Question: We are about $60,000 in credit card debt. I am 69 and need to retire. I will have retirement from my job and $35,000 in my 401(k), plus Supplemental Security Income. My husband is 57 and will keep working. How can I retire?
— Kathryn in Hawaii
Steve Rhode answers…
Retiring isn’t the problem here. This is: Making ends meet for up to the next 20 years.
Having some government benefit and $35,000 in a 401(k) isn’t going to make retirement comfortable for you — or even manageable. It will be tragically impossible to survive on these finances alone, unless your husband has some magic retirement account that will help to make ends meet when he is able to finally retire.
When you say you need to retire and you are on Supplemental Security Income, that indicates to me you have some evolving medical issue. SSI is what’s known as a “means-tested welfare program.” That’s the official way of saying the government will provide cash and Medicaid to low-income senior citizens and the disabled.
I’m assuming this means that continuing to work may just not be possible for you, given your potential medical limitations. Maybe that’s why you have to retire.
Given your possible medical situation, your limited upcoming income, and your debt, the most logical solution here would be to shed the debt quickly with a consumer Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This type of bankruptcy is the fastest way to eliminate debt legally, and in about 90 days your credit card debt will be discharged. That will lower your expenses that you can’t afford in retirement.
Your credit card debt is probably from expenses you paid for in trying to get by in the past. It’s all too common for those Americans struggling to pay their bills to “float” the gap between income and expenses on their credit cards. Sadly, that catches up to you rather quickly…
[If you don’t know if bankruptcy is right for you, read Should I File for Bankruptcy.]
If filing for bankruptcy is the right option for you, Debt.com can help you get the process started.
…Retiring is the time to look forward and set yourself up for financial success. The ship has sailed to attempt to repair the past. Given what you’ve shared, you simply can’t afford to either pay the debt, now or in the future, and make ends meet on your new reduced income.
I would visit Benefits.gov and review if you are eligible for any additional supplemental income, medical, or food assistance for your household. You should absolutely meet with a local bankruptcy attorney who is licensed in your state and discuss your situation. And you should inform your husband he is going to have to be the primary breadwinner for the foreseeable future.
This won’t be a pleasant experience while you’re enduring it, but once you’re through it, life should improve. I’d also recommend consulting Debt.com’s Personal Finance section for advice on how to stay out of debt.
My fingers are crossed that your husband has a solid retirement account or pension that is going to help you survive when you are both unable to work.
Steve Rhode is known as the Get Out of Debt Guy and has appeared on FOX, CNN, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC giving money advice.