Outstanding debts can inflict severe dents in even the best retirement plans which have been carefully crafted over a lifetime. Incurring a debt is seemingly unavoidable in the modern age, as a result of both higher cost of living and consumerism.
With each passing year, more and more Singaporeans are diving into the debt pool as they struggle to cover their daily expenses and make ends meet. As of December 2016, the average Singaporean household incurs an estimated $55,000 of debt, which is a 3% increase over 2015. Easily 75% of this household debt stems from unresolved mortgage loans. Some of this unsettled debt may even force retirees to expend their assets to cover their debt rather than passing it on to their beneficiaries.
However, there are several ways to effectively settle outstanding debts to ensure it doesn’t put a crimp on some of those best retirement plans you’ve come up with.
1. Establish a Budget and Track It
Creating a proper budget is a great way to analyse and plan finances. By allocating a set amount of money towards a specific expense per month, the amount of expenses can be monitored more stringently and precautionary steps can be swiftly undertaken if the expenses overshoot the stipulated budget. It is only through proper budgeting can individuals or households create the necessary surpluses to pay off any existing debts.
Certain financial tools, such as Excel spreadsheets or even Mint.com, are particularly useful in keeping track of a personal or household budget.
The main problem for an individual who does not keep track of his/her monthly expenditure is that he/she does not know if he/she ends the month with a net reduction in savings, i.e., spending exceeds income and eats into savings. Knowing the amount of leftover balance is crucial since a continuous negative balance might lead to the creation of new debts. It is this type of debt that is the most dangerous as it rolls over at seemingly manageable interest rates month after month. Before the individual knows it, he/she would have made hefty payments on interest alone.
Tracking tools are thus crucial in identifying areas of weakness in one’s monthly spending habits, but an individual must take affirmative action to reverse the negative balance situation. This can be done via listing out the monthly expenses and employing necessary cut backs on certain expenditures. Discipline is the key.
2. Laddering Debts by Interest Rate
Laddering debts is another technique used in settling outstanding debt. It involves listing out all current debts by interest rate, starting from the highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate. The debt with the highest interest rate costs the most money, so this debt needs to be settled first.
By paying off the most expensive debt first, the overall debt will be reduced significantly faster. Some individuals who incur multiple debts per month and employ laddering in their finances usually settle the minimum payment required for each debt, and use the balance cash from their payments to settle more of the debt with the highest interest rate.
For example, let’s compare two debt instruments: one, a credit card with an outstanding balance of $4,000 with an interest rate of 24% and another, a credit line with an outstanding balance of $8,000 with an interest rate of 16%. Ideally, the minimum monthly payment required to settle each debt would first be made, and any leftover finances would be funneled to repaying more of the credit card debt even though the amount owed may be lower.
Laddering is especially useful in tackling multiple debts while avoiding the accidental creation of another new debt. Laddering also instills a sense of financial discipline that is good in tackling unresolved debts and preventing those debts from inflicting too much harm on those retirement plans you’ve kept in mind.
3. Balance Transfers
Balance transfers is another tool used to cut back on interest expenses whilst settling an attempt to pay off a debt over several months.
For example, given the competitive nature of the unsecured credit market, banks often provide very low teaser rates for clients who transfer their existing unsecured debt from other banks. The effective interest rates could be as low as 4% p.a. versus the normal 24% p.a. one pays on credit card balances. However, the catch is such promotional rates lasts only for a certain period, for example 6 months. Nevertheless, balance transfers can lower the interest costs of an existing debt.
Balance transfers do carry their own risks. Individuals transferring balances must remember to either settle the debt after the transfer or look for another such opportunity before the lower interest on the account to which the balance is transferred expires, otherwise he/she risks paying an even higher interest rate.
Individuals using the balance transfers may also fail to address the continuous build-up of debt, thus wiping out any benefit from such a strategy. In the end, despite this cost-saving strategy, individuals end up with even more debts that impinge on savings, not to mention any future retirement plans.
4. Contacting Consumer Credit Counseling Services
If a person is having immense trouble settling their debts or even coming up with the minimum monthly payments, they should consider engaging a consumer credit counseling service. In Singapore, this service is aptly named as the Credit Counseling Singapore (“CCS”) and offers solution-based credit counseling for individuals beleaguered by financial debt.
The CCS’s debt management services only cost $130 and pairs up debt-laden individuals with a credit counsellor. The credit counsellor will assess the indebtedness of an individual’s situation and assist him/her by making a financial estimate of the debts owed, identify available resources which can be used to cover the debts and even plan a monthly budget which incorporates all living expenses. Solutions to tackle the debt problem and monthly negative balances will be meted out to alleviate the burden of debt.
If one is concerned over how his/her debt would affect his/her retirement plans, contacting the CCS would be the right way to go. If the retirement plan has already taken the old debt into account, proper financial restructuring could reduce the interest and installment payments that need to be made.
Even the best retirement plans may be in jeopardy in the face of unresolved debts. By adopting better financial habits such as establishing a budget, laddering debts and transferring balances, an unsettled debt situation might become easier to handle. If a debt problem persists, the CCS can be engaged to work out a solution to stave off unresolved debts. Financial advisers may also be consulted to better streamline finances and handle monthly expenses, thus ensuring a more secure and better retirement in the future.