Should I Use My Emergency Fund to Pay Off Debt?

pay off debt

Most financial advisors recommend having at least three to six months savings in an emergency fund at any given time. An emergency fund can be helpful in getting through the expensive curveballs life throws your way. Unexpected car maintenance, the sudden loss of employment, medical emergencies, and unforeseen home repairs are examples of events for which you may have to use your emergency fund. Sometimes, though, it can be tempting to use this money for expenses that aren’t necessarily true emergencies. If you have a big pile of debt, it may seem like using your emergency fund to pay down the balance is a good idea. Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t use your emergency fund to pay down debt, and a few exceptions where you might want to consider it.

The simple reason not to pay off your debts with emergency fund money is that most debt is not an emergency. This fund is specifically meant to cover unforeseen costs and expensive emergencies. Cars loans, student loans, mortgages, and personal loans all tend to have set, predetermined monthly payments. That means this debt is controlled and you know what to expect every month. As long as you can meet those monthly payments and expect to be able to continue to pay on time, there is no reason to dip into your emergency fund. Paying off your debt over the agreed upon timeline is not, after all, an emergency.

While it may seem like you have all this debt looming over your head, you have to remember that your emergency fund is specifically there to handle the unexpected. Your monthly car payment is not going to have the same impact on your financial stability as sudden and major car repairs from an accident. Where will you be if you use your emergency fund to pay off your debts only to find yourself dealing with a major financial emergency a short time later? Since you never know when a mishap like this will occur, it is best to save the emergency fund for actual emergencies.

There are, however, a few exceptions. An “emergency” will change in definition from individual to individual. Having kids or pets, owning or renting your home, owning your own business, and the stability of your employment are factors that will likely impact what you consider an emergency worthy of tapping into your emergency fund. This also goes for determining whether or not your debt is an emergency. Unmanageable, high-interest credit card debt, for instance, may count as an emergency depending on your specific circumstances. If you find yourself struggling to pay your monthly bills and are facing down the consequences of late or missed credit card payments, this could be enough of a reason to dip into your emergency funds.

Before you panic and deplete your emergency fund to pay off debt, think about why you have this unmanageable debt in the first place. The reasons behind the debt can also be a determining factor in whether or not to use your emergency fund. Was the debt unavoidable or due to some unhealthy spending habits? If your unhealthy habits are behind the debt, it may not be the best idea to dip into your savings and emergency fund. Understanding the reasons behind the debt is the first step to changing those habits and avoiding similar mistakes in the future.

Even in the event that you do determine debt to be a financial emergency, it is not a good idea to completely drain your emergency fund. You are better off leaving your emergency fund alone (or continuing to build it) while you make the minimum payments required on your debt. Debt-swapping, or replacing your high-interest debt with a lower-interest option, should be considered before dipping into savings. If you are able to pay down the debt a decent amount, you could justify using a small portion of your emergency fund to finish paying off the debt, but even this should be a last resort.

When it comes down to it, emergency means emergency. Being honest with yourself about your financial situation is the first step to proper money management. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline to build up savings or an emergency fund. Don’t let that hard work go to waste! At Veitengruber Law, we can help you come up with debt solutions to stay on top of your financial situation so you don’t have to consider dipping into your savings.

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