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We Need to Eliminate Our Credit Card Debt to Afford College Loans. – Michael

“Dear Steve,

My wife and I have approximately $56,000 in credit card debt. We have implemented a austerity plan, and am paying that down at the rate of approximately $800 a month.

The problem is that in Dec. 2013, we will have to start paying $1600 a month in college loans for our daughters education. In order to afford that, I feel that we need to eliminate the credit card debt BEFORE the college loans become due.

One option we have looked at is to close an IRA account (this was totally funded by an ex-employer) which, even with the taxes and penalty would reduce our credit card debt down to below $20,000.

This would allow us to achieve this goal. Our retirement from pension and another 401K account would still be over $100,000 a year in about 10 years.

I know that it is never a good idea to raid your retirement accounts, but with the looming college loans, does that make a difference?


Dear Michael,

The reason I’m not a huge fan of raiding the retirement account once the money is in is because it is protected from creditors. That money is your protection once you get old and can’t work anymore.

My hesitation is that while the intention is to replace it. For the most part that just doesn’t seem to happen.

The good news is you are starting ahead of schedule and planning now for December 2013. Bess you for that.

If you were going to tap the retirement I’d rather see you do it with the smallest hit possible. If you were willing to take the credit hit now and face collection pressure you could probably settle your outstanding debt for around $30,000, not including the tax hit on withdrawal. The credit can be rebuilt afterwards. But beware, this approach has some potential legal complications and tax liabilities.

See also  Why You Should Never Pay Sticker Price for College

If you think it’s a path worth exploring, you may want to contact one of the AACC member companies for help with that approach.

The $800 a month looks like it is your minimum payment and not an amount on top of the minimum payment due. In that case a further reshuffling of your debt isn’t going to make a major difference. Even a credit counseling approach would take about five years and that’s going to bust the timeline.

But here is where I’m a bit confused. Let’s say we eliminate the $800 payment now. If that’s a current maximum you can pay each month, is their something that is going to change to allow you to handle a new payment at $1,600 a month? It seems that from what you’ve shared that even without your credit card debt the college loans are going to break the budget.

Am I reading that wrong?

Post your answers in the comment section below.


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Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.


  • More information.  I have a full-time job (just passed 30 years), making $109,000.  I have a part-time job (26 hours a week) making $13,000.  My wife is unable to work due to medical conditions.  We are currently paying $1900 a month in credit card payments, and reduced spending to about $700, which reduces our credit card balances by $800 a month.  By taking the IRA withdrawl, we could reduce our credit card debt to under $20,000, and we could be credit card free by the time the college loans become due.  SInce we are paying $1900 a month already, we should be OK with the $1600 in college loans.  Does it make sense to use the IRA money to pay off the debt now so that we can afford the college loans?

    • So you put $700 of new charges on the card each month and pay $1,900 which results in a balance reduction of $800 is what I think you are saying.

      So in essence you really only have $1,200 a month in income to devote towards debt reduction without increasing your balances.

      To be best prepared for the college loans is going to require that the credit card debt is not reduced but eliminated. Otherwise you are going to need additional income to service the remaining credit card debt and makes ends meet without putting it on the cards.

      If you reduced your credit card debt to $20,000 the monthly payment would be $425 plus the $700 that is landing on the card now means your monthly obligation would be $1,125 and then you’d add the $1,600 on top of that.

      If I have that correct, let me know. I want to make sure I’m not making any assumptions here.

      • Not exactly.  We pay $1900 a month now on the cards.  The interest added each month is $400.  We are charging about $700 a month.  $1900 – $400 – $700 = $800 reduction in balances every month.  If we reduce our balances to $20,000, we would continue to make $1900 in payments.  Interest would be reduced to about $80 (due to low interest rates).  Continue to charge about $700 a month.  So, $1900 – $80 – $700 = $1120 reduction in balances every month.  After 27 months, the credit card balances would be zero, and we would have positive balance of about $10,000.  So, given that, does it make sense to cash out the IRA?  I feel we have to eliminate the CC balances in order to afford the $1600 college loans!

        • If the college loans are going to be $1,600 and you put $700 a month on the cards, which I assume you will continue to do, that’s $2,300 of future obligations you are trying to fit in $1,900 of repayment dollars available on a monthly basis.

          What’s the plan to make that happen even without the credit card debt?

          I’m still stuck that we need to get over that hurdle before you start sacrificing your retirement funds for an incomplete solution.

          • We have a $326 car loan that is up in a year, and by Dec. 2013 I will have gotten a couple of raises at both my full-time and part-time jobs.  In addition, it could be possible to spend less than $700 a month.  I am hoping that the prospect of being credit card debt free will be an incentive for both myself and my wife. Also, having $10K in the bank will help.
            The IRA I am thinking of cashing out to pay down the CC debt is not our main retirement vehicle.  I have a 401K at my full time job, and combine that with the pension I will receive (hopefully after 40 years) and SS (maybe), we should have about 95% of the income I was making at retirement (not counting the part-time job).

          • OK. Well you are left with two obvious choices. You drain all the money and pay down the debt to a lower level or you consider a debt settlement approach where you use the available IRA money to settle the debt and eliminate it entirely using what you have.

            The downside to the settlement approach is that it will hurt your credit till you rebuild it but it will give you the best solution to prepare for the upcoming college expenses by hopefully eliminating your entire credit card debt before the college loans kick in.

            It’s worth exploring to see if it makes sense for you. You can click here for debt settlement information.

            It is not a solution that I generally recommend but I’m concerned with a lot of “what ifs” needing to line up to get through the college loans. It might make logical sense to get the credit card debt out of the way completely to best prepare for the new obligation for which a slip leaves you with few options.

            Check it out and then come back and let’s see what you think.

            I’m just trying to be prudent in my advice and not leap to drain the IRA if it doesn’t make sense or best achieve the goal.

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