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Dvorkin On Debt: The Real Definition of “Unhealthy Debt”

More than two decades ago, when I first started counseling people about how to get out of debt, I thought all I’d need to do is draw upon my experience as a CPA. Instead, I had to learn some psychology and even some medicine.

Why? Because I quickly realized that debt isn’t just about owing money. Many people get into debt for psychological reasons, and they often pay a physical price.

I’ve seen otherwise intelligent Americans run up their credit cards because they wanted to impress a date or a friend, dote on their children or grandchildren, and even buy an expensive new car because they thought it would be a symbol of success — and therefore lead to success.

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When that happens, I’ve seen very obvious physical costs of debt: Everything from dropping a gym membership to not seeking medical attention for chronic or even serious conditions because they couldn’t afford it. But I’ve also seen the general stress of debt cause depression, over-eating, alcoholism, drug abuse, and even thoughts of suicide.

Of course, this was just anecdotal evidence. I had to no hard numbers to verify my observations. Until now.

The investment firm Northwestern Mutual recently asked more than 2,600 adults about their “financial anxiety.” The results were stunning and depressing…

  • 67 percent say it’s “negatively impacting their health.”
  • 70 percent say it’s “negatively impacting their happiness.”
  • 70 percent say it’s “”negatively impacting their moods.”

Overall, 85 percent told researchers they’re suffering from financial anxiety. Sadly, it’s getting worse: “36 percent say their anxiety has gone up in the last three years, versus only 14 percent who say it’s gone down.”

Here’s what I find fascinating: In the 20-plus years since I’ve been counseling Americans on their debts, I’ve seen our society increasingly emphasize healthy eating, working out, and stress management. I applaud that, but I wish fitness experts and financial experts would team up — because together, we could make a huge difference in people’s lives.

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