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How to start talking about your debt

Money discussions are rarely easy, especially when emotional topics such as debt are on the table. But opening up a conversation about what you owe can help you make decisions, find new solutions and receive support from your loved ones — all of which can help you confidently move forward in your financial journey.

Start with the full picture

Before you start a conversation, it’s important to gather a full picture of your  current debt . It might feel daunting, so find a comfortable spot, take a few deep breaths and know that you can pause at any time to manage any  feelings of stress  before continuing.

I like to start by writing down any existing debts, whether that's student loans , a mortgage or balances on credit cards . These written notes can be a helpful reference if you find it challenging to talk about your debt.

Now that you have all the numbers, take a moment to reflect on how the debt was created — are there aspects of your money story that led to overspending? Maybe you’re using a credit card to cover the gap between your income and your expenses. Understanding the why behind your debt can help you uncover the root issue. Acknowledging any root behaviors can help alleviate any shame you hold around your debt and give you power to change the behavior.

Get the conversation started

Once you have a good sense of your debt, consider these ways to prepare for your conversations. 

  • Be ready for questions. Whoever you choose to talk to could ask for more details, like your debt payoff plan or your current budget . You can prepare some of this information ahead of time to show you’ve thought about how to move forward. 

  • Set the tone. Even though debt can be a heavy topic, it doesn’t need to be. To keep things casual, broach the topic in a comfortable setting, such as over a meal with friends. If you want a more serious conversation, pick a more predictable and quiet setting — like coffee at home with your partner. 

  • Create healthy boundaries. Before diving into the details, communicate your limits. If you want to share your debt situation but aren’t looking for advice, be upfront. If you’d welcome feedback, let them know. 

  • Be honest. You’ve already made it this far: Now’s the time to share the full picture of your debt. Obscuring the details will make it harder for people to give the appropriate amount of support. 

Who you can talk to

Having debt can be an isolating experience. But there is always someone to talk to, whether a friend or a financial advisor. 

Be open with loved ones

It’s crucial to talk to your spouse or partner about your finances because the two of you are a team. But it can be worth opening up the conversation with family members, too. Being vulnerable and honest about your debts with those closest to you can create new opportunities for connection and support.

Start money talks with friends

Because your friends’ finances aren’t tied up with yours, they can provide an objective point of view on your debt. You might find that they’re facing similar issues with money — you could even start a “money club” to support each other.

After I graduated from college, I had more than $30,000 in student loan and credit card debt. I knew many of my friends were in the same position — wanting to pay down debt but also increase our financial knowledge. That’s when our monthly Money Club was created. At each meetup, we talked about our debt and learned about a new financial topic (529 accounts, Roth IRAs, etc). The club created accountability for debt repayment and provided time for us to learn from each other.

Money can feel extremely personal, but you don’t need to carry the stress of your debt alone.

Log on to financial forums

If you want to maintain some anonymity and still get feedback on your finances, consider posting on a money-focused forum online. These websites offer community and conversation without needing to disclose much personal information. (Just be wary that not all the advice you receive online is worth taking.)

Find a professional

If you’re getting serious about understanding your debt, talking to a financial advisor can provide you with unbiased advice and guidance. With Ally Invest Personal Advice , a financial advisor will work with you to develop a comprehensive financial plan — including approaches to your existing debt. 

An ongoing conversation

Money can feel extremely personal, but you don’t need to carry the stress of your debt alone. By being brave enough to talk about your finances, you’re creating new opportunities for emotional connection and support as you move through your debt journey.

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