I’m 59, and my husband and I earn $500,000 a year — but have credit card debt and nothing saved for retirement. What should we do?

Dear Catey,

My husband is 65 and a lawyer and partner in his firm with a thriving practice; I am 59 years old. We have three children (more on that below), and I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom. I now work part time, which is essentially just “play” money. Although I’m college-educated, I never had a career outside of the home.

Our youngest recently graduated from college and is now working full time. We provided a college education for all three children, and we were easily able to afford it. We make a very good income (over $500,000 a year), although we live in an expensive city and our income tax bracket is astronomical.

Our oldest child, a son, had mental health and addiction issues for a decade. We spent a small fortune trying to help him by sending him to multiple rehabs, sober living housing, psychiatric counseling, living expenses when he was unable to work or go to school, paying for his college education, etc. He took his own life several years ago, which left us utterly devastated. We have tried our best to move forward, but money for our retirement is simply not there.

The pluses are that my husband is healthy, fit, and energetic and has an excellent law practice. Assuming he remains in good health, he can work for many more years and plans to do just that. We own a home that will be paid for in 7 years, and at this time is worth around $1.4 million. If we sold it tomorrow, we could net a million dollars in equity. Our city is rapidly growing and homes prices have become very high, so it would be difficult to find a home for less than $750,000 (if we were lucky).

Do you advise sitting tight as our home continues to appreciate, or try to downsize and pay for a home in full with cash? We bought our house for a song when the market was down. We have emptied our IRAs and have a great deal of credit card debt, which I hope to have paid off in full in the next 18 months — and we’d like to save for retirement.

I’m mortified to speak to a financial adviser. Any advice would be sincerely appreciated.

Thank you so much,

Dear LS,

It was hard for me to know how to begin this column to you, other than to offer my deepest condolences about your son. I think any parent reading this (and I’m one of them) can relate to your willingness to spend so much of your savings to help your son.

Please don’t be “mortified” to speak to a financial adviser. You’re human, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing about personal finance for a decade, it’s this: Almost everyone has something in their financial lives that they feel embarrassed about.

The silver lining here is that you’ve got a high income and a ton of equity in your home. You have options even though it may not feel like it right now. Here’s how several experts think you should proceed going forward.

Sell your home and move to a cheaper spot, using the proceeds from that sale to pay down your credit card debt as quickly as you can and start saving more for retirement, says certified financial planner Brian Bruggeman, a vice president at Baker Boyer in Walla Walla, Wash. You could buy a cheaper place. Or you might even consider renting for a few years, says Shannon McLay, the founder and CEO of The Financial Gym.

If you can, consider switching to a 0% interest rate credit card while you repay the balance — though be sure to pay it off before the 0% period expires. It’s also important that you use this time to make a budget and see where you can make larger cuts in your spending to free up as much cash as you can, Bruggeman adds.

“Pay off your credit card debt as soon as possible. The less debt you carry, the more spendable income you’ll have in retirement—period,” explains Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif.

You should also start saving for retirement with those extra funds, says Foss, who recommends putting down 20% on the new home (to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance) and investing the rest to “help provide additional income for retirement.”

As for how to start saving for retirement, “the first place to look is their workplace retirement plans,” says Bruggeman, who suggests your husband max his plan and you do the same if you have a workplace plan. Because your husband is over 50, he can contribute $26,000 to a 401(k) in 2020.

Then, he adds, consider maxing out any tax-advantaged accounts you have access to, such as an HSA, or potentially funding what’s called a backdoor Roth IRA. (You can read more about backdoor Roth IRAs here; Foss notes that you should consult with a tax adviser if you are considering this plan.) “The rules around backdoor Roth IRAs are a little tricky if they have outside IRAs, so they’ll want to do their homework before pursuing that strategy. If they are able to fund their employer plans and other tax advantaged accounts, they should fund a joint investment account and invest in a tax-efficient portfolio,” he adds. (Read more about spousal IRAs here.)

It’s also a good idea, as you are already planning, for your husband to continue working as long as he can, experts say. And though you might be tempted to take Social Security early, don’t.

“Your husband should delay taking Social Security benefits until at least age 70. As long as he is in good health and enjoys working as an attorney, he should not begin taking Social Security benefits. His benefit will reach its maximum level at age 70, though he need not begin claiming it until he is ready. You should consider claiming your spousal benefit when your husband reaches age 70, whether he retires then or not,” Foss explains.

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