began to take charge of my finances.

This was demoralizing. Mostly because I didn’t feel as though I could ask anybody in my life for help or advice. Money was such a sore spot for my entire family growing up, that I felt as though it was off limits to talk about. I spent so much time not thinking about money due to the unspoken lessons I was taught, about how money was something to be feared, that I completely neglected my financial future. This was a difficult and terrifying realization to come to as well. I wrote about this some in my blog post about what to do when you’re starting to retire at forty.

But this is also where I learned that I needed to take the reigns for myself. Because I was the only one in control of my future. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask for help when necessary. Which is and was the case considering how little I knew/know about how to handle finances. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I had to do something about my future, regardless of how I had been neglected by my caregivers.

As I said above, I started when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, but it took discipline and patience to follow through with the plan. I had been so used to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that when it came time to exercise self control, I was at a complete loss. But there were a few things that helped to fortify my self-restraint.

How Being Vegan, Running, Meditation and Yoga Helped Me Pay My Debt Faster

Of all the changes I made in my life and my habits, going vegan was probably the most effective. I needed to learn how to cook using different ingredients while also making substitutions for staples I was in the habit of using when I ate animal products.

I also had to batch cook for the weeks ahead due to my busy schedule. This taught me how to put a shopping list together by choosing recipes and making a list by shopping from my pantry first. This was just another way to budget, only using food instead of money. But also if I didn’t cook, I had to eat pasta with Earth balance for dinner. I didn’t always want to cook, but I needed to eat, so I did.

Running was another great way to cultivate a sense of discipline. Throwing shoes on and pounding out the miles week after week helped me to build a resilience while also helping me to find a rhythm.

For me, when running mid level milage, the first few miles of a run are the most difficult. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning. You’re a little tired, it takes some time to get your muscles warmed up and head around what your body’s doing. But once you’ve settled into the motion and movements of your body, the miles start to drop away with an ease that’s hard to describe.

It’s similar to when you’re paying off debt. The first few months take some adjusting to. But once you find your rhythm, and recognize that the discomfort of your sacrifices to your new budget won’t last forever, you find that same rhythm.

Meditation and Yoga help in sort of the same ways but from different perspectives or directions. With yoga, learning to be still when you are in the midst of a difficult pose and sensation. And meditation when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, being still and present with what’s difficult builds resilience.

This is the same sort of resilience you need when you’re paying down a sizeable debt. For me it was important to sit with the discomfort of just how much money I owed. About 85k total in student loans alone. If that doesn’t put a seed of fear in your belly you’re either wealthy or in shock. Learning to sit and stay with what’s difficult, while coming up with and exciting a plan is what is most important when faced with a challenge of this size. Now let’s focus on some of the specifics of my loans and what I’ve found to be most useful.

Logistics of Paying Off Bigger Numbers

I have federal loans but when I first took out my loans I had both federal and private. About 9k in private and 76k in federal. I don’t remember exactly what the beginnings of my loan repayments looked like. I was in and out of school for 9 years, so my actual repayment date didn’t start until my mid-thirties. And probably for the best, I wasn’t in the habit of paying my bills regularly or at all before then.

Most of my bills I defaulted on with most likely the intention of never repaying them at all. But I had to start somewhere, and where I started was in my mid-thirties, under a pile of debt. I used the snowball method to start. This basically means paying the minimums on all your debt, but using all other available income to pay off your smallest debt first. For me this was all my credit cards that totaled 2-5k small debts. All together around 14k. Then it was on to my private student loans of about 9k total.

Some systems suggest you pay the highest interest rate percent first. Luckily my credit cards were all high interest and my loans much lower. So when I got to my private student loan, with about a 7% interest rate and my federal at a 6%, I put all available funds towards the private. My federal loans were in deferment, so I didn’t have to start paying them back until later. And with my private loans in the past, I could finally focus on the big one. My federal loans.

When I started paying off these loans, they were in deferment. This means that you don’t have to make any payments on your loan for a specific amount of time for different circumstances. I believe the time available for deferment is 3 years, but check with your lender to make certain yours aren’t different. But what I hadn’t realized was that when my bill came due, I would be making close to 1k payments monthly. I was not making much at the time and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford these payments. So I defaulted to my default. I planned on defaulting on my loans because it just seemed like too much.

But after I had done all the difficult work of paying off my other loans, I realized I didn’t want to head down the same road I had been traveling for so long. I needed to take control of my financses for my future. So I began looking into what my options were for paying down my student loans.

