Let's talk debt: The benefits of an uncomfortable conversation
Money conversations are always hard. Many of us were brought up to believe that it’s impolite to talk about money matters. As a culture, we’ve made some strides toward changing that thinking. For example, talking about salaries is slowly becoming more acceptable.
But there are still some taboos that remain. And talking about debt is one of them.
To me, and to many people, debt can feel like a bad word. That alone makes it hard to talk about. And it’s true, of course, racking up too much debt at high interest rates can be a huge problem. But opening up a conversation about debt can help you make decisions, find new solutions and garner support from family and friends – all of which could save you serious money over time.
Before you can talk to your partner , family, or friends about your debt, it’s best to form a clear picture of your debt situation for yourself. I know, it can be daunting to tally it all up, but try to keep in mind that not all debt is bad. Mortgage debt, for example, represents an asset that you are paying your way toward owning free and clear of any liens, and that asset can appreciate in value over time.
Now could be a good time for a review of your outstanding debts, too. Many of us were able to save money and pay down debt during the pandemic. But with inflation rising and “normal” life resuming, higher expenses may be starting to reverse that progress. Tallying up everything you have on hand and everything you owe can help you adjust your budget and stay on track.
I’ll get straight to the point: Your credit score is almost as important as your Social Security number. Your credit score unlocks access to the money you need to buy a house or a car, build a business, go to school or chase other dreams you have. The better your score, the lower interest rates you’ll be offered, and the less you’ll likely pay to pursue those goals.
Of course, it’s crucial to talk to your spouse or partner about your finances , because the two of you are a team. But it’s worth opening up the conversation with close friends and family members, too.
Knowledge is power. The more you talk about debt, the more you’ll learn about how the people around you are handling their own debt. They may have experience or advice that could be useful to you, especially if they are in similar financial circumstances.
Support matters. Paying down debt can get emotionally draining. Like dieting, you might start out by trying to deny yourself all pleasures and then, frustrated, run out of willpower and quit entirely. Family and friends can help you find sustainable strategies that you can stick with for the long haul. Plus, if they know you’re working toward an important goal, they may be less likely to encourage you to splurge and more willing to find inexpensive ways to spend time together.
Transparency helps everyone. Opening up a conversation about debt could help you and your family better understand how to support one another financially, too. For example, if your parents are aging, you may want to get a better picture of where they stand debt-wise. Have they paid off their mortgage? Are they prepared to pay for health care costs as they age? On the flip side, if your parents are planning to pass on some money to you, talking about debt could help them see that a gift now might be more useful than a gift later. But you can’t have those conversations until you open up to one another about debt.
Lindsey Bell, Ally’s chief markets & money strategist, is an award-winning investment professional with a passion for personal finance and more than 17 years of Wall Street experience. Bell’s unique ability to connect the dots between data and real life and craft bite-sized money ideas that people can use and apply stems from her deep background as an analyst, researcher and portfolio manager at organizations including J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank. She is known for demonstrating why and how an understanding of all things money improves a person’s finances and overall well-being. An ongoing CNBC contributor, Bell empowers consumers and investors across all walks of life and frequently shares her insights with the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Kiplinger’s, Forbes and Business Insider. She also serves on the board of Better Investing, a non-profit focused on investment education.
Chief Markets & Money Strategist
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