Debt can be a useful tool when it is used correctly. But even when used properly, it can do strange things to our emotions. While most people do not mind going into debt to buy a house, or attend college, and often not even to purchase a new car (these are referred to as good debt), there are few that are comfortable with racking up large amounts of debt on their credit card (referred to as bad debt). How does carrying debt affect us?
We have a desire to become debt free. If you do a search of the web you will come across thousands of websites that are dedicated solely to getting rid of debt. Why are there so many people anxious to get rid of their debt? The answer is simply that being debt free feels good. The emotional feelings that being in debt causes are not comfortable, so people often hurry to get rid of their debt even though it is often more logical to invest their extra money.
When it comes to money matters, logic is the clear winner. There is never a time where relying on your emotions will get you ahead in the game. We saw this during the last recession. People panicked as the market went down; many of them pulled their money out of their investments as it neared the bottom. They sat in cash for too long and missed a good portion of the recovery. Following the same logic, we should only pay off debt that is costing more than we can expect to reasonably earn on investments in the long run. Since investing over the course of 20 or more years should easily earn you a 7% rate of return, almost all investments should just be allowed to carry out their course with only minimums being paid (the exception, of course being credit cards and others that carry a higher interest rate). But almost nobody follows the logical rules when it comes to debt. The reason is that they do not like being enslaved to it.
One of the basic human rights is the right to freedom; freedom to choose, to worship, to think, to believe, and so forth. Being in debt makes you a slave, you have to work to earn money to pay off that debt. You do not get a choice (except bankruptcy, but the long term negative implications make bankruptcy so it is not even an option for most people). Psychologically, you are a slave to your debt.
In order to avoid this worst case scenario, take some steps now to make sure you are not a slave to debt. If all you have is a few small, low interest debts, you are doing well. Pay the minimums if you can and invest the difference. If the discipline to do so is too hard, you have two options. Wipe out the smallest first (little wins) or the highest interest first (biggest savings). If debt is destroying you psychologically, the little wins will help you have the strength to keep going and not get burnt out. To find more money in your budget, take a look around the debt management section and see if you can pick up a few tips to make your life easier.
If you are currently carrying bad debt, I encourage you to join the debt movement. Starting in February, the personal finance blogging community and ReadyForZero will be helping people pay off $10 million of debt in just 90 days. You also have the chance to sign up for up to $10,000 worth of debt scholarships.