I Have a Plan… Sort of. Now What?

My plan was to just throw money at my debt until it started to dwindle. But was that really my best option? As it turned out, yes. As we all know, COVID hit about a year and a half ago and since then there have been a lot of layoffs. As a way to ease some of the financial burden of student loan borrowers, the government put all loans on deferment without accrued interest. This has been a Godsend for those laid-off, but for folks like me, making payments interest free has been game changing. With all of my payments going towards principle, my debt is shrinking faster than expected. I’ve paid off close to 25k in principle since the COVID-19 forbearance began.

But I was still concerned with the amount of interest I was being charged. 6% seemed like a high number for such a large loan. So I started looking at private loans to see if I could get a better rate. Turns out, I can. My rate would drop from 6% on my federal loans to almost 3% in a private one. Seems like a good deal. But when I ran the numbers, this only decreased my overall amount owed in interest by 1k over the life of the loan. Not even half a months payment. So I decided to stay in the loan with the higher interest rate.

I should also mention that I plan on paying my loan off in two years, so the interest doesn’t make that much of an impact. But if I choose a more traditional route, of say paying over ten years, I would be accruing up to 17k in interest alone. Then I would look into a loan with a lower rate. But another aspect to consider when thinking about switching lenders is, the benefits of federal loans far out weighs those of their private counterparts.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, federal loans went into a period of deferment. Something that private loans did not do. Also, if you fail to pay a federal loan on time, you have considerably more time before your loans go into default. I’ve read up to 240 days, and you still have time to pay and be in good standing with your loan. With private lenders, it’s only 30 days and that’s it, default. You also have the option, with federal loans, to pay in an income driven repayment plan. This adjusts your payment to a percentage of you discretionary income. This is not an option with private loans.

Also, you are able to consolidate your loans with a federal lender. This takes all the small loans you’ve taken out each semester and consolidated them into one loan with one payment.

With so many benefits attached to holding loans with the fed., it just didn’t make sense to switch to a private lender. I may be paying 1k more over the life of the loan than if I was with a lower interest, private loan, but peace of mind with the terms of my loan is worth more to me that a little under half a months loan payment. And when I’m doubt, ask.

If you have questions about your loan, contact you bank. Hey, even ask if they’ll lower your interest rate. Through my lender, if you’re enrolled in auto payments, they reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent.

And if you’re like me, you like to go hard. For me it’s do as much as humanly possible to pay off my loan in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t forget to practice a little self-care along the way. For me it’s a foot soak once and a while and a ten-pack at my local yoga studio for 175$. It’s good and healthy to take tests along the way. The road can be hard and long, don’t forget to take care of yourself. So incase no one told you, it’s okay to take a break every now and again : )

I hope this has helped in some way. Student loans can be daunting to take in, especially all at once. But don’t be deterred! Talk to your lender often and whenever you have a question, regardless of how silly it seems. They want you to be successful. So, if you have a ton of student loan debt, come up with a plan and have patients. You’ll get out of it, it just takes a little resilience. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “The Big IOU” by brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’m 40, In Debt, and Haven’t Saved for Retirement: What to do When It Feels too Late

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been paying down some debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties in the form of credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards, and have been going pretty hard on my student loans. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay down my debt, and have been really excited with the results. Also, as a side note, these are only my experiences in researching what I need to do to retire. I am in no way a specialist in the financial field so this should only be taken as a rough guide to start asking questions. Speaking with a qualified financial advisor is the best way to get sound financial advise. So don’t take this article as the final word on investing.

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget, while also learning how to care for my financial needs. I have some money in savings for the first time in my life and am making some serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited making so much progress on paying down my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement a little bit later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like for sure. So I started doing some research on the subject, but I first had to look at what got me here in the first place.

Planning for the Future by Looking at the Past

When I first got into debt, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances. Much in the same ways I knew not how to care and tend to my nutritional needs, finance was another area in which I was illiterate. I was living paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life, and as soon as I was able to borrow money, I jumped at the chance. Looking back now, I’m not sure what the draw was. I was constantly in debt, all my credit cards were maxed out and I was missing payments and paying hefty fees for it.

But there was something about it that had me hooked. I was buying things I didn’t need, and using somebody else’s money to do it. And when it came time to pay for college, I treated student loans much in the same way I was treating my credit cards. They offered me the maximum payout amount, and I took it each time. I didn’t realize that I could accept only what I needed from the loans, and not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chose differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could almost have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when it came time to retire. So when I finally took financial responsibility for my life for the first time in my early thirties, the outlook for my future was sobering.

