Whether you recently took out a mortgage, you’re saddled with student loan debt, or you’ve overextended your credit cards, you may be one of the millions of Americans working to pay off their debt obligations. However, just because you’re paying off debt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking about your future. 

Saving for retirement now (even if it’s just a little) means you can reap the benefits of compound interest, allowing your investments to grow exponentially over time. It’s a strategy that pays off — a 25-year-old who contributes just $250 per month toward his or her retirement ($3,000 per year) with a return of nine percent would have more than $1 million by retirement age. 

Below, you’ll find a handful of strategies for saving for retirement, even if you’re in debt. 

1. Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans

Whether on your own or with a qualified cosigner, refinancing your student loans can free up some extra cash. The annual federal student rate interest amount is determined annually by the government and varies based on loan type. For someone who may have taken out a loan ten years ago, the interest rate was fixed at 5.6 percent, according to Federal Student Aid. Refinancing now can bring your variable APR down to slightly more than two percent.

Though it depends on your unique situation, it’s typically wise to save for retirement even if you’re still paying off student loan debt because there’s a good chance you’ll earn more through your retirement investments than you would pay in student loan interest. 

So, even if you can afford your monthly payments, refinancing could allow you to free up money each month that could be put toward retirement savings instead. 

2. Get Your Employer Match

Even though 31 percent of recent college graduates say that student loans hinder their ability to save for retirement, contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement account with a match is the best way to start. If you don’t, you’re letting free money slip away. Even if the debt you’re carrying is high-interest like on credit cards, you should contribute enough to your 401(k) to get the match, and put the rest toward other financial obligations. 

Matches will differ company to company, with some offering dollar-for-dollar matches and others offering partial contributions. Regardless of the policy, contributing even a little at a time can impact your savings. If you’re in a two-income household and you and your partner both receive company matches, put your resources toward maxing out the better match first. 

3. Wait to Start a Family

As outlined in the example above, retirement savings are all about starting early due to the effect of compound interest. On average, it costs nearly $14,000 per year to have a child. If you were to wait and have your first child at 32 or 33 instead of 27 or 28, you’d be saving thousands of dollars per year that could instead go toward retirement. 

Not surprisingly, this strategy has an added benefit for women: Women who wait to have children until they’re 35 earn an average of $50,000 more per year than women who have children at 20. 

4. Push Retirement Back a Bit

Let’s say you’re 30 or even 35-years-old, and you feel like you’re late to the retirement savings game. You don’t think you’ll be able to save enough to comfortably retire at 60 or even 65.  

The good news? By delaying your retirement by just two or three years, you’ll be able to save exponentially more — especially if you delay collecting your Social Security benefits, too. Your Social Security benefits increase eight percent each year you push past the current retirement age of 66. That means that by 70, you’ll be earning 132 percent of your benefit

5. Invest Your Tax Refund

This year, the average tax refund in the U.S. was $2,725, according to USA Today. Instead of spending your tax refund on a fun vacation or a shopping spree, consider investing it in your retirement savings instead. 

6. Automate Your Retirement Savings

Besides setting up automatic contributions to your 401(k), there are myriad robo-advisor apps (think Acorns, Stash, Betterment, and Wealthfront) that offer automated savings plans geared specifically toward retirement. Many have low investment requirements, meaning it’s easy to get started even if you don’t have a lot to contribute. For example, with Acorns Later, you can invest as little as $5 at a time. 

Not only will automating your strategy keep you on track, but the low barrier to entry for these apps makes it easy to get started. 


From refinancing your student loans to delaying parenthood, there are countless ways you can plan for retirement, even if you’re still paying off debt. Remember: A small contribution now can make an immense impact in the future. Start investing now to live the retirement you’ve always dreamed of.