As individuals approach retirement they often ask themselves what they should do to maximize their income. Specifically, they may wonder if they should pay down their debts (credit cards, auto loans, or a mortgage) or should they invest more in the markets. The answer is often times more complicated than they expect.
It’s important for investors to understand what the after-tax cost of borrowing is, especially when a mortgage with interest rate is involved. It’s possible that after-tax returns can be higher than after-tax cost of debt. Borrowers who pay a low interest rate are in a better position to invest. Other factors that determine whether or not someone should invest instead of pay down debt favor the entrepreneur and people who are willing to take risks. An investor with a loan costing them 2% per year may want to keep that debt and instead invest in the market if they think they can get 5%-6%.
Risk is determined by several factors such as age, income, time frame, market activity and taxes. Most experienced investors are aware that equities can be high risk assets. A leading factor that favors investing is high disposable income, which allows for higher risk tolerance. If we revisit the above example, the investor does run the risk of investing in the market in a bad year. In that case the investor still has to service the debt, but also watch their portfolio decline in value. The higher the interest rate on the loan, the more risk the investor takes that the return on the investments will not beat the interest rate.
Paying Debt & Cash Flow
Even though debt seems like a bad word, it is helpful to a credit score to have a certain amount of debt or credit history. The first priority should be saving up six months worth of monthly expenses as part of an emergency or safety net fund. Once this fund is in place, excess money can be used to pay down debt or invest. The main barometer for deciding between debt and investing is debt-to-income ratio. If the ratio is high, paying debt is usually the wiser choice. Tight cash flow is a red flag that budget cuts will be needed.
With low interest rates like we’ve seen, now is a good time to review your situation.