Americans collectively owe $1.4 trillion and counting in student loans, so it seems likely that retiring your student debt makes retirement easier. For example, a recent Aon Hewitt study found that 71% of employees who had student loans contributed to workplace retirement plans, versus 77% of employees who didn’t have student debt. An estimated 2.8 million Americans aged 60 and older are still carrying student loan debt.

Aside from making it more difficult to save, letting student debt linger can threaten your retirement in a different way. If you default on your loans, you may have to sacrifice some of your Social Security benefits. In 2015 the U.S. Department of Education collected $171 million in defaulted student debt through offsets made against Social Security benefits. Some, of course, may have been grandparents caught paying off a grandchild's unpaid debt ( Seniors: Before You Co-sign That Student Loan tells the tale), but others are still struggling with their own debt.

That’s a definite incentive to eliminate your student loan debt as quickly as possible. (For more, see The Worst Things That Can Happen if You Don’t Pay Your Student Loans.)

This article is geared to those fortunate and careful savers who have managed to shake off their loans. (Some employers these days even help out.) Once you’ve done that, the next step is updating your retirement savings plan. Here’s how to do it.

Debt Gone? Fine-Tune Your Retirement Savings Strategy

There are two specific numbers to focus on once your student loans are zeroed out. The first is your target retirement savings goal. The second is the amount you have saved already.

There are several things to consider when determining how much money you’ll need in retirement. They include your life expectancy, estimated expenses and estimated income in retirement from Social Security, a pension, annuities and your existing retirement savings. When estimating your expenses, you also have to think about how inflation may impact your purchasing power as you grow older.

Once you have an idea of what your goal is, you can compare that to your current savings balance, including money you may have in a 401(k), individual retirement account (IRA) or taxable investment account. The difference between the two numbers represents your savings gap, and this is what you should focus on addressing as you adjust your retirement plan after your student loans are paid off.

For example, let’s say you’re 40 years old, have $50,000 in retirement savings and a goal of retiring at age 65 with $1 million. To reach your goal you’d need to save approximately $15,000 a year and earn a 6% annual rate of return. That breaks down to $1,250 each month.

Now assume that you’ve been paying $400 a month to your student loans and saving $500 a month in your employer’s retirement plan. If you adjust your contributions to include the $400 you were paying to your student loans, that puts you at $900 a month for retirement savings. From there you’d have to review your budget to find the other $350 you need to reach your goal.

But what if you don’t have access to an employer’s plan with a higher annual contribution limit? In that scenario you could focus your savings on a traditional or Roth IRA. These accounts currently have an annual contribution limit of $5,500, which increases to $6,500 once you reach age 50.

You can also add to your savings with a health savings account (HSA) if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan. These accounts are designed to let you save money on a tax-advantaged basis for future medical expenses. For 2017 you could contribute $3,400 to an HSA if you have individual coverage and $6,750 if you have family coverage. An HSA is not a retirement account, but you can make penalty- and tax-free withdrawals for any medical purposes after age 65 (withdrawals after 65 that are not for medical purposes will be taxed, but they, too, carry no penalty). (For more, see How to Use Your HSA for Retirement.)

The Bottom Line

When student loans are no longer part of your financial life, it may become easier to make retirement a priority. The challenge is making sure that the extra money you now have available doesn’t get eaten up by lifestyle inflation. Analyzing your budget, calculating your ideal savings number and formulating a plan for making up the difference can get you closer to the type of retirement you want to enjoy.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.