I’m Paying Down My Debt Now, But What Do I Do About My Future?

I’m about a little less than halfway through my debt currently, and the idea of being forty, and just beginning to think about retirement, almost had me in panic mode. But here is where it is important to stay in control of your emotional world, and know that just because you’re starting late, doesn’t mean that you are destined to be poor in your old age. You have options.

The first thing I did was to come up with a date that I would be debt free. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers. Surprises will come up, and you will be met with setbacks. But finding your debt free date not only gives you a tangible goal to achieve, but also helps to keep you accountable for your progress. For me, I had a few setbacks. I had to buy a new car, and my pay fluctuated a few times when I changed jobs.

But each time a new challenge arose, I met it by reassessing where I was, what my new circumstances were, and adjusted from there. The one thing that kept me on track was staying persistent. And the closer I came to paying down my high interest debt, the closer I’ve come to saving for my retirement. This is one of the main takeaways of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. The less high interest debt you have, the more prepared you will be for saving for your retirement.

So when you’re finished paying interest on top of the money you owe, you’ll be able to save more money, and invest more later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay down your high interest debt first, to free up your capital for your future. So in a way, paying down debt is kind of like investing in your future in that you will be the beneficiary of your hard work, not a credit card company or bank.

I’ve Paid Down My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid down your debt, take a deep breath, and appreciate what you’ve just achieved for yourself and your future. This is a huge step in reaching your financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me, especially if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of your working life as I had. It’s also part of the Ramsey baby steps to have a thousand dollar emergency fund while you’re paying down your debt. Just in case something comes up that you haven’t planned for. It’s not much, but when you’re 95k in debt like I was, and you suddenly get hit with a five hundred dollar medical bill and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that emergency fund is the difference between talking the hit in your budget somewhere else and feeling secure in knowing you can take care of the small problems that come up along the way. Life happens, best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now it’s time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The difference between the two accounts are, traditional IRAs are taxed when you take your money out as opposed to Roths, where you are taxed when you put your money in.

Roths vs Traditional IRAs
Roths

From what research I’ve done, an important aspect of saving for retirement is the tax advantage you get when you decide to take your money out. If you know you are going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, for example say you will have a lot of passive income such as rental properties in retirement, something I’ll be going over later in this article, you may want to be taxed when you put your money into the account. Using a Roth IRA, you will have been taxed when you’re rate was lower, saving you money by paying less in taxes.

Traditional

But if you plan on being in a lower income bracket when you retire, a traditional IRA may be the way to go. This way you’re contribution is taxed when you receive your payments. This also has the advantage of letting your money grow tax free and with compounded interest. So you’ll earn more with your investments. Whichever path you choose, it’s best to have a plan for what your life may look like when you start pulling money out in retirement.

Savings Vehicles

How much should we contribute to our funds, once we set them up? Conventional wisdom suggests that we sock away between 15 and 20 percent of our income a year. So depending on what you are making and your savings vehicle, you may have to spread your savings out, because you are only able to contribute so much to a traditional or Roth IRA.

As of 2021, the limits are 6,000$ for each fund and 7,000$ for those over 50 years of age. And with 6,000$ a year, if you start at age 40, that could translate to a little less that 475,000$ by age 65. That is a huge improvement over receiving social security alone. For a more indepth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on investopedia that covers the essentials.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. This could be in funds, such as mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available but worth looking into.

Mutual and Money Market Funds

These types of funds are considered low risk investments. Mutual funds are a group of securities that are managed by investor professionals. They consist of things such as, stocks, bonds and securities. This vehicle is made possible for the individual by pooling together funds from many investors. As I said above, they are considered low risk so they are a great way to pad your retirement if you have more than the maximum IRA contribution to squirrel away.

Money market funds are investments in low risk security funds. So they don’t have the highest percent interest payout, but they are solid supplements to your retirement fund. They are however not backed by the FDIC so it’s best to research funds with a history of promising returns. Slow and steady is the end goal for mutual funds.

Real-Estate

There are a few ways to invest in real-estate. One way is by flipping homes as seen by Chip and Joanna Gains on “Fixer Upper”. But another way, and the one I’ll be talking about is, by buying rental properties. With rental properties, you’re able to purchase a home or apartment building and rent out the units. The idea is to have the rent paid by your tenants, used to pay off the mortgage. Then once you’ve paid for you property in full, the rent becomes income. If you’re able to pay off the mortgage before you collect your IRA, you’ll have a consistent stream of income coming in after you finish with your career.

