Reduce Debt or Build Savings?

Published by on

Debt and savings are two sides of the same coin.  If you have debt in retirement, your principal and interest payments will generally come from the same pool of assets you’re using to fund your retirement.


According to a recent homeowner survey, many Canadians are not confident they’ll be debt-free at retirement.  While eight in 10 (80 per cent) Canadian homeowners who have debt indicate it’s very important to be debt-free by the time they reach their planned retirement age, fewer than six in 10 (56 per cent) are confident they’ll achieve that goal¹


The good news is that you can make a lot of progress in five to 10 years, especially with changes to how you structure and manage your debt.  And, once you’re debt-free, you can focus your attention on other aspects of your finances to prepare for a comfortable retirement.


Before you retire – eliminate debt


When asked what they’d do if they reached their planned retirement date and still had debt outstanding, sentiment among survey respondents was divided.  Just under half of homeowners (47 per cent) indicated they’d continue to work until their debt was gone, while a similar number (45 per cent) indicated they’d retire even if they still had debt.


What would you do if you were approaching retirement and still had outstanding debt?  Whether you’d choose to keep working or not, incorporating debt repayment within your broader financial goals will increase your likelihood of being debt-free when you reach your planned retirement date.


If your only debt is your mortgage, taking advantage of any pre-payment privileges could be a good first step.  However, if you’re like many people in their 50s, you may be carrying several debts in addition to your mortgage.


A great way to get rid of mortgage and other consumer debt in the years leading up to retirement is to consolidate that debt at one low rate.  This could reduce your interest costs, make it easier to keep track of how much debt you still have outstanding and help you eliminate your debt sooner.


A particularly effective product for debt consolidation is the all-in-one account.  This type of account allows you to combine your mortgage, personal lines of credit and any other debts you may have at one low, competitive interest rate


During retirement – prepare for the unexpected


No matter how well you’ve prepared for retirement, you may be faced with an unexpected financial need, such as a new roof for your house, or an unexpected opportunity, such as a vacation with friends.  A number of banking products could help you be prepared.  If you’re able to allocate sufficient cash to a “rainy day” fund, a high-interest savings account can keep your money growing and accessible.


For many people, their home equity represents an important part of their net worth.  Among survey respondents, slightly more than one in eight (13 per cent) homeowners plan to access the equity in their homes to supplement their retirement income, with four per cent planning to borrow against their home equity.


If your rainy day or emergency savings are smaller than you’re like, consider opening an all-in-one account, which includes a line of credit secured by your home.  An all-in-one account allows you to earn a high rate of interest when your account has a positive balance and, if a financial need arises, you have convenient access to a secured line of credit.


Work with a professional advisor


Your advisor can help you keep focused on reducing your debt – and this can be a big advantage in your journey towards a debt-free retirement.  Once you retire, your advisor can assist you in identifying tools and strategies to help you keep your money stable, accessible and growing.


¹The Manulife Bank of Canada poll surveyed 2,141 Canadian homeowners in all provinces between the ages of 30 and 59 with household income of more than $50,000.  The survey was conducted online by Research House, an Environics company, between March 4 and 19, 2013.  National results were weighted by province and gender.  Full survey results, including additional regional, gender and age-group comparisons, are available at