You’ll commonly hear that if you don’t make an effort to save for retirement, you’re going to struggle financially once your career comes to an end. And that advice is absolutely spot on.
Social Security will generally replace about 40% of your pre-retirement wages if you’re an average earner. Most seniors, however, need roughly twice that much income to live comfortably.
And let’s not forget that due to an impending revenue shortfall, Social Security cuts are on the table. So you might get even less replacement income from those benefits once they start rolling in — hence, the need to save for your senior years on your own.
But while it’s definitely a smart thing to allocate money each month to your retirement savings, in some cases, it actually pays to hit pause on those contributions. Here’s when it’s time to stop saving for retirement for a bit of time.
1. You’re falling behind on bills
Failing to pay your bills could have consequences. If you’re somebody’s tenant, you could set the stage for an eviction if you don’t pay your rent. If you own a home, you’ll risk foreclosure if you don’t keep up with your mortgage payments.
These days, many people are struggling to cover their expenses in full, due to inflation. So you may need to temporarily cut back on retirement plan contributions or even stop making them for a period of time. And that’s OK.
2. You have no emergency fund
Just because you have $50,000 or $100,000 in your 401(k) or IRA doesn’t mean you have money you can access in a pinch when a financial emergency strikes. Removing funds from one of these plans before age 59 1/2 could leave you on the hook for a costly early-withdrawal penalty, and that’s not what you want.
If you don’t have a stash of money in a regular savings account — ideally, enough to pay for at least three full months of essential bills — then it pays to stop funding your 401(k) or IRA until you have that emergency fund established. Without money in savings, you might land in debt when unplanned bills pop up, and that could do a lot of financial damage.
3. You’re carrying high-interest-rate debt
Many people carry longer-term debts like mortgages and auto loans with modest interest rates. But if you owe money on a credit card with a 21% interest rate attached to it, then it could be a good idea to stop contributing to your retirement savings and use that money to whittle down your balance. If you continue to carry that balance, it might cost you loads of money in interest — money you could otherwise be investing and putting to work.
It’s definitely a good thing to be committed to funding a retirement account. But if you’re struggling with your bills, have no emergency savings, or are carrying expensive debt, then it pays to pause those contributions temporarily. You can always ramp back up once your financial picture improves, but it’s really not a good idea to sacrifice your near-term well-being so you can have money available in the future.