Spending down debt: Start retirement with a clean slate

This is part of our series on strategies you can adopt to free yourself from burdensome debt.

You're very wise to want to enter retirement debt free. Once you reach the point where you must learn to live on a fixed retirement income, you'll quickly know how brilliant you were to get your loans paid off first.

The basics of debt payoff are the same for near-retirees as they are for anyone. I recommend you use the snowball effect to get your debt paid down as quickly as possible.

You may want to reduce the amount you are saving monthly in your retirement accounts, such as your 401(k), and instead use that extra cash to pay down your debt more quickly. Now that you are near retirement there isn't much time for that money to grow anyway. But, if you do decide to take this step be sure to at least put enough into your employer retirement savings plan to get your full employer match. You don't want to give up the extra money your employer deposits into your retirement savings. Definitely check with your financial advisor before taking this step.

There are also several options you may want to consider if you'd like to stop working full time, but want to continue earning some money until all your debts are paid:

* If you enjoy your job and want to stay there ask your boss about switching to part time.

* If you're job is very specialized you may be able to work out a consulting agreement, where you can set your own hours.

* You may be able to set up a telecommuting assignment, where you can work primarily from home.

* A phased retirement plan may be offered at your company. This type of plan allows you to begin collecting a portion of your retirement pension, but allows you to remain on your job part-time. This is a relatively new option, so check with your employer to see if he offers it.

* If you hate your job and need a change, you could consider finding something else that is less stressful, but still gives you the opportunity to earn the extra money you need to pay down the debt.

* You can consider retiring from your current, more stressful position and work temporary assignments through a temporary agency. This gives you the flexibility to take time off for travel or other family needs (such as the birth of a grandchild) and then take another temporary assignment when you're ready to work again.

* If you want to to be snowbird - work in the north near family during the summer months and then head south to warmer climates in the winter months - that's possible too! Companies like Home Depot actually have a snowbird program that lets you do just that.

Check out the best employers for workers over 50 at AARP to find some good alternatives to keep working but have more flexibility than you currently have at your job.

If you do still have a mortgage on your property there is another program I've dubbed the snowball effect on steroids that one of my readers, Theresa Bolton-Lynch, introduced me to after reading my article on the snowball effect. You can get a free analysis to see if this debt acceleration program from United First Financial will work for you. I was skeptical when I first looked at it, but, of the debt payoff programs, it seems like a good one.

Lita Epstein has written more than 20 books including Working After Retirement for Dummies.

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