May 16: Is the “new normal” retiring with debt?

May 16, 2024

There was a time when taking debt into retirement was considered an absolute no-no. But in these days of higher living costs, less helpful interest rates, and the many temptations of debt, is owing money when you retire now the norm?

Save with SPP took a look at this topic, which is one that we are well acquainted with on a personal basis!

Well-known personal finance writer Rob Carrick recently covered this topic in The Globe and Mail. He cites figures from insolvency expert Scott Terrio that show that, according to the most recent data, “42 per cent of senior households had debt…. compared to 27 per cent in 1999. Vehicle debt held by seniors nearly tripled between 2005 and 2019, while mortgage debt quadrupled.”

(Save with SPP talked with Scott Terrio a little while ago on the topic of retiring with debt. Here’s a link to that article: Debt can squeeze the spending power of seniors: Scott Terrio | Save with SPP)

Carrick suggests that younger people have a conversation with their parents about debt.

“Parents helping their adult children financially is the new normal in family life. It’s less common for those kids to help their parents, but high debt levels among seniors suggest this could change. Boomers and Gen Xers, do you know how well set up your parents are in their retirement or pre-retirement years,” he asks.

An article in Forbes agrees that “retiring with debt is often considered a cardinal financial sin: Every dollar you owe reduces your income in retirement, after all.”

However, the article warns, trying to get out of debt before you retire might also cost you. Huh? “Blindly prioritizing debt reduction before retirement savings, particularly for low-interest debt, could shortchange your nest egg,” the writers at Forbes warn.

On the other hand, not prioritizing debt has consequences as well, the article continues.

Currently, the article notes, credit card interest rates are well over 20 per cent. “Paying interest rates this high would hamstring your finances at any stage of life, let alone when you’re living on a fixed income in retirement. That means you need to prioritize paying down as much high-interest debt as possible before you stop working—and then keep from accruing any new credit card debt.”

The folks over at GoBankingRates say debt is manageable for retirees, but it’s no picnic.

“Yes, you can retire with debt, but it may impact the quality of your retirement. Having debt, especially high-interest debt, can strain your retirement savings and limit your financial freedom. It’s important to assess the type and amount of debt you have and create a plan to manage it effectively,” their article notes.

The article recommends trying to “minimize or clear your debts before retiring.” You might need to think harder about when you want to retire, boost your savings, or even downsize as strategies to cope with debt, the article continues.

“Focusing on high-interest debts, like credit card balances, should be a priority. Developing a comprehensive plan on how to get out of debt before retirement can significantly ease your financial burden during your later years,” the article notes.

MoneySense provides some good news on this topic, noting that some of your debt will eventually get paid off – and that when that happens, your retirement spending power gets a boost.

“If you only have a small mortgage and a few years of payments remaining, your income requirements may be on the verge of a big decrease. I’ve seen a lot of retirees with generous DB pensions work hard to pay off debt, retire, and suddenly find they’re flush with cash flow because their $500, $1,000, or $2,000 monthly mortgage payment disappears,” MoneySense reports.

There are several themes here to think about – retirement with debt is not seen as ideal. But neither is not saving for retirement in order to pay off debt. If you do bring debt with you on the retirement voyage, each time you pay something off you’ll have better cash flow.

All the articles suggested consulting a financial professional to help map your personal route – that’s always good advice.

If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, or want to augment your savings, have a look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. With SPP, you can consolidate little bits of savings in various RRSPs into one place, and also make regular contributions. SPP will grow your investments in a low-cost, professionally managed, pooled fund, and when it’s time to collect, your options include monthly annuity payments for life or the flexible Variable Benefit option.

Check out SPP today!

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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