There is a lot to consider though, when taking on a rental property. You’re responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the property. For finding tenants to occupying the building and taking care of any issues that may arise. It can be a large responsibility so it’s worth considering how much time you have to invest in this strategy. But if done right, could definitely be beneficial during your retirement years.

Physicals

What I mean by physicals is, gold, silver, copper or platinum. My father was in the jewelry and coin industry, so this is something I’ve heard a lot about growing up. It can be daunting, looking into investing in something like gold. The average price per ounce of gold, as of this article’s publishing is, around 1,900$ an ounce. With bullion being sold most commonly in ten ounce bars, according to Forbes Adviser, this can end up becoming a costly investment.

Luckily, there are some more accessible ways to invest in gold. Gold coins are one way to squirrel some money away for retirement. The American gold eagle is sold as a half ounce to an ounce, and is sold at market value. This is a great way to put up 1,000$ at a time, while also getting you closer to your retirement goals. It’s also worth noting that if you spend over a thousand in physicals, the purchase is tax exempt. So an ounce of gold is the cheapest way to buy into this market.

Here are only a few options if you’re looking into retirement a little late in the game. It may take some time and planning, but it will literally pay off in and for your future. So don’t panic and don’t give up hope. The way to retirement may seem difficult now. But with some persistence, your efforts will carry you comfortably into your golden years. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Retirement Jar” by aag_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What Happens When You Don’t Know How To Live Your Own Life: Five Areas That Need Our Attention; 1 Budgeting

I have been thinking about mending things with my caregivers recently and in an attempt to understand the scope of what was troubling me with our relationship while I was growing up and beyond, I went over the areas in my life that I feel have been neglected by; first my caregivers, and then by me. It was this realization, that I had been carrying the legacy of neglect on for far too long, that brought me to the point of wanting to reconcile. I was floored.

The amount of neglect I endured is somewhat staggering. As I tried to organize the areas of my life that were either neglected or I just didn’t know needed attention, I felt a sense of taking charge of my life. There are many places that need tending to, to be sure, but organizing these areas feels somehow like a foothold in what seems like a mass of an insurmountable pile of, for lack of a better term, a life that needs to be lived. And what makes me even more optimistic, is that I’ve already begun the work. A lot of which has been written in the pages of this blog.

In the next few posts, I’ll be going over the areas of focus I’ve been attending to in my life as a form of reparenting what was never taught to me, or what I was too angry or disconnected to want to learn. The areas I’ll be going over will be; budgeting and finance, nutrition and health/exercise, school and career focus, healthy relationships romantic and friendships, and self-care. I’ll be covering each topic in a separate post, and how they are integral to helping us move past the wrongs done to us in our pasts. By being better versions of ourselves, we can learn to forgive and heal from the wrongs done to us so we can move on with our lives. Let’s start with budgeting and finance.

I’ve spoke about Dave Ramsey before on this blog. He’s a financier who made a bunch of money buying property and then went bankrupt when the housing market crashed in the late 2000’s. He helps people get out of debt, and that was definitely something I had found myself in. I had taken out a bunch of credit cards in my early twenties, just to have credit! I didn’t have a plan for the money I was borrowing, I just kept on borrowing until I maxed out all my cards. It was not a healthy place to be.

It took me almost a decade to pay back the debt I ran up. I don’t even like to think about the amount of interest I paid on what I owed. But what was most concerning about what I was doing was, I was borrowing money because it’s what was modeled for me. I watched my caregivers shop endlessly for stuff they didn’t need, so I did what they did. And ran up a sizable bill doing so. I just didn’t know any better. This is the sad truth.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I took out student loans at the height of the student loan lending frenzy! Not to mention I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree once I got it. I was just getting it to get it. So by the time I was in my early thirties, I was close to a hundred k in debt and with nothing to show for it. This was sobering.

Here was the point where I made the decision to dig myself out of the hole I had dug. It was not easy. This also was the place where I found Dave Ramsey and began my debt free journey.

I began with a written budget. This was kind of a shock. Mostly because I had no idea where my money was going. I think the biggest surprise was finding out that I was regularly spending upwards to six hundred dollars a month on food! And that was just for one person! Things definitely needed to change and they needed changing fast.

