There was a time not too long ago when I had paid off all of my debt with the exception of my student loans. However, my debt-free life didn’t last long. And, I’m far from alone. According to TIME magazine’s MONEY, people ages 35-44 carry an average of $133,000 of debt and while those under age 35 hover around $67,000. Gen Xers and millennials are shouldering the burden of debt in the U.S., and it’s a hole that most of us will never climb out of. Being saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt when you’re just starting your career means you’re beginning your adult life at a deficit, which can feel like trying to push an elephant up the stairs every single day. What’s more, a survey from CreditLoan found that disclosing debt is so taboo that most people would rather talk about STDs or their partner cheating than discuss their finances. I’m going to break that awkward silence so you don’t have to.
For me, the backslide began during a time when massive layoffs were the rule rather than the exception for print journalists. I was managing editor of a group of newspapers, and the stress of doing more than four jobs, while only getting paid for one, eventually caused me to resign in defeat. I started waiting tables and applied to graduate school. While earning my MFA was one of the most invaluable experiences of my life, I added an additional $60,000 to my student-loan debt in the process even though I worked full time during my program. I eventually moved from Maine to California where my living expenses doubled. Then my dog was diagnosed with a chronic disease, and I racked up thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses. I drained all of my savings, and my credit cards that had once carried a zero balance were close to being maxed out. It wasn’t long before I was hovering at the average debt for my age group, around $133,000.
Debt Is The Bad Date You Can’t Get Rid Of
If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know how I will ever pay off the amount I owe. I live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and my roommate and I are currently being forced to find new digs because our landlord is raising the rent by 50 percent. For two writers who don’t work in the entertainment industry, staying in our current house is simply not an option if we want to be able to eat. OK, I know that some people will say I should move somewhere like Nebraska so I can enjoy a lower cost of living and that I should stop eating so many avocados, but these things are not the primary reason Gen Xers and millennials are drowning in debt. The price of a college education these days is beyond ridiculous and can cost almost as much as buying a house. So, instead of being able to purchase homes, millennials and Gen Xers are buying educations so we can get jobs that pay us peanuts.
What’s more, rents are rising while wages are staying flat, which means that a lot of people are shelling out 50 percent of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. And, according to the Cheat Sheet, the average millennial earns a starting salary of $35,000. If you do the math, it’s not hard to see why debt is the constant – albeit unwanted – companion of this country’s younger generations. While I try not to let my debt affect me too much, as a freelance writer there are definitely lean months where my low bank balance causes me a great deal of anxiety. As it turns out, this is pretty common. A study published in the Clinical Psychology Review noted that there is a direct correlation between debt and mental health. Basically, the more debt you have the more likely you are to experience mental health issues, especially if you’re already prone to anxiety and depression in the first place. The website Yellowbrick reported: “People who struggle to pay off debts are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety, and 29 percent of people with high debt stress report severe anxiety. People with high debt are three times more likely to suffer from mental illness. Stress-related illnesses include ulcers, digestive tract problems, migraines, and even heart attacks.”
The Struggle Is Real, But Debt Doesn’t Have To Be Your Undoing
Good frickin’ grief. Are the debt-ridden destined for a life of doom? Personally, even though I have a crazy amount of debt, I’m fairly vigilant about doing things to keep myself afloat. One of the most important things you can do is to treat your credit score like it’s your baby, which means not ignoring bills and paying them on time. I know that medical bills can be one of the biggest burdens, however, most hospitals and doctors’ offices will let you set up a payment plan, and they’ll never turn you over to collections as long as you pay something each month. Because, once your credit score takes a dive, everything from getting an apartment to buying a car becomes more difficult and much more expensive because bad credit scores equal higher deposits for housing and staggering interest rates on loans. While having a high debt-to-income ration can lower your score, keeping all of your accounts in good standing means that you should still be floating in the “good” zone, which is between 650 and 850.
If you don’t know your credit score you can get all of those deets for free on Credit Karma. Additionally, don’t get more credit cards than you can afford to maintain payments on, opt for cards with a zero percent APR for a pre-determined period of time so you can pay them off without adding the burden of crippling interest to your mountain of debt, and do your best to use your credit cards for emergencies rather than an epic weekend at Coachella. You might also have to accept the fact that you’re going to live with roommates until you’re as old as the Golden Girls, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because who doesn’t want to live with their besties when they’re old and cranky? Until the U.S. treats education as a basic right instead of a luxury, debt will be our burden to bear. But, that doesn’t mean you have to let it squash your spirit. Even though it’s a club no one wants to be in, for better or worse, we are all in this debt debacle together.
So, spill it, what's your debt situation like?!Pretend the comments section is a therapy couch and air your grievances.