Parents, it’s time to pay off those student loans—and we’re not talking about the ones your kids owe.
Loving your kid has never been an issue. You would do anything for them, and in fact, you did just that when you took out a Federal Parent PLUS loan to help fund their education. You believed in their education, so you took it upon yourself to make their dreams come true. Good for you. But unfortunately, the journey doesn’t end there. Doing something good for your kid can also mean you just did something tricky for yourself. Your responsibilities aren’t limited to your kids—what about your retirement? It’s a new year, which means it’s a great time to prioritize paying off those loans in order to move on with your financial life.
When students take out student loans, it hurts their financial lives. It puts the student in a relationship with their financial past and hinders them from moving forward. But most students can reasonably have student debt paid off by age 30. Sure, it makes the first 10 years of their financial life a little shaky. Sacrifices will be made, but by age 30 other financial priorities—like a more concentrated retirement planning effort—can be made. This may not be quite the happy ending for a parent who takes out loans to pay for their kids’ education.
If at the age of 46 you take out $35,000 to fund your kids’ education, you may be on a 10-25 year timetable to pay off those loans. This puts you either dangerously close to retirement age, or actually still paying off the loans post-retirement. So here’s the thing. You’ve got to get those loans paid off as soon as possible. There is really no other option.
Let’s say the minimum payment for your loan is $420, which has you paying off the loan at the age of 60. While this means you’ll have the loan paid off in your pre-retirement years, the money you will have spent paying off the loan could have been going toward your retirement plan. Time is really the bigger issue here. When it comes to retirement planning, earlier is always better, so knocking out that student loan early means you can start moving the loan payment money toward your retirement plan sooner.
Instead of paying the minimum over a 10-year period, kick it up a notch. Cut expenses, get a second job, downsize your house, do whatever it takes to increase your payments on the loan. If you can come up with an extra $280 each month, you can pay off the loan in just five years and save thousands and thousands in interest!
But the even better news is what happens when you push yourself to “save” $700 a month in your pre-retirement years. It’s honestly the best thing you can do for your retirement. Retirement is essentially the ability to break your dependence on your income, and what feels more like breaking than losing $700 a month for five years? If you can actually change your lifestyle to live on $700 less a month, you are so much closer than so many of your peers to a great retirement. When the Parent PLUS loan is paid off, use the momentum you’ve achieved—and that money you’ve learned to live without—to increase your retirement fund.
It may seem like losing this income will be too great of a burden to carry beyond the five years, but you can do it. Breaking your income dependence is like ditching a bad habit. It hurts at first, but once you’re “broken,” the new habit sticks. Once you learn to live on less, you actually start wanting less. Most people just don’t stick with it long enough for it to get easy. But as an adult in pre-retirement with parent student loans, you don’t have any other choice.
Circle back to the question: why did you decide to pay for your adult child’s education? The answer probably has something to do with you not wanting to burden them with major financial debt at the beginning of their financial life. But here’s the thing—if you don’t pay off your parent student loans before you get to retirement, or you do get them paid off before retirement but end up with inadequate retirements funds, this will still put your kids in a financial bind. Who is going to pay for your long-term care when your retirement funds run out? Your kids will. And they’ll be in their own pre-retirement years, which puts them in an even bigger bind because they will be funding their own kids’ education and your long-term care.
Education is important, and hopefully the education helped your kid get ahead in life, but don’t let it further hinder your future. If you’re unable to pay off your parent student loans before retirement, it’s time to have a serious conversation with your adult children. Make a plan to pay the loans off together. One awkward financial conversation is one million times better than running out of money in retirement. This is the year to think ahead and make a plan to get out of debt—for the benefit of everyone involved.
Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner, is an award-winning financial mind who has authored five books, hosts the popular Pete the Planner radio show and travels around the country offering financial education. His signature wit will have you laughing as you learn. For more from Peter, visit www.petetheplanner.com.