I started with all the sectors of my personal spending. Areas such as rent, food and phone were no brainers. But other areas too such as; self care, gifts and donations, food and friends, areas that have gone neglected in my life for far too long. I was finally shedding some light on these places that so needed my love and attention. This is how I found out how much I was spending and on what and where. I realized I needed to set more structured boundaries around my financial life.

While I was setting my budget, I also realized I had watched one of my caregivers faithfully going over the spending for the household, sitting at the kitchen table. This was a ritual they did often, though sadly, one they never passed on to me. I realized that these were some of the missed teachable moments that I just never received. These were the lessons that my caregivers should have been pulling me aside to teach me while they were doing them. And I realized this is how we pass on the knowledge of what we know to those who are in our care.

And I was sad. This was no easy realization. I had spent so much of my time seeking approval from just about anywhere, but mostly my caregivers, by doing irresponsible things, that when I stopped to realize what I was missing out on, in short, the basic skills I would need to run my life, I realized I had missed out on the building blocks of what it means to be family. I was missing the most fundamental experiences of being part of something loving and functional.

So it wasn’t only the life skill I was missing out on, but the parts of what it means to be a family. What it means to take care of one another. The difference between caretaking and caregiving. The first being a way to do for someone, instead of showing someone how to do for themselves. I would later find out that none of my caregivers had racked up debt in the same way I had. They had been very disciplined in regards to their spending habits.

This made my journey sting a little bit more. Had I known what my caregivers had known, I would have been in a far better financial situation. But lessons learned the hard way tend to stick better. I’ve learned how to manage and pay down large sums of debt. How to build an emergency fund for unforseen circumstances. But also, and most importantly, how to be consistent in my spending and saving habits. By keeping track of what I’ve spent, and setting a specific amount for each monthly cycle. This allows me to set financial goals, such as paying off my credit card debt, and achieve them in a time frame I’ve set for myself.

There were some setbacks for me along the way, but I was still able to achieve my goal over the course of the time I planned for myself. This gave me the feeling of agency over my financial situation. Knowing I could make a plan and follow through felt strange but satisfying. Strange in that this was something that was so foreign to me because, well because no one ever followed through with anything they ever showed me.

I was left to my own devices by the time I was nine years old. Direction, goal setting and being shown how to be persistent were not values and skills I was taught how to pursue. But by the same set of circumstances, it made me being able to set these goals for myself, the learning how to pay down a large sum of debt and following through to completion, on my own, so much more gratifying. It feels as though I really earned what I had taught myself, lending even more to my sense of accomplishment.

The way I got there was fairly straightforward. As I said above, I followed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to help me pay down my debt. I’m currently still paying off student loan debt, but am on track to finish with my loans just inside of two years. For a link to Dave Ramsey’s site, head on over to my Community Page.

The plan was to pay off my credit cards one at a time, starting with the card that had the lowest balance first, then working my way up to the largest. I could then take the minimum payments from the cards I had paid off, and apply them to the next card. The result being a snowball effect, due to with each card paid off, I would then have the minimum payment from the previous card to put towards my debt. It was satisfying to not only watch my debt reduce, but at the same time, watch the amount of money I was freeing up to pay off my debt, increase dramatically.

By the time I paid of my credit cards and was on to my student loans, I was putting a sizeable amount of money towards it each pay period. And this was heartening, because this was the amount of money that I will be later saving and putting towards other financial goals. Instead of paying off a creditor that has already leveraged an unreasonable amount of interest from my financial unknowing.

After my debt is paid down, the next step is to create an emergency fund of at least six month’s expenses. Dave suggests between three and six months expenses, but I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for far too long. There were many a time where I was uncertain if I was going to make rent. I’ve been very lucky in that regard, and I don’t want to tempt fate by being underprepared. I have a friend who is going a full year’s worth of expenses. When it comes to being financially stable, go with what feels right.

This will look a little different for everybody. For me it’s six months, my friend twelve. The most important aspect of setting an emergency fund is how comfortable are you with the number you’ve decided on. Don’t do it just because someone else told you you should, or because someone told you this was the best way to go about it. Do it because it makes you feel comfortable with your financial situation.

And if you’re with a partner trying to hash out a number, make sure you both agree at the end of the talk, which number feels right for the both of you. This is how we begin to open those lines of communication and start to feel more connected with one another. This is precisely where a younger me would have wanted to jump into the conversation about finding the place that makes you feel safest in your financial situation. To know how to best care for and attune to this need.

