If you’ve ever been hit with an unexpected expense, you know that you need some source of funding to fall back on at all times. A savings account makes the most sense, because it gains interest. But many consumers use their credit cards as a safety net, even though they know it will cost them more in the long run.
Those who are saddled with credit card debt, either because of using them for emergencies or simply overusing them, are painfully aware of how interest and fees accumulate. They swear that when they get out of debt, they will start saving money to avoid having their finances fall back into ruin. And if they’re serious about it, they might put every spare dollar toward paying down that balance.
Paying off high-interest debts has definite advantages. Most importantly, it can save you lots of money over paying just the minimum payment each month. It also frees up your credit line so that you can use it if you have to. But is paying down credit card debt more important than building up savings?
There is some disagreement among financial experts. All agree that your bottom line is positively affected by paying as little in interest as possible. And some find that to be reason enough to put money toward paying down your balance before you try to save up. But others feel that the importance of having an emergency fund trumps the money saved in interest charges.
One argument against paying off credit cards before starting to save is that it leaves no resources to use in case of emergency except for the credit card. If you’ve paid down your balance sufficiently, you may be able to use the card if something comes up. But you’ll also experience a setback in paying it off. That means you’ll pay more in interest, and it will be longer before you can start that savings account.
By the same token, using a credit card for emergencies is one of the habits that those with debt issues need to break. Putting yourself in a position in which you have no choice but to do so is a step in the wrong direction. By saving up an emergency fund, you can avoid using credit until you’ve eliminated the debt you already had.
Choosing between paying off credit card debt and building up a financial cushion can be difficult. But if unemployment or some other major financial problem is a possibility, building up your savings is usually the best option. Putting away at least a month’s salary before you start paying off your debt will allow you to breathe easier.