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Americans have a lot of debt, and an individual’s debt seems to increase as they earn more. The highest average amount of debt, $134,600, is seen among people in the age range of 45 to 54. The least amount is $34,600, held by those over the age of 75. Debt may be the norm, but it’s certainly not the healthiest or wisest way to live.
It may not seem obvious at first, but being in debt can actually take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause both physical and mental health issues, and not feeling like you have money to spend on healthy food can lead to poor consumption habits.
Credit cards and loans may help you attain the things you want, and are there to aid you in times of need, but they can quickly get out of hand and can affect more than just your bank account and credit score. By taking the weight of debt off your shoulders, you can seriously reduce the stress and worry you carry around with you every day—you may even lose actual weight, like this guy did.
The Link Between Debt and Health
Money may not be able to buy you happiness, but debt can sure buy you sadness—and anxiety, fear, and sleepless nights. Not having enough money and having to borrow money are two things that can cause mental turmoil. Both your self-esteem and your cognition can dip.
Stress isn’t just mental, though, as it can lead to physical symptoms. The symptoms include chest or muscle pain, headaches, stomach pain, insomnia, and fatigue. It can cause major changes in your eating habits, or drive you to turn to negative habits to cope. Without getting stress under control, it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
In addition to the physical effects of chronic stress from debt, there are other ways in which debt can hurt your health. In an attempt to pay off debt faster, you may take on multiple jobs and work 60-hour weeks just to pay down debt and also make ends meet each month. This exhausts your body both physically and mentally, and you may not take the time—or even have the time at all—to make home-cooked meals, exercise, and otherwise take care of your basic health needs.
When you don’t feel you have the financial means to take care of yourself, other things get pushed aside. You may start making poor eating decisions due to the more affordable nature and convenience of pre-made food. Pre-made food—whether it be take-out or frozen meals and other junk food in the store—are filled with unhealthy amounts of preservatives like sodium and sugar that can affect your overall wellbeing. You may also put off going to the doctor, as even with insurance, going for checkups and addressing medical needs can still cost quite a bit of money and may make you feel like you can’t afford to go.
There are a number of ways to handle stress that comes with all of these health aspects of being in debt. Taking time to practice meditation can help, as well as smaller, passive things like aromatherapy—lavender essential oil, in particular, is known to have a calming effect when inhaled or applied to your body. You can also make a stronger effort to meal plan so you have more time and money to put towards healthy eating decisions. Also, you can work with your health insurance company to make sure you can afford regular doctor checkups, which helps to make sure you can afford regular doctor checkups, which helps to monitor any ongoing health issues or spot news ones, as well as give you peace of mind.
However, the best way to take care of your health and reduce your stress is to remove the source of stress in the first place. What does this entail?
You guessed it: You need to get out of debt to reduce stress and ensure your wellbeing.
You can get out of debt.
There are a number of ways to reduce, eliminate, and stay out of debt. Here are a few tried-and-true methods:
1. The Snowball Method
Order your debts from smallest to largest total owed. As you’re paying the minimums on the other debts, pay off as much of the smallest debt as you can. Once that one’s paid off, continue the same system with the next smallest debt. The idea here is that you always want to pay more than the minimum payment in order to reduce your debt, but if you have several payments to make, it’s best to focus on one and then build from there.
2. The Avalanche Method
This is similar to the Snowball Method except you list your debts from lowest to highest interest rate instead of total owed. Pay the minimums on each and put everything extra toward the debt with the highest interest rate. It could take longer to pay off your debt this way than if you use the Snowball Method, but it’s the most economical way to do it.
3. Keep your credit card balances low.
Paying your credit card early (but not too early) helps you keep your balance low and avoid late payment fees. If your card only charges interest on balances you carry over to the next month, paying on time every month can save you a lot. Also, by paying your credit card regularly, even multiple times a month, there’s a better chance that the balance will be low when the card reports to the credit bureau, which can improve your credit score.
4. Cut up your credit cards. (But don't close them!)
To get out of credit card debt, you have to stop using your cards for extraneous purchases. Keep one credit card that you use for recurring charges that you pay off religiously, then cut up the rest. Don’t close those cards, though, unless they have ridiculous annual fees. When you have unused credit, your utilization percentage goes down, which is good for your credit score. Also, closing a card can shorten your credit history, which could lower your score.
5. Major debt? Ask for help.
Debt doesn’t always build slowly, one Starbucks latte or shopping spree at a time. Sometimes it hits you all at once, like when you have an accident or come down with an illness. When you have massive amounts of medical debt that you know you cannot get under control, it’s time to reach out.
Depending on your specific medical condition, you may be able to get help. Charities like CancerCare offer financial assistance for treatment costs for people with cancer. This helps the patient focus on staying healthy and strong without suffering under the weight of major debt. Some patients are also using crowdfunding to help pay their medical bills when their health insurance comes up short.
Getting rid of your debt can be freeing and will improve your credit score. But more importantly, it can make you happier and healthier. For a lot of people, getting out of debt is a completely attainable goal. You don’t have to think of paying down the total sum of your debt right now—that can be overwhelming and make it impossible to start. Instead, make a list of your debts, choose the repayment method you think will work best for you, and slowly start chipping away at it, one debt at a time.
As you make progress paying your debts, you will be able to work on any health issues that have stemmed from them. Whether it’s chronic stress caused by overworking and constant worrying about finances, or poor lifestyle choices due to lack of time and money trying to pay off debt, identifying and addressing these issues will surely help your overall health and wellbeing.