Albert Einstein once referred to compound interest as the 8th wonder of the world. Saying he who understands it earns it; he who doesn’t pays it. And he couldn’t have been more right. Today we’re going to be looking at the miracle that is compound interest and how can protect my retirement as it relates to the #1 killer of your wealth. Let’s get started. So the #1 wealth killer is debt. Yeah, I know, big shocker. But it’s really true and today we’re going to look at why that is.
The truth is, having too much debt can put a limit on your greatest wealth-building tool – your income. While it may be tempting to invest rather than pay off your debt, compound interest is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, I recently dedicated an entire video to its power. Financial advisors often use the example of Jane, who invests $100 per month ($1,200 per year) from the age of 18 to 25 and earns an average of 10% per year on her investments. By the time she stops investing at age 25, her nest egg will be worth just over $15,000.
However, before you start investing, it’s important to consider your debt load. Here are some reasons why paying off your debt first may be the smarter choice:
High-interest rates: Many forms of debt, such as credit card debt or personal loans, carry high-interest rates that can negate any potential investment gains.
Risk: Investing always carries some degree of risk, and if you have high levels of debt, taking on additional risk may not be advisable.
Stress: Debt can be a significant source of stress and anxiety, which can have negative impacts on your overall financial well-being.
Freedom: Paying off debt can give you a sense of freedom and control over your financial situation, allowing you to make better long-term decisions.
That being said, paying off debt doesn’t mean you can’t invest at all. Here are some steps you can take to balance debt repayment and investing:
Create a budget: Determine how much money you can allocate towards debt repayment and investing each month.
Focus on high-interest debt: Prioritize paying off high-interest debt first, as this will save you the most money in the long run.
Consider employer-matched retirement accounts: If your employer offers a retirement plan with a matching contribution, take advantage of it. This is essentially free money that can help you save for the future.
Seek professional advice: A financial advisor can help you create a personalized plan that takes your unique financial situation into account.
In conclusion, while compound interest is a powerful tool for building wealth, it’s important to consider your debt load before investing. Paying off high-interest debt should be a priority, but that doesn’t mean you can’t invest at all. By creating a budget, focusing on high-interest debt, taking advantage of employer-matched retirement accounts, and seeking professional advice, you can balance debt repayment and investing to achieve your financial goals.
Over the course of the next 45 years, those investments will continue to grow. Assuming that it continues to grow at an average annualized rate of 10% per year she will end up with $1.1 million in her portfolio at age 70. That’s all achieved with eight years of investing $100 a month. Jane becomes a millionaire by investing $9,600 of her own money. On the other hand, we have John. John doesn’t start investing at age 18. Instead, he starts at the age of 26 (just after Jane had finished all of her investing). He also invests $100 a month. However, unlike Jane, he does it from the age of 26 all the way until the age of 70. John invests $54,000 of his own money over the course of those years and ends up with a nest egg of just under $950,000. So John ends up with approximately $150,000 less than Jane. This is in spite of the fact that he invested six times more of his own money than she did.
It’s no secret that excessive debt can put a damper on your ability to build wealth using your most powerful tool – your income. While the concept of compound interest is widely known to be an effective way to grow your money over time, paying off debt may seem like a counterproductive move. However, it’s important to remember that not all investments are created equal, especially when you’re dealing with debt payments.
Let’s take a look at an example: Jane invests $100 a month for 7 years starting at 18 and ends up with a net worth of $1.1 million at the age of 70. Now, let’s say John starts investing $100 a month at the same age and earns an average of 10% per year, just like Jane. Even if John continues to invest until he’s 100 years old, Jane would still have more money than him, and her lead would only increase with time. In fact, at the age of 100, Jane would have $19.2 million to her name, while John would have $16.7 million. This just goes to show the power of compound interest, as famously called by Albert Einstein as the 8th Wonder of the world.
However, when it comes to investing, it’s important to consider the context of one’s financial situation. Comparing someone who is debt-free to someone who is not will not provide an accurate comparison. While Jane invested $100 a month for 7 years, John was dealing with debt payments and didn’t invest anything for those first 8 years. But what if John managed to free up an extra $200 a year, or less than $17 a month, by paying off his debts? In that case, he would come out ahead of Jane by the time they’re both 70. And if he freed up more money than that, he would pass Jane even earlier.
So, what’s the takeaway? While compound interest is undoubtedly a powerful tool, it’s important to also consider the impact of debt on one’s ability to invest. Paying off debt and freeing up funds for investment can ultimately lead to greater financial success in the long run.
