6 minutes read

Good Debt vs Bad Debt – how to tell the difference

Duane Littler

In a world where financial decisions play a pivotal role in shaping our lives, understanding the nuances of good debt vs bad debt is crucial for achieving a secure financial future. For most of us, borrowing money has become an integral part of life – whether it’s to fund higher education, purchase your dream home, or fulfill other aspirations. However, not all debt is created equal, and the difference can distinctly affect your financial wellness.

The Complex Landscape of Borrowing

Every single day financial decisions reverberate throughout the lives of individuals and families. From seeking further education to investing in real estate, the choices we make when it comes to borrowing money can shape our financial trajectories for years (and generations) to come.

Debt, in its essence, is a tool that can either build or burden. It’s essential to recognize that not all debt is inherently bad. The key lies in understanding the purpose behind the borrowed funds and the potential returns they can yield. This distinction, between what financial experts term “good debt” and “bad debt,” forms the crux of responsible borrowing.

A Map to Make Sense of Good Debt vs Bad Debt

Imagine a roadmap with two distinct paths—one leading to financial growth and stability, and the other to potential financial turmoil. As consumers, the choices we make regarding borrowing place us at the crossroads of these paths. Good debt and bad debt serve as guiding lights, helping us determine the route that aligns with our aspirations and long-term goals.

The concept of good debt revolves around investments in yourself, your education, and your future. Good debt recognizes that some expenditures today can lead to financial gains tomorrow. On the flip side, bad debt can be described as borrowing for short-term gratification. Or to put it simply, buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have.

Good Debt – Nurturing Your Financial Future

When you take on good debt, you’re leveraging borrowed funds to create opportunities that can yield long-term benefits. Think of good debt as planting seeds that will grow into substantial financial rewards down the line.

Common examples of good debt include:

  • Education Loans: Taking out a loan to invest in your education can lead to higher earning potential and career opportunities. While you’ll need to repay the loan, the skills and knowledge gained from your education can result in increased income.
  • Mortgages: Buying a home is often considered a good debt because it’s an investment that can appreciate in value over time. Instead of paying rent, you’re building equity in a property that may yield financial benefits down the road.
  • Small Business Loans: If you’re starting or expanding a business, a well-planned loan can help you grow your venture and generate more income.

Bad Debt – A Slippery Slope

On the flip side, bad debt has a different story to tell. It often involves borrowing money for items that don’t appreciate in value or for expenses that you simply can’t afford. Bad debt is akin to digging a financial hole that becomes increasingly difficult to climb out of. The interest rates associated with bad debt can compound the problem, making it challenging to regain your financial footing.

Examples of bad debt include:

  • Credit Card Debt: Using credit cards to buy non-essential items that you can’t pay off at the end of the month can lead to high interest rates and long-term debt.
  • Payday Loans: These short-term, high-interest loans are often used in emergencies, but their high fees can quickly trap borrowers in a cycle of debt.
  • Consumer Loans for Depreciating Assets: Borrowing money for items like luxury goods, electronics, or vehicles can be considered bad debt if the items lose value quickly and don’t contribute to your financial well-being.

The Good Debt vs Bad Debt Test

When evaluating good debt vs bad debt, consider these factors:

  1. Potential Return: Will the debt lead to an investment that appreciates over time? Good debt should have the potential to increase your net worth.
  2. Affordability: Can you comfortably make the required payments without sacrificing your ability to meet other financial obligations?
  3. Interest Rates: High-interest debts can quickly spiral out of control, making it important to understand the interest rates associated with your borrowing.
  4. Purpose of the Loan: Is the loan for a necessary expense, like education or a home, or is it for discretionary spending that could lead to overspending?

Here’s some real-world examples:

Good Debt

Bad Debt

Example 1: A Student Loan – Future Earnings

The student loan is an example of good debt. By investing in your education, you’re likely to increase your earning potential and future opportunities. While you’ll need to repay the loan, the skills and qualifications gained from your studies can lead to a well-paying job.

Example 1: Credit Card Vacation

Financing a lavish vacation with a credit card is bad debt. The memories from the vacation might be enjoyable, but the high-interest rates on credit card balances can quickly turn this debt into a long-term financial burden.

Example 2: A Mortgage – The Dream Home

Your mortgage falls under the category of good debt. Owning a home not only provides shelter but also has the potential to appreciate in value over time. As you make mortgage payments, you’re building equity in the property.

Example 2: Fancy Car, High Interest

Borrowing for a new car with a high-interest consumer loan is often bad debt. Vehicles generally depreciate rapidly in value, meaning you could end up owing more on the loan than the car is worth. Opting for a more affordable car or saving up for a down payment can be a better financial choice.

Take Action

Now that we have a better understanding of good debt and bad debt, here are a few actionable tips for managing your debt wisely.

  1. Prioritize Good Debt: When possible, focus on acquiring good debt that can improve your financial situation over time.
  2. Create a Budget: Establish a budget to track your income and expenses. This can help you avoid overspending and accumulating unnecessary debt. Use Wealthstack’s free budgeting tool to set you up on the right path.
  3. Emergency Fund: Maintain an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, reducing the need to rely on high-interest loans. A general rule of thumb indicates that you need at least 3 months of salary for an emergency fund.
  4. Pay High-Interest Debt First: If you have existing high-interest debt, prioritize paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid accumulating more interest.
  5. Comparison Shopping: When borrowing, shop around for the best interest rates and terms to minimize your overall costs.

When managing your finances, consider your financial goals, evaluate potential investments, and always strive to make debt choices that align with your long-term financial stability. By adopting these principles and practices, you can pave the way for a healthier financial future. Download our free budgeting tool to get started, create a Wealthstack Dashboard or for personal guidance.

Topics:Personal Finance

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