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Debt makes you unhappy, anxious, even grumpy

Kelly Dilworth

Income may indeed boost happiness, but, not surprisingly, debt is a major downer – particularly if you’re sacked with a large amount of it.

According to a new Purdue University study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, owing thousands of dollars in debt can be toxic to your emotional health and make you feel grumpier and less satisfied with the life you’re leading.

Even low interest debt that you’ve taken on to improve your life circumstances – such as student loan debt – can negatively affect your well-being. For example, the study found that people with large amounts of student loan debt are significantly more likely to feel anxious, stressed or dissatisfied with their life circumstances.

“There has been a lot of research looking at whether and how income makes people happy in life, but few studies have examined whether debt can detract from happiness,” Louis Tay, an assistant professor of psychological sciences, said about his study in a news release. “We found that carrying student loan debt is almost as important as income in predicting worry and life satisfaction.”

Debt is especially toxic if you don’t make enough money to easily afford the debt you’re carrying. The study found that people with more financial resources tended to be more resilient and less affected by how much money they owed to creditors.

Too much debt is bad for your physical and mental health
The study builds on previous research that has found that borrowing more money than you can afford can negatively affect your mental health. For example, the study cites a 2014 paper that U.S. soldiers with high levels of credit card debt tended to be less happy; however, the debt affected them negatively only if they owed more than a few thousand dollars.

Similarly, a 2015 study found that people with credit card debt are significantly more likely to report symptoms of depression, such as low self worth and hopelessness.

Research also has linked debt and financial stress to a range of physical woes. For example, my August blog post on how card debt can cause physical pain cited a 2016 study that found that for some people, debt hurts – literally.

In addition, a Northwestern Medicine 2013 study found that people with higher levels of debt tended to also have higher blood pressure. “We now live in a debt-fueled economy,” said study co-author Elizabeth Sweet in a news release. “It’s important to understand the health consequences.”

Your bottom-line
Be careful about how much you borrow. A pricier school or home may seem worth a larger bill; however, if you become overextended, the long-term impact on your happiness and health could be profound.

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