Being in debt makes you feel like you’re always late. It doesn’t help that the debt is seen as something that’s your fault – too much online shopping or too many pitchers of expensive mimosas at brunch.
“In our culture, in our country, we get a lot of noise about debt,” says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based financial therapist and author of “The Financial Anxiety Solution.” “We do a lot about who we are, our character, our will.”
In reality, debt isn’t always the result of things you can control. For example, 58% of collection receivables in 2021 were medical debtsaccording to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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Whatever the reason you are in debt weighs on everything, affecting how you feel physically and mentally, and how you interact with others. Here are stories of people who have tackled debt and dealt with the stress that comes with it.
“I can’t sleep, I think about it”
Debt-related stress can cause several physical problems, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia, and digestive problems. Over time, it can get worse. “Research shows that long-term stress can lead to depression,” says Thomas Faupl, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco.
Claudia McMullin’s business, Hugo Coffee Roasters, has suffered financially from the pandemic. “COVID hit and I lost all my businesses overnight,” she says, referring to her coffee shop and roasting business, both based in Park City, Utah. “I had no cushion to survive. I had to immediately fundraise as quickly as possible.
McMullin got help from Small Business Administration loans, like the Paycheck Protection Program, which became available early in the pandemic. In a moment of desperation, she applied for a loan from a fintech company. The company offered loans that were easy to qualify for, but charged a high interest rate. McMullin estimates she owes about $18,000 a month on her debts.
“I’ll get in the car and go to the office, and my stomach will tighten,” she said. “I can’t sleep, thinking about it.”
McMullin takes drastic measures to pay off his debts as soon as possible. She decided to cash in her IRA, a decision that can result in taxes and penalties. Yet her decision left her feeling liberated, so she is at peace with the resulting financial consequences.
“I haven’t had as many stomach aches this week now that I’ve made this decision,” she says.
Related: Americans have managed to reduce their credit card debt since the pandemic, but soaring inflation could undo all that good work
“I knew it was something I was going to fight for”
Junaid Ahmed and his wife went through a rollercoaster of emotions when they learned that not reading their mail carefully was costing them thousands of dollars. Her student loan provider offered her an interest-only payment plan several years ago, which the couple initially didn’t notice when they looked at the loan statements.
“Admitting that I didn’t look at the mail is not something I can be proud of, but a lot of people are in the same situation,” says Ahmed. When his wife felt embarrassed, he got angry. “I knew it was something I was going to fight for,” he says.
Ahmed is running for Congress to represent his Chicago-area district. He pleads for the cancellation of student debt.
“We were both collapsing under the weight”
Debt can get in the way of maintaining relationships. For Kristin Stones, debt was a dark cloud that hung over her marriage from the start. “My husband and I got engaged about five seconds after we started dating and neither of us had anything to our names,” says Stones, the founder of Cents + Purpose, described as “an online community dedicated to sharing practical content on personal finance“.
They fought for pay his bills, using credit cards to fill the gap before paychecks arrive. After having children, they worked opposite shifts, so one parent was always home. “We had a moment. Things were really, really bad. I think we were both collapsing under the weight,” she says. Her husband broached the topic of divorce. “It was the first time in 15 years that one of us said that word.”
They enrolled in Financial Peace University, a course developed by personal finance personality Dave Ramsey, putting the cost of enrollment on a credit card because they couldn’t afford it. Over time, they paid off all their debts except their mortgage.
Read also : This couple swapped their house for an RV and paid off $200,000 in debt – then the money started rolling in
Ways to Reduce Debt Stress
- Find your collaborators: Talk to friends and family, a nonprofit credit counselor, or even strangers on social media and online forums. Accountability partners can be a source of support. For Stones and her husband, enrolling in a finance course gave them the tools they needed to tackle debt. “Finding a community of other people helps normalize and validate that you’re not a bad person,” says Bryan-Podvin.
- Know the numbers: List of your debts and monthly bills can bring up a lot of bad feelings. But it can also help you spot opportunities, like expenses you can cut or debts you can negotiate (which is sometimes the case with medical debt). For Ahmed, it even prompted him to run for office.
- Focus on self-care: An expensive yoga studio membership might not be on the cards, but there are free ways to pamper yourself, like meeting a friend for a walk or trying out meditation apps. If the stress of debt is making you physically ill, take time for your health.
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Sara Rathner writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @sarakrathner.