Dear Penny: Can We Use Our Emergency Fund to Become Debt-Free Faster?
My husband, our 1-year-old and I are currently living with my parents so we can pay off our student loans and start saving to purchase a home more quickly. Our only remaining debt is one last student loan, which has a balance of about $5,000. We are $5,000 away from being 100 percent debt-free.
Next month, we will have enough money in our emergency fund to pay off the loan. I want to pay it off and just be done with it, and then rebuild our emergency fund afterward. My husband wants to take a couple of extra months so that our emergency fund doesn’t dip below a certain amount.
I have one big thought, and I’m considering the best way to convey it to you. Maybe I’ll send a box of glitter to your doorstep that has a note at the bottom: “NO.” Or maybe I’ll buy some of those big gold letter balloons you see on Instagram and bring them to your house. I’ll be smiling, but the balloons will spell “NO.”
I’m being hyperbolic, but it’s because I’m so excited about your healthy emergency fund. I’m also excited that you’re almost debt-free! You have a lot going for you right now, which is why I implore you: Please do not use your emergency fund to pay off your loan.
This is not an emergency.
You already laid out the reasons not to do this. You have a new baby, a partner and parents living under one roof. If something happens to any of you, you may very well need that $5,000 you’ve stashed away. And while becoming debt-free will help you strive toward self-sufficiency and living on your own terms, you won’t be able to get there if you get saddled with debt due to the costs of an illness, accident or job loss.
This is the part of paying off your debt that’s the hardest. Yes, it’s agonizing to look at your balance when you’re just getting started and think, “Wow, I’m going to be in debt forever. Why am I even trying?”
But the part when you can see the end rapidly approaching? That’s harder. That’s when it becomes more difficult to exercise self-control. The idea of being done runs right over all the logic you’ve put in place, all the planning and plotting.
If you can afford to accelerate your loan payments by scrimping and saving elsewhere, go for it. But don’t put your greater financial safety in jeopardy.
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Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.