One financial decision many people struggle with is whether to focus their energy and resources on paying off debt (which frees more of your income) or investing in retirement (which secures your financial future). With more than 43 million Americans responsible for $1.6 trillion dollars in student loan debt, getting free of debt burdens should be a high priority.

At the same time, the guarantee of Social Security benefits are questionable for many in my age bracket, making it imperative to invest in personal retirement accounts and other savings options. Both are equally important, so which should you tackle first? The answer depends largely on your unique situation.

Here are a few areas to examine as you consider which of these wise financial moves should be your first priority.

#1: Re-negotiate your student loan payments.

If you’re having difficulty making the minimum payment on your student loans, your primary focus should be on negotiating an affordable payment plan.

Thanks to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA), many former students qualify for payments based on income, which can bring their monthly payments to as low as 10% of their total income. This can significantly reduce loan payments and enable you to not only pay off debt but have more income to invest in retirement.

#2: Re-finance if it makes financial sense.

If you’re still struggling to see how you can afford to invest because of other debt such as your mortgage, other loans, or credit cards, consider if refinancing is right for you. I know interest rates are high but it may still make sense depending on how much interest you are paying with your other loans….

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