FEDweek

Take Down Debt Before Retiring

To make sure you have a more comfortable retirement, pay down your debt while you’re still working. Start with your non-mortgage debt, which tends to be expensive and is not tax-deductible. Paying down a credit card balance with a 15 percent rate, for example, is like earning 15 percent a year, after tax, with no risk.

You probably receive offers from credit card companies, allowing you to transfer debt and pay little or no interest on balances for a specific period of time. You may be able to keep switching, in order to get grace periods on a succession of cards. This strategy can reduce the debt you pay on credit card balances but there are disadvantages, too.

• Transfer fees. You may incur large one-time charges for transferring balances.
• Penalties. Missed or late payments can be very expensive. If you break one of the agreements on the new card, the card issuer can charge sky-high interest rates. This may also occur after the grace period and expand your debt enormously.

To avoid these traps, look closely at the agreement when you transfer a balance to a new card. Be aware when the grace period ends and how high the interest rate will be when it does.

In order to keep switching balances and avoid charges you have to be extremely nimble. A better strategy is to reduce use of credit cards and pay down your balances.