6 Ways to Invest When You're In Debt

By Tim Lemke on 23 November 2016 0 comments

You know you need to begin investing to save for the future, but you still have some debt to pay off. It is possible to take care of both at the same time?

The short answer is that yes, you can pay down debt and invest at the same time. In many ways, this is a personal choice. If you despise debt and sleep better at night knowing that you're paying it off as quickly as possible, that's fine. But if you can tolerate paying off debt at a slower rate and investing some money, you may end up ahead of the game financially over the long-term.

Here are some things to consider when deciding how much to invest and how much debt to pay off.

1. Minimum Payments First, Then Invest

While it's certainly possible to pay down debt and invest at the same time, it's never a good idea to invest if you can't make your minimum payments first. If you don't make minimum payments, you'll be on the hook for higher interest, late fees, and penalties. Not to mention that your credit score will take a big hit. Consider investing your money only if you know you can set money aside and still make at least the minimum payments on debt.

2. Tackle the High Interest Debt

If your debt is tied up in credit cards and other things that come with high interest rates, you may want to hold off on investing until that's under control. Credit cards have interest rates in the double digits, and you're unlikely to generate an investment return that outpaces that. Once that high-interest debt is down to zero, then investing becomes much more possible. (See also: Fastest Way to Pay Off 10K in Credit Card Debt)

3. Use Your 401K Plan

If you work for an employer that offers a 401K plan or something similar, it's worth taking part even if you have some debt. That's because most employers will match contributions up to a certain amount. So it's like getting free money. Any contributions you make to a 401K are deducted from your taxable income, so there are great tax advantages for taking part. Invest what you can while still paying down your debt. Then, when your debt is paid off, increase your contributions.

4. Look at Low-Cost Mutual Funds and ETFs

If most of your debt is tied up in low-interest things like student loans or mortgages, it's okay to set aside some money to invest in things that will generate a good return. In fact, there are many financial planners that argue against paying off low-interest loans early if market returns are higher than interest rates. Over time, stocks have averaged returns of about 7%, which is much higher than interest rates these days. To get this type of return, consider looking at mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that have low fees and are designed to track the performance of the overall stock market.

5. Find Investments That Trade Without a Commission

If you're trying to invest and pay down debt at the same time, there's a good chance you may only be able to invest a little at a time. That's okay, but it's important to be aware of the fees and commissions you pay every time you buy and sell. If you're only buying a few shares of a stock but paying $8 in a commission, for example, that fee is cutting into a sizable percentage of your investment. Fortunately, many discount brokerages allow you to trade certain types of investments without paying a commission. Fidelity offers fee-free investing on all iShares ETFs, ETrade offers many commission-free ETFs from WisdomTree and Global X, and TD Ameritrade offers more than 100 ETFs with no transaction fees.

6. Automate as Much as Possible

Finding the balance between investing and paying off debt requires some discipline. If you have some debt but are considering investing, determine in advance what your ideal balance is. Then, set up automatic monthly transfers of money into an investment account, and automate your bills as well. If you get extra money or a raise, consider tweaking the balance accordingly. When you automate, it takes the guesswork out, allows you to stay consistent, and makes it easier to do other financial planning.

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