Student loan debt, skyrocketing medical bills (with or without health insurance), high costs of living and a myriad other assaults on the bank account are all taking their toll.

In fact, Americans owe more than $4 trillion. Debt seems a normal way of life for many—or, as Charles Dickens wrote in Little Dorrit, "they had come to regard insolvency as the normal state of mankind, and the payment of debts as a disease that occasionally broke out."

Lest this habitual condition of insolvency, as Dickens puts it, threaten retirement, workers are trying to lower the levels of their debt so that they might have funds to save for the day when they simply can't work any longer.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.