And given the state of the average American debt situation, $17 a month in payments is a remarkably conservative estimate. According to articles in business insider,
CNBC, and Forbes the average American debt situation looks like this: About $9,000 in credit card debt which is
often split between several cards. $30,000 in student loan debt. And assuming a used vehicle was bought a little
over $21,000 on a car loan. That’s around $60,000 in total debt. If we assume 18% interest on the credit cards
and 4.5% interest on the other loans and terms of 5 and 10 years on the car loan and student
loan respectively, the minimum payments could be roughly $900 a month. Freeing up that much cashflow could make a
tremendous difference in the previous example. Let’s look back at John’s situation from before
and assume that his household’s debt situation was that of the average American. John uses his $100 a month of excess cash
flow to pay off these debts.
Based on the numbers it would take him roughly
six years to become debt-free. This is assuming he did not work any extra
hours or sell anything to get out of debt faster. Once he was debt-free he would have almost
$1,000 a month left over to invest. If he starts the process of becoming debt-free
at the age of 18 when Jane was starting to invest he would have become debt-free by his
24th birthday. If he then turned around and started investing
the full $1,000 a month he would actually be further along in his investments by his
25th birthday then Jane was. Granted this is largely because he has invested
more money than Jane has at this point. Jane by her 25th birthday had only invested
$8,400. That’s quite a bit less than John’s $12,000
but think of the potential payoff of this down the road if John keepS investing that
He’ll also likely be able to lead a much
better lifestyle than Jane in the present due to his lower monthly expenses. Jane may eventually equal him in that regard
if she gets her debts paid off, but for those first several years after John is debt-free,
it is worth noting. Remember, compound interest is an incredibly
powerful mathematical force. But it can work just as hard against you as
it can for you. So it’s important to make sure that compound
interest is your ally in your finances, not your enemy. So with that being said how do we avoid this
killer of wealth? First, if you’re lucky enough to not have
any debt right now research some ways to ensure that you keep it that way.
If you’re planning to go to college look into
ESA or 529 plans. They are ways to start saving for college
while lowering your tax burden (which is always a nice perk). Also, look into scholarship opportunities
or PSEO. Don’t be afraid to have a summer job and work
during the school year part-time. For the record, this can also be a good option
in high school to give yourself a head start financially so long as it doesn’t take away
from your studies too much. Make sure that you always have an emergency
fund. It should contain three to six months worth
of expenses so that you don’t have to take on debt for those moments when life happens. Make sure you have insurance for those catastrophes
that you wouldn’t be able to cover with your savings. Catastrophic health emergencies are a good
candidate for this.
If you’re already in debt, learn about how
people have paid off their debts. Then choose the strategy that is most likely
to get you (and keep you) completely out of debt. Three of the most popular strategies are the
debt snowball, debt avalanche, and debt tsunami. I have done videos on all three of those and
they will be linked in the description. The debt snowball is the one made famous by
financial personalities such as Dave Ramsey. It has you order your debts from smallest
to largest balance and pay them off in that order regardless of the interest rates on
those debts. The plus side is the momentum you can build
up for yourself by quickly wiping out those bills. The downside is it isn’t the most mathematically
efficient way to get out of debt, all else being equal.
The debt avalanche is the more mathematically
efficient option if you can stick to it. It has you order your debts from highest to
lowest interest rate and pay them off in that order. This is regardless of the size of the loan
itself. The upside is the fact that you’ll be paying
less in interest. The downside is in some situations it may
take quite a while to get rid of that first bill. For those who are more motivated by seeing
the balances of the debts themselves going down this may not be much of an issue.
For those that are more motivated by the lowering
of bills, this could be an issue in some situations. The debt tsunami has you order your debts
from the most emotionally stressful to the least emotionally stressful and pay them off
in that order. In some cases, this could mean paying off
the largest balance that also has the lowest interest rate first. However in my experience that is not commonly
how it goes. Most of the people that I’ve seen use this
strategy tend to use it because there are personal loans between family or friends that
are causing a lot of stress in the relationship. The person with the debt uses the tsunami
to get rid of that loan first and then often switches to a different strategy such as the
snowball or avalanche. Which is another viable option for many people. There’s nothing stopping you from starting
with one strategy that will help get you going and then switching to another that will work
for you longer-term.
I know a lot of people who have started with
the snowball to get themselves some momentum and then switched to the avalanche once they
were on a roll so that they could save on interest. Another thing I would recommend looking into
is the power of the debt snowflake. If you haven’t heard, the debt snowflake is
a strategy where you find ways to free up money (or just happened to find the money)
that you can put towards your debt payoff strategy. The nice thing about it is it works well with
any of the other three strategies I mentioned. While by itself it isn’t game-changing it
does help your primary strategy do its job a little better. And as we know every little bit helps. If you need more motivation make sure to check
out Dave Ramsey’s YouTube channel and their debt-free screams playlist.
It’s filled with a lot of amazing stories
of people paying off loads of debt on various levels of income and getting to see their
relief when they are finally debt-free is very inspiring. You might also find their Turning Points playlist
interesting. It is essentially interviews of people who
have become debt-free talking about what made them decide to go through that process and
achieve that lifestyle. I’ll leave a link to both playlists in the
description as well..