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If you’re in debt, you’re certainly not alone.
Approximately 3 out of 4 American families are in debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. With so many Americans carrying debt, it’s easy to dismiss it. Plenty of people live their day-to-day lives shrugging off debt, but it does take a toll.
Financial stress, whether from debt or otherwise, puts a strain on people and their relationships. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, money is a leading source of stress for Americans, with 72 percent of respondents saying they recently felt stressed about money.
Research has also shown that fighting about money is the top predictor for divorce.
That’s why there are many benefits to debt-free living. Let us explain.
Long-term stress, whether over debt or something else, could be bad for your health. Getting on top of debt is not only good for your finances, but also it’s good for your body. Less debt also frees up headspace to think about other things, like helping your kids with their math homework or putting more time into personal fitness.
If you’re carrying around lots of debt, it could be having a negative impact on your credit score.
The total amount of debt you have relative to the total amount of credit available to you—or credit utilization ratio —is a significant factor affecting your credit score, making up 30 percent of that score.
Carrying a balance on one or many credit cards could have a negative effect on your credit score. But if you pay off all that debt, your credit score could go up, which could be helpful if you’re trying to do something like purchase a home or take out a loan.
Quick Fact: Another factor in your credit score is how you manage your debt. You could build credit by using your credit cards from time to time, provided that you pay off the balance in full each month. By making on-time payments, you’ll be seen as a more trustworthy borrower and your score could go up.
Perhaps one of the biggest upsides to being debt-free is the ability to invest. With less money going toward outstanding debt, you’ll have funds to put toward the future—whether it’s retirement, a rainy-day fund, continuing education, a business opportunity or even a dream trip to Bali.
Thanks to compounding interest, the more you can save and invest now, the more you’ll have down the line. Say you are 25 and invest $1,000 a year for 10 years, then stop investing altogether.
Whittling down debt frees up cash that you can put to work.
When you’re in debt, it’s a lot harder to give to those in need. You’re already so worried about your own debt that adding another expense can seem overwhelming.
Having the freedom and means to give to causes and charities is not only rewarding but can also have long-lasting benefits. A recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School showed that money can indeed lead to happiness—when it’s spent on others.
Without debt dominating your budget, you can spend on causes that matter to you, whether it’s taking a leading role in a local charity, sponsoring a child or giving to global charities.
Instead of working extra hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet or pay down debt, you could spend more time doing what you really want to be doing. With less financial worry, you can focus on giving your main job 110 percent. Or take time off. It’s up to you.
Learn more about setting up a budget
If you’re ready to get on top of your debt situation, there are a few steps you can take.
A good first step would be talking to your banker. Banks often have experts on staff who might be willing to help draft a “get out of debt” plan. But be sure to seek out more than just one expert so that you have access to a range of options.
When you’re in debt, it’s easy to feel alone in it. But many people are in the same boat as you—probably even people you’re close to. Ask your family and friends who’ve also struggled with debt for advice on how to go about making changes. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to get a hug and to hear that you don’t have to stay trapped in debt.
If your debt situation feels out of hand, or if you just need help with numerous debts due from different creditors, debt consolidation may be a good option for you.
Debt consolidation means taking numerous debts from different creditors and combining them into a single new debt that you make payments on. This can be beneficial for those who have many higher-interest debts. With debt consolidation, you’ll only be worrying about a single payment with a possibly lower interest rate rather than several debts.
Once you start taking control of your debt, you’ll begin to feel more freedom in your life. Working toward debt-free living can be hard at first, but, in the end, it’ll be worth it.