When I was married, there was not a lot of communication, and especially around money. I think we were both coming from inexperienced places. I know I was. I came from the understanding that no one ever talked about money, ever. This was unhealthy and one of the reasons I had no idea what to do when it came time for me to take the reigns of my own financial life. My ex was, I think in the same boat as I was, only I don’t know because we never talked about it. This should have been a warning sign to me. But I was in a place of numb and muted emotions, trying just to survive the day to day. Any ideas of planning for the future seemed so far off it may well have been in another life’s time. But the lessons I’ve learned from this situation was, talk early on, and talk often.

And once you’re finished setting up your emergency fund, it’s time to start saving for your future. This comes in the form of some type of retirement fund. Conventional wisdom suggests to open a Roth IRA. This is an individual retirement account, where the money you put in gets taxed when you put it into the account. So when you are ready to make withdrawals, the money you take out is tax free. There is a cap you can put into a Roth IRA, and that’s 6,000$ a year and up to 7,000$ a year after you’re 50th birthday.

Of course, each individual’s situation is going to be different. So it’s best to find an advisor that can guide you through the process of planning for your retirement. This is definitely not the time and place to wing it! This brings up another lesson that was not taught to me when I was younger, which has gotten me in trouble time and time again. If you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

This seems like such a no brainer, but the amount of time I’ve spent making poor decisions because I thought I’d look either weak or stupid if I asked for help makes me a little uneasy to think about now. So incase you haven’t heard it before, or was in the same boat I was, let me tell you, it’s okay not to know. Find the people who do know, and make them a part of your support network. And don’t be afraid to ask around either. I have a friend who works in the financial industry, and they were able to steer me in the direction of someone who could explain to me what it would take, and look like to take hold of my financial future. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would have found someone, but I feel more connected and sure about the choice I made knowing that I’ve been aided in my search by a trusted friend.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, after you hammer out all the basics of how you are going to survive, paying off the debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, then you can actually enjoy your money in the here and now. It’s sometimes strange for me to think about. A time after my debt, because I’ve been in debt for so long. But the entire reason we’re working to pay off our debt and plan for the future is because we want a future worth planning for.

For me, I’ve been living as barebones as possible while I’m paying off my debt. I don’t buy too many things just for myself unless I need them. For example, I think the things I’ve bought for myself most recently have been iced teas in the mornings where I need an extra boost of energy and a pair of running shoes I desperately needed. Asides from those things, I’ve been funneling all available funds to my debt.

I’ve been living like this for so long that it seems just the norm to not splurge on anything other than a coffee here and there or a new pair of shoes. And this can get a little depressing, I won’t lie to you. But I have started a list of things I want when I no longer have debt. This list, in and of itself is something of a motivator for me. Looking at all the things I’ll be able to indulge in when I’m financially stable enough not to worry is something I’m looking forward to considerably.

For example, on my list are a variety of teas I enjoy from a seller who has an exceptional variety. Knowing I’ll be looking forward to my morning cup of jasmine green tea will be so much sweeter when it’s brewed from a tea I know I love.

I also plan on buying spices from an organic spice company I have used in the past and love their product. Their quality is excellent and knowing that I’ll have a freshly rotated stock of all the spices I use brings me a sense of joy. Knowing my meals will be that much more flavorful is another motivator to help me achieve my financial goals.

I’m also planning a trip to celebrate my debt free journey, to take some much needed rest after my marathon race to finish my goals. And I will feel so much more at ease knowing I’m not living on borrowed money. Knowing I’ve taken the time to take care of my financial needs and will be able to enjoy the benefits that come with a well planned for financial future.

So if you’ve left the financial sector of your life neglected for far too long, maybe it’s time to take another look at where you are, and where you’re headed. Creating some much needed boundaries around spending can be an eye opening and fruitful experience. If this is your first thought on the subject, I definitely suggest talking with someone who can guide you on a successful path towards your financial future.

And if you, like me, have found yourself in the depths of what seems like an unfathomable amount of debt, it is never too late to start digging yourself out. As I’ve said above, head over to my Community Page and take a look at the work Dave Ramsey is doing with helping to get people out of debt. Also Mint, another site on the Community Page, is a powerful tool in helping to get control over your spending and finances. Check out community sites such as Reddit, personal finance. There are loads of people with questions that are crowdsourcing answers from people who have been there before. And remember, you’re not alone. It is difficult and scary at times, looking at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. But it is totally possible and doable to get ourselves out. Good luck, and peace, thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “I’m So Confused!” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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