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Here’s why there’s a stigma talking about student loans and personal finances

Natalia Lusinski

April 29, 2019


For many people, talking about money with others is not at the top of their to-do list, especially when it comes to large debts. Hence, this seems to increase the stigma when it comes to talking about student loans and personal finances overall. With Americans currently having more than $1.53 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve, do you blame them?

In fact, in January 2019, Credit Karma conducted an online survey about dating debt among 786 Americans aged 18-34 to learn about their spending habits and found that 20% are embarrassed about their financial situation. Additionally, they discovered that 69% of those in a relationship said “I love you” before talking about their salary or other finances — even though 95% thought having conversations about finances with their romantic partners was important. Similarly, 20% said having too much debt was their biggest dating dealbreaker, more so than being bad in bed (19%), being a bad kisser (13%), or having a bad or low-paying job (13%). Thus, the findings seem to reaffirm that there’s often a stigma when it comes to people talking about money and debt. “Part of the stigma stems from the fact that people just don’t really know how to bring up finances, or don’t have much knowledge of their own personal finances,” Maizie Simpson, data and news editor at Credit Karma, tells Pillar.

Learn How To Better Manage Your Money

Simpson says that the first step in feeling better about your personal finance situation — which will lead to being more willing to talk about it — is by being proactive in fixing it. “Resources from reputable finance sites can help you get started to learn about the basics of managing your money,” she says. “You can start reading about budgeting and saving first, then progress to retirement planning and saving for the long-term, like a home,” she says. To feel less overwhelmed, she suggests reading a little at a time.

Why Student Loans Are Worth It

When breaking the talking-about-student-loans stigma, it’s good to be reminded of why student loans are worth it in the first place. Dr. John Karaffa, CPA, CFP, and PFS, founder of ProSport CPA, and author of Touchdown Finances: Personal Finance Tips from the Pros, weighs in. “There are good types of debt and bad types; however, borrowing money is a necessity for most of us,” he tells Pillar. “If done wisely, it will not hurt us financially, especially when it’s a school loan to further one’s education.” He adds that this might increase your earning potential, and, as a result, your wealth and financial security. “In most cases, lifetime earnings are more for those who have an advanced degree — i.e., someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn 77 percent more than someone with a high school diploma and a master’s degree holder is likely to earn twice that of a high school graduate,” he says.

Furthermore, compared to other types of unsecured debt, student loan rates are relatively low, and the interest is tax-deductible, Dr. Karaffa says. “I’m a major proponent of finding a way to earn a degree, even if it means graduating with a modest amount of student debt,” he says. However, he also advises people to consider alternatives to lower their college costs. “My oldest son was able to realize significant cost savings and graduate college in three years through CLEP, summer school at a community college, and maximizing course loads at his university during the school year,” he says.

How To Bring Up Student Loan Debt Or Personal Finances

Telling someone you have around $100,000 in student loan debt may not be as simple as telling them about what you did over the weekend, but Simpson says there are ways to make it easier. “Discussing money as if you’re discussing your workouts can help break that stigma,” she says. “You can start by asking if they have any savings or budgeting tips.”

She adds that while you’re not obligated to tell friends how much student loan debt you have, when things start to get serious with a partner, you should talk about your respective debt(s). “Debt can honestly be a dealbreaker for some,” she says. “People’s mentalities might differ when it comes to debt in general, but having tens of thousands in student loans might be less of a turnoff than credit card debt (since student loan debt can’t be avoided for many).” Dr. Karaffa agrees. “The debt conversation is much more difficult when one’s debt consists of ‘bad debt,’ such as credit cards, luxury item loans, and personal lines of credit,” he says.

Simpson then says to discuss if student loans should be considered mutual debt. “You and your partner may decide it’s best to be a unified front and pay off the debt together,” she says. “And, if your partner has more debt than you, you don’t necessarily have to take on their debt — check your state laws on debt liability once married.” All in all, she says that whatever you both decide, it’s best to be open and honest.

How To Break The Stigma Of Student Loan Debt

Although it may seem difficult to talk about your student loan debt or finances with others, it’s necessary to do so in order to help lessen the stigma. “It’s important for people to start discussing money more often, because it allows for conversations that can help you and your loved ones,” Simpson says. “Who knows, maybe you have a friend or family member struggling with the same kind of debt or money questions you are — or maybe you have the knowledge to help a loved out of a tricky financial situation.” She says that you’ll never know until you talk about it. “If you start discussing money more, hopefully it will encourage those around you to talk about it more — and remove the stigma.”


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