Debt is irresponsible.
These three words popped up on my Twitter feed the other day, prompting a hesitation-free unfollow and some mild venting. While obviously no one likes debt, I think using this as a criticism is an unhealthy approach.
Because guess what? I'm in debt. And you probably are too.
And making us ashamed of ourselves and embarrassed to talk about it won't help anything.
A quick analogy
Bear with me here: debt is like a disease. If you live an unhealthy, unsafe and careless lifestyle, it's no big surprise when you get a diagnosis for a disease. But sometimes, even with a meticulously healthy lifestyle, you can get the same diagnosis.
Guess what? Either way, you shouldn't have to be ashamed or embarrassed about your illness—what you need is the proper tools, resources, education and care to get you back on your feet again. The last thing you need is for someone to tell you that you're irresponsible.
Who benefits from that?
Why I'm rallying against debt-shaming
I have been told to drop out of college to "stop spending money and start making it." I have been told that I shouldn't complain because it's my own fault for taking out student loans, that I have too much debt, or (this one's hilarious) that I should just get over it since I don't have as much debt as someone else. I have been told that I shouldn't live in Los Angeles because if I truly want to get out of debt, I'd stick it out back in Indiana where the cost of living is immensely cheaper.
What gets me is the bitterly personal aspect of these remarks. They imply that I'm not in debt because of any other reason than I am lazy and that I have made my own terrible choices.
But wait...these very same people sat quietly alongside me as I filled out my student loan applications. My high school did not offer personal finance classes, college ignored it completely, and now my husband and I are dealing with the consequences.
Debt-shaming is when we take a look at someone's financial status and judge them openly based on how much debt they have. While there are some debts that are easier to explain than others, no type of debt should define us as fundamentally good or bad human beings.
Debt-shaming is also criticizing a person's lifestyle in the shadow of debt. I love living in Los Angeles, having pet rabbits, and having useful tools like laptops and my iPhone. Frankly, it's no one else's business how quickly I can pay down my debt in light of these expenses unless I'm constantly complaining to them about how broke I am.
So what can we do about it?
First, let's stop allowing others to make us feel bad about debt. Debt calls for compassion and empathy, not criticism. We're not going to pay it down any faster if you're making us feel terrible about it.
Secondly, let's pass on what we know to the next generations about avoiding debt in the first place. I have plenty to tell my younger relatives about student loans, interest rates, budgets and credit cards, and I'm happy to share as much as I can with them.
And finally, let's start a conversation about it. Instead of pointing fingers, let's share the lessons we've learned by having real, in-person conversations about personal finance and debt.
No one actively wants to go into debt. I often wish that I'd either worked more in college or taken out fewer loans, but what can I do about it now other than budget as responsibly as I can?
More often than not, we've gone into debt with the best of intentions. Furthering our careers, fulfilling dreams, creating a better home for our families, etc. And for my husband and I (and many other Millennials), debt has postponed having children, getting a house, and even spending money on certain medical needs.
Don't tell us it's our own damn fault and turn a blind eye towards our efforts to get out of debt. So many of us are college graduates who were handed a truckload of debt and a heap of empty promises, and we're reeling about what to do next.
Don't call us irresponsible—take the time to help us so we can help others get out of the same vicious and depressing cycle of debt.