Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement (Which One Is Better?)

By Aaron Sarentino Reviewed by Nima Vahdat Updated Apr 29, 2024
Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement (Which One Is Better?)

Both paying off debt and saving for retirement are important financial goals, and which one you focus on is an important personal decision.

One of the most common fears retirees (or those approaching retirement) have is running out of money. It’s a legitimate concern, considering that the estimated average Social Security benefit for retired workers in 2024 is only $1,907 per month according to the Social Security Administration.

With that in mind, it’s essential to plan and save for your golden years. But how can one save for retirement while still paying off debt? And should one prioritize paying off debt over saving for retirement, or vice versa?

The answer to this question is not a simple one-size-fits-all solution. 

It depends on several factors such as your financial situation, the type of debt you have, and your current stage in life. Let’s consider some scenarios to help you decide whether paying off debt or saving for retirement should be your priority.


  • Both paying off debt and saving for retirement are critical financial goals.
  • Whether you should prioritize one over the other depends on your individual financial situation.
  • Consider interest rates of your debt and expected rate of return on your investments when making a decision.
  • It’s essential to have a balance between paying off debt and saving for retirement.

Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement? (A Case-By-Case Basis)

There is no definitive answer to this question because what works for someone else may not work for you. We’ll dive into different scenarios to help you explore which option is best for you.

Scenario 1: High-interest Debt vs. Low-income Stage in Life

If you have high-interest debt (such as credit card debt) and are at a low-income stage in your life (such as just starting your career), it may be wise to prioritize paying off debt. 

High-interest debt can quickly accumulate and become unmanageable, making it difficult to save for retirement later on. 

By focusing on paying off your debt first, you can free up more money to save for retirement once you have a higher income. The debt avalanche method is a popular approach that allows you to do this. 

Scenario 2: Low-interest Debt vs. Retirement Age Approaching

If you have low-interest debt (such as a mortgage or student loan) and are approaching retirement age, it may be better to prioritize saving for retirement. 

In this scenario, the potential growth of your savings in a retirement account may outweigh the cost of interest on your debt. 

Additionally, if you plan to retire soon, paying off debt may not have a significant impact on your overall financial situation.

Scenario 3: Moderate Debt vs. Comfortable Savings

If you have moderate levels of debt (such as a car loan) and already have comfortable savings for retirement, it’s important to strike a balance between paying off debt and saving for retirement. 

In this scenario, you may want to focus on paying off your debt while still contributing to your retirement savings. This way, you can work towards being debt-free while also ensuring a comfortable retirement.

Other Factors To Consider In The Debate To Pay Off Debt Or Save

Aside from the scenarios mentioned above, there are other factors that can influence whether you should pay off debt or save for retirement. These include…

Your Personal Preference: Some people may feel more at ease knowing they have little to no debt, while others may prioritize having a larger retirement nest egg.

Interest Rates: It’s important to consider the interest rates on your debt and the potential return on your investments. If the interest rate on your debt is higher than what you can earn in a retirement account, it may be better to focus on paying off the debt.

Employer Matching: If your employer offers a matching contribution to your retirement account, it’s important to take advantage of this benefit. This essentially means free money towards your retirement savings, which can outweigh the cost of interest on low-interest debt. Some people also consider using their 401k to pay off debt, which may make good sense for some, but not others. 

Your Overall Financial Picture: It’s crucial to assess your overall financial situation and create a plan that works best for you. This may involve consulting a financial advisor to help determine the best course of action.

Understanding Interest’s Compounding Effects

To best understand the question, “Should I pay off debt or save for retirement?” It’s essential to understand the concept of compounding effects. 

Compound interest is when the interest you earn on your money also earns interest. This can work for you (when investing) or against you (when repaying debt).

The earlier you start saving for retirement, the greater your returns will be over time due to compounding effects. 

However, high-interest debt can quickly compound and become unmanageable if not paid off promptly. Compound interest is a double-edged sword. It can work for you or against you.

With this in mind, it’s important to carefully consider your financial situation and priorities when making a decision. If debt bothers you (as it should), then paying it off first may provide peace of mind and allow you to focus on saving for retirement without the added stress of debt. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of time and invest a small amount for retirement as well.

Finding A Balance

Ultimately, the best approach may be to find a balance between paying off debt and saving for retirement. 

Prioritizing high-interest debt while still making smaller contributions to a retirement account can help you make progress in both areas. It’s all about finding a strategy that works for your specific financial situation and goals.

For example, if you have a substantial amount of high-interest debt, it may be wise to focus 80% of your efforts on paying it off and 20% on saving for retirement. Once the debt is paid off, you can redirect that 80% towards retirement savings and potentially accelerate your progress.

The key is to find a balance in your budget so that debt doesn’t accumulate and to consistently contribute to your retirement savings. This way, you can avoid the negative impacts of compound interest on debt while also taking advantage of its benefits in your investments. 

Don’t put all your focus on one area and neglect the other, as both are important for your long-term financial stability.

The 80/20 strategy is just an example, and it’s important to find what works best for you. It can be helpful to speak with a financial advisor or do further research to determine the best approach for your personal situation.

At Americor, we understand the importance of managing your finances wisely. 

As America’s trusted source for debt relief solutions, we aim to empower you with financial knowledge that can lead to informed decisions, whether it’s about savings, investments, or managing debt.

If your debt has become unmanageable and you have difficulty making your debt payments each month, then you should consider a free consultation call with one of our certified Debt Consultants, who can provide personalized advice tailored to your specific needs.

By taking proactive steps today, you can put an end to your financial stress and work towards a brighter financial future. 

Remember, there is always hope for debt relief, and our team of experienced professionals are ready to guide you on your journey to regaining control of your finances.

For more information on Americor’s debt relief services, contact us today to see how we can help you eliminate your debts, and get on the fast-track to becoming completely debt-free!


Aaron Sarentino

Aaron oversees executive, administrative and management functions for the firm. Aaron has a Bachelors in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. He is responsible for helping customers at every stage of the debt settlement process and focused on building loyalty to ensure long-term client retention by addressing customer issues. Aaron plays a pivotal role in the upliftment of the Americor team to ensure the best possible customer experience for clients.