Did You Know Your Debt Can Hurt Your Health?

My husband and I recently met with a financial planner to discuss rolling over my retirement savings account from my former employer. 

How we finally found a planner we felt we could trust is a different story, but this planner, I’ll call Mr. Smith, is a Dave Ramsey endorsed local provider, and as expected, much of his advice was on par with Dave Ramsey’s teachings.

In addition to discussing the rollover, we also discussed our finances in general and that we are paying off what seems like insurmountable debt, the majority of which now is student loan debt.  We also spoke about our income, which is lower than we would like because my husband is working at an entry level post doc position and I am freelancing part-time while caring for our young children during the day.

Mr. Smith assured us, “Your income will grow more than you can believe once you pay off that debt because debt takes so much of your energy.  Get rid of that debt completely, and all of your energy can go toward building your careers.”

While I found the entire conversation beneficial, that piece of information is the one that I keep returning to.

Debt is Mentally and Physically Exhausting

I handle the finances in our household, so I am the one paying the bills.  I am the one who became intense about paying down our debt and snowflaking.  I cannot even guess how much time I spend a week thinking about our budget, how much we spend, how much extra we have available to pay on our debt this week, what our balances are, and when all of the debt will be paid off.

It is exhausting.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about our debt, often several times a day.  We are talking about a lot of energy.

I was recently inspired by the story of Joe Mihalic, a Harvard business school graduate who paid off over $90k in student loan debt in 7 months.  To do so, he started a side business, created a blog to write about his experience paying down the debt, got roommates, sold his second car and motorcycle, missed a few friends’ weddings and didn’t travel to visit his family over the holidays.  His life seemed to revolve around his, some might say, obsession, to pay off his debt.  Now that the debt is gone, imagine what he can do with all of that energy?  He appears to be on a very good path because not only is his money entirely his own now, but so is his energy.  He can put all of that extra energy to enriching his life and his career.

On the flip side, some Americans go into debt in their teenage years and never make their way out. 

Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC interviewed Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, who said of Americans’ endless cycle of debt, “The median American family has tried to hold on to an American Dream that their parents could easily afford on one income, and today’s family can’t pay for on two.  They need to make it to the end of this month.  And if plastic is the way to do that, that’s what families have been doing.  And that means more and more families are sinking deeper into financial quicksand” (Dateline NBC).

debt and health

Being in debt can take a toll on your mental and physical health!

Once mired in financial quicksand, getting out is difficult, especially if all of your energy is spent struggling in the quicksand, so to speak.  Not only are many Americans deep in debt, but if they aren’t actively on a path to get out of debt, they are not making as much as they could because so much energy is going to their financial struggle.  Now they are earning less than they potentially could, and they are spending more on interest servicing their debt (approximately $600,000 in interest over the course of the average American’s lifetime according to CreditLoan).

But there is more at stake here than just earning potential and interest paid.  “High levels of credit card debt and debt stress may be bad for a person’s health, a study suggests.  Researchers at Ohio State University found that people who reported higher levels of stress about their debt showed higher levels of physical impairment and also reported worse health than those with lower levels of debt” (Science Daily).

There is nothing easy about paying off debt. 

Some see no need to pay it off because they don’t believe it is possible to have a life without debt, as Elizabeth Warren articulates.  Some don’t want to get gazelle intense because being gazelle intense is a painful process that makes you aware how dire your situation is.

When we were using student loans and credit cards to pay for our expenses because of our very low income, I knew we didn’t have money, but I didn’t feel it because we still had our basic necessities.  Now, that we are gazelle intense, even though we have paid down $10,000 in debt since we started this process 7 months ago, I feel poorer because I feel the pain of not having money.

Sometimes it seems easier to just live in denial, but as my financial planner reminded me, doing so will not only cost you a bundle in interest but will also rob you of the potential to earn more and live a healthy, less stress-filled life.

Does your debt make you sick?  Share your situation in the comments!

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Published or updated January 12, 2014.


  1. My girlfriend has a lot of student loan debt too and spends a lot of time worrying about it. We’re doing fine though and have a plan to pay it off in the next few years. She has a ton of it and it definitely stresses her out at least once a week. Hopefully when it is paid off it helps somehow mentally in addition to the nice boost financially.

  2. I just finished a credential program and racked up more student debt than I had planned on. Now, I feel like I have to pay it off and it’s stressful. Two years ago we were debt free, now we have debt again. It’s not very fun. I’ll have to get gazelle intense very soon.

    • It’s so cliche but when I finally paid off my credit card debt I really felt a sense of freedom. And I knew I could do better things with my money since it was mine again.

      We still have debt but it’s not as burdensome as that old CC debt was.

  3. Any kind of financial problem can cause stress, not just debt. Low or fluctuating income can be even worse. Having a financial plan and some money put away can greatly reduce the stress and allow people to enjoy their lives more.

    • My income has gone through the floor over the past year and I’m living off my savings. I think I have around 10 months’ worth left that will cover bills, mortgage etc, but it still keeps me awake at night.

      My only major debt is my mortgage and since I live alone, it’s doubly more stressful being self-employed and earning nothing! At least if you have a partner, you have the potential for two incomes in the house hold…

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