MONEY

A Couple’s 5-Year Plan to Pay off $93,600 in Debt

Larry and Lynn Mantanona, 56 and 54, Fairview, Ore. photo: miller mobley

When it comes to family, Lynn and Larry Mantanona believe in sparing no expense. That means frequent travels to Larry’s native Guam for weddings, funerals, and other big family events.

They had no qualms about taking a $12,000 loan for college tuition for Savanah, 22, and borrowing $20,000 for wedding expenses for Chanelle, 28.

“We want to do for our daughters what our parents couldn’t do for us,” says Lynn.

Now the couple find themselves in a difficult situation. The Mantanonas owe over $90,000 on various credit cards and personal loans and can’t seem to whittle the debt down.

“We aggressively make payments, but then something comes up, and we have no savings to fall back on,” says Lynn. They also owe more on their house than it’s worth.

On the upside: The couple have a decent amount of retirement savings, thanks to Lynn’s longtime habit of putting 5% of her salary in her 401(k). She’ll also qualify for a monthly pension of $1,300 at age 62.

Still, the couple feel behind. “Lynn deserves to retire in 10 years,” says Larry. “I’ll keep working if I have to.”

Occupations: Catering manager,IT manager

Goals: Pay off debt, retire in 10 years

Total income: $152,000

Retirement savings: $330,000

THE PROBLEM

The Mantanonas clearly need to axe the debt, says Marc Russell, an adviser with Convergent Wealth Advisors in Los Angeles. Still, they need to keep saving for retirement. “It’s about weighing competing priorities,” Russell says. With the right plan, they can get there.

THE ADVICE

Make a repayment plan. In early 2013, Lynn will receive a $14,000 tax-free gift from her mother. That money can nearly wipe out their credit card debt.

By temporarily cutting Lynn’s retirement contributions to 3% — enough to still get the full company match — they’ll free enough cash to make a big dent in their highest-rate debt within a year. Then they can focus on other loans.

Check for money leaks. After closely examining the Mantanonas’ budget, Russell thinks they can carve out $200 a month to save in a money-market account earmarked for emergencies and future expenses.

As they pay their debts, they should aim to build the emergency fund to six months’ worth of living expenses and save more aggressively for retirement.

Move into a target-date fund. Right now Lynn’s retirement plan is mostly low-yielding government bonds.

Russell suggests she shift into the low-fee 2020 target-date fund in her plan, which would bring her fixed-income allocation to about 46%, or half what it is now.

Assuming the couple save an additional $12,000 a year for retirement beginning in 2018, they should hit $600,000 in savings in 10 years — not what they need to fully retire, but not far off.

Says Lynn: “At least that will bring us to a manageable situation.”

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