Are You Comfortable with Your Level of Debt?

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine made this interesting observation about his financial situation: “I’m comfortable with this level debt. I’m paying it down, but I’m not too worried about paying it down quickly.” This was the first time that I had ever talked to someone who admitted that he just didn’t care that much about getting rid of debt as quickly as possibility. Instead of making paying down debt a priority, he wanted to make sure that he was comfortable in his lifestyle as he chipped away at the debt.

Feeling OK About Debt

While my friend’s progress in paying off debt is slow, he’s still making progress. But what struck me is that he feels OK about the debt. He knows that he’s paying a high rate of interest (except when he makes an occasional balance transfer), and it doesn’t bother him that much.

Here are some of the reasons that my friend feels OK about the amount of debt he has:

  • Feels it was worth it: He likes some of the things he has been able to do, and the things he’s been able to buy, with his debt. He doesn’t regret the experiences or things that he bought. As a result, the fact that he’s still paying for them doesn’t get him upset.
  • He doesn’t want to sacrifice: My friend knows that he would have to sacrifice quite a bit to pay off his debt faster. He could be down to $0 on his credit cards right now if he had been willing to take drastic measures for two years. But he doesn’t want to sacrifice. He likes his comforts, and doesn’t want to give them up. He also values his time and doesn’t want to spend it making extra money.
  • Still doing everything else “right”: Other than the credit card debt incurred a few years ago, my friend is interested in doing things mostly right with his finances. He has an emergency fund. He maxes out his Roth IRA each year, and contributes to a 401(k) as well. He lives within his means. Even though some have suggested that he use his emergency fund to pay of his debt, he doesn’t want to. He believes that he can avoid more debt by keeping the emergency fund.

I found this an interesting attitude, since most people that I encounter — especially since many of them are in the PF blogosphere — want to get rid of any debt they have as quickly as they possibly can. But he seems fine with his decision, and he feels OK about carrying the debt month after month and year after year, paying it down slowly. He is paying more than minimum on one of his debts, applying the debt snowball method, but he isn’t in a hurry to pay as much as he probably could toward debt reduction.

My friend is the ideal credit card customer. He can easily afford his monthly payments, but he continues to pay interest over time.

Choosing Comfort Over Debt Freedom

To a certain degree, I can understand my friend’s decision. When I graduated from college, a newlywed with maxed out credit cards, my husband and I didn’t make much of an effort to pay down our debt. After all, I didn’t have a job yet, he was still in undergrad, and we were both facing graduate school. We toiled along for three or four years before deciding to make tackling our credit card debt a serious concern.

However, once we got to that point, we did what we could to pay down our credit card debt as quickly as possible. I’ve noticed, though, that with our low-interest student loan debt, consolidated for easy payment, we don’t attack the debt as urgently. We have other concerns that we put before extra payments (although we do make extra payments). There seems to be something about a set, low-interest installment payment that lulls us into apathy concerning the debt.

In the end, you have to decide what you think is worth it. My friend thought it was worth it to get into debt to have what he wanted immediately. Right now, he thinks it’s worth it to remain in debt longer, paying more in interest over time, in order to avoid discomfort. Others, though, might have other priorities.

What do you think? How fast do you want to get out of debt?



Author

By , on Nov 6, 2012
Miranda Marquit Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

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