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Money Advice for Life
Good debt vs. bad debt
The word “debt” is usually met with a negative connotation but what if we told you that it isn’t always such a bad thing? This blog breaks down the difference between good/bad debt while highlighting strategies for responsibly managing it.
When I was younger my mom told me that there were certain “four letter words” that I wasn’t allowed to say. Debt was not on the list, but I ended up adding it to the category myself. Partly due to horror stories I heard about people being in debt and partly from being naïve about how debt worked. Because of this, I didn’t want a credit card or a loan and I bought my first car in cash. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a financial advisor that I began to learn that there are two types of debt: good debt and bad debt.
It wasn’t necessarily good debt vs. bad debt, but more the management of debt that was good or bad. To help illustrate this, maybe you’ve heard some of the following statements:
Thanks for helping me. I owe you one.
I forgot my wallet, can you spot me? I promise, I’ll pay you back.
Can you work my shift this weekend? Next weekend I’ll work for you.
Each one of these scenarios is a form of debt. When we borrow something with a promise to pay it back, we are in debt until the item is paid back. There is nothing inherently good or bad about these situations. What makes them good or bad is the ability or inability to pay back the debt.
Just like paying our friend back, when we borrow money from our credit union or bank, we have to determine if we are able to pay the debt back. We must be willing to ask ourselves honestly if we are in a good position to pay back the debt or not? Borrowing money can be a great tool, but if we cannot pay back the debt, it can be incredibly destructive and becomes one of those “four letter words.”
As we can see below, borrowing money can be a great tool:
Student loans allow us to get a higher education before we are 40
Car loans help us with transportation for work, school, and holidays
Credit cards give us access to funds and help build a good credit score
Mortgages allow us to buy that dream home before we retire
Once I understood that debt was not the root of all evil, I shifted my gaze to managing my debt rather than worrying about it.
When it comes to managing debt, every situation is different. Rather than focusing on how to manage debt, here are some things I do every time I’m looking at borrowing money to ensure I’m able to pay back the money I borrow.
1. Talk to an advisor
If you only take one thing away from this entire blog, this is it. Always talk to a financial advisor before you borrow money. When you do talk to your financial advisor, listen to their advice.
Anytime I’ve ever had to borrow money, or take on more debt, I’ve booked time to talk through my finances with my financial advisor. This includes before getting a new credit card, increasing my credit card limit, buying a new car or boat, adding overdraft protection. If you don’t have a financial advisor, I would recommend seeking one out like a family physician. Find someone who can stick with you and give you sound advice. My financial advisor knows everything about my finances. She knows how much money I make, how much I spend, my passions, my goals, what I’m saving for, what things stress me out and more. Because my advisor knows me, she is able to advise me.
2. Can You afford the debt?
Before you take on debt, either for the first time or you’re taking on more debt, ask yourself (or your advisor) if you’re able to manage the debt. Could you manage the debt if you lost your job or if an unexpected expense came in?
There are options to help manage unexpected debt such as debt consolidation to have a lower interest rate. This is another great reason to talk with an advisor. Financial advisors are experts and may know products and services to help you that you may be unaware of.
3. Paying off your debt
The biggest difference from paying your friend back for a meal and paying your loan or credit card is interest. Interest is the cost of borrowing money. If you are unable to pay back your debts, the interest can quickly add up so it is very important to ensure you are in a good place to manage debt before taking it on. One of the best tips I can give you when it comes to managing debt is to always pay your monthly bill, and if possible, pay off your debt as quickly as possible. Especially credit card debt as the higher interest rates can do a lot of harm if you aren’t careful.
Good debt management means being able to pay off the money you borrow consistently, and if possible, as quickly as you can. Paying of debt quickly helps save you money by lowering the amount of money you will end up paying towards interest.
4. Are you borrowing for a need or a want?
Like we talked about earlier, borrowing is neither good nor bad, but sometimes we can take on unnecessary debt that can put us in a bad position. If we already have a credit card that is almost at the $10,000 limit, then taking on a new debt for a boat might not be the wisest decision. The decision to wait and save some money or wait and pay the credit card off might be the better choice.
Talking with your financial advisor about managing current debt or taking on future debt is absolutely critical. They are the experts. My financial advisor has dealt with loans, credit cards, and debt management for well over 10 years. She has likely seen and heard of almost every situation regarding debt and I rely on her expertise, opinions and advice.
Debt is a tool and comes in different shapes and sizes. It can help us with unexpected expenses or help us take our dream vacation. However, when debt isn’t managed properly it can lead to stress, anxiety, broken homes, damaged relationships and so much more.
Everyone’s financial situation and lifestyle is complex and unique. Before taking on debt, you should always talk with your financial advisor who can help you develop a clear plan to manage and pay off the debt so you can take on debt confidently.