Debt can feel overwhelming, and studies are increasingly showing that it can lead to a decrease in happiness and life satisfaction, anxiety and even physical symptoms like headaches or loss of sleep.
A study of more than 1,000 student loan borrowers â€” conducted by Student Loan Hero, which, like MagnifyMoney, is owned by LendingTree â€” found that:
The study showed a direct correlation between having debt and detracting from happiness. In fact, results revealed that carrying student loan debt is nearly as significant as income when it comes down to predicting financial concern and evaluating life satisfaction.
Indeed, money can buy happiness, but how much debt one has also weighs heavily into the equation, according to a study from Purdue University. An online college alumni sample of 2,781 individuals from the United States revealed that student debt could take a significant toll on oneâ€™s life satisfaction over the long term.
Another survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) showed that 56% of Americans with debt admitted that it negatively impacted their lives. Twenty-eight percent of the 1,004 American adults surveyed said their debt caused stress about their everyday financial decisions, and 21% said it caused tension with their partner.
If youâ€™re struggling with debt and itâ€™s taking a toll on your health, you need to take action. But where to start?
â€śThe first thing a person needs to do is take a close look at how they got into debt in the first place,â€ť advised Carolyn McClanahan, M.D., CFP, who began her career as a physician and is now founder of a financial planning group called Life Planning Partners LLC, based in Jacksonville, Fla. â€śThey should identify what triggered the situation or any bad habits that might have led to their debt, so that they donâ€™t repeat those things going forward. Then, they need to make an actionable plan to figure out how to get out of debt.â€ť
Below is a guide to confronting your debt and anxiety so that you can make steps toward a more prosperous and emotionally stable future.
â€śYou ideally want to start by paying off the debt with the highest interest rates first,â€ť McClanahan said. Specifically, look for credit card debt with the highest interest rates, and begin to chip away at that. Also keep in mind that credit card debt, though concerning, is a common type of debt. In a recent report, MagnifyMoney found that Americans paid back $110 billion in interest and fees in 2018, up from the $98 billion in interest paid the year before. Although it might seem overwhelming, others have found their way out of the debt â€” and itâ€™s likely that you can, too.
You might also want to consider looking into a debt consolidation loan. A debt consolidation loan may be taken out to pay off existing credit card debt so you can repay it with better terms.
Many people fail to recognize that there are many instances where you can negotiate and in turn, lower your debt. Take medical bills, for example. â€śIt can really help to negotiate with the medical provider,â€ť said McClanahan. â€śIf youâ€™re willing to pay them real money over time, you can end up paying pennies on the dollar of what you own,â€ť she said. In addition to negotiating, McClanahan suggested asking hospitals or health centers whether they have any financial assistance programs that you might qualify for.
Furthermore, if youâ€™re accepting a new job offer, donâ€™t be afraid to negotiate a higher starting salary, which in turn could help you windle your way out of debt faster. Research the job market and consider making a compelling case as to why you deserve a higher salary.
When tackling your debt, it also pays off to research your repayment options carefully. For example, investigate your student loan repayment options and then determine what the most beneficial path is for your personal situation. You can kick-start your search for repayment assistance program by using this resource on Student Loan Hero.
Seek the help of a psychologist or another mental health expert if your concerns about debt are negatively impacting your day-to-day life. A licensed health expert can help you confront your anxieties head on and offer strategies for dealing with them effectively. Also, reach out to your personal network and let those close to you know that you could use their support. It helps to know that youâ€™re not in it alone.
Low-income individuals may want to seek the help of a sliding scale therapist, who will adjust their fees to make therapy more affordable. This can be found on mental health directories like GoodTherapy.org. There are also clinics that provide low-fee or free mental health services. To find a clinic near you, visit MentalHealth.gov.
It could also help to reach out to a debt counselor or financial planner to take steps toward getting your finances in order, or at least developing a game plan for getting back on track, McClanahan said. â€śIf the debt is beyond your means, you might also want to explore bankruptcy or whatever it might take to turn your situation around,â€ť she said. A professional can help you weigh the pros and cons of different options.
Take steps to rebuild your credit and improve your credit score, which in turn, could give you access to more credit in the future. For starters, focus on implementing a plan for paying off debt, and work to keep your balances low on credit cards. Keep in mind that improving your credit score requires small, responsible actions over time, so be patient and set long-term objectives. For more tips on how to improve your FICO score, take a look here.
Indeed, accumulating debt can certainly take an emotional toll and negatively impact your overall life satisfaction. However, you can take simple steps to pay down debt and turn your financial situation around. No financial situation is permanent, and with some patience, persistence and implementing of best practices, you can find yourself back on the path to financial recovery. So take a deep breath, keep your emotions at bay and work on tackling your debt in a practical manner.