Debt is Not a Moral Failing

By Jackie Beck   Updated 09/13/2021 at 12:28 pm

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people talking about how they are ashamed of their debt. (Heartbreakingly, sometimes even to the point of considering suicide over debt.) So please listen when I tell you this: being in debt is not a moral failing.

Let me repeat that: being in debt is not a moral failing. You are not a bad person if you have debt.

You’re someone who has borrowed money.

More On That…

I was going to write “You’re someone who has borrowed money, and that’s it.” but that’s not remotely true.

You are so much more than a person who borrowed money. You are YOU, and you matter. No one else in the world brings the things you do to it.

And there is nothing morally wrong with you because you’re in debt.

It doesn’t matter if you have credit card debt because you ate out too much, your car broke down, or you ended up in the hospital.

Or if you took out student loans and dropped out of school, have a crushingly large mortgage, or borrowed money for any other reason.

Why Debt is Not a Moral Failing

Debt (or for that matter, being debt free) is not a reflection on your morals.

It’s a reflection on society, advertising, life experiences, habits, struggles, and successes.

As long as you didn’t borrow money with the goal of not paying it back eventually, it’s not a moral issue.

It’s a financial one.

This is true even if you have to declare bankruptcy.

That’s because moral issues deal with whether your character is good or bad.

Don’t confuse the idea of good debt vs. bad debt with whether having borrowed is morally wrong or not.

It’s not wrong to agree to borrow money and repay it, and make a good faith effort to do so. Even if you can’t.

Being in debt might not be something you want to have happen (who does?) but it’s not immoral.

And feeding yourself and your family first is not immoral either. LIVING is more important than making payments. That includes taking care of your mental and physical health too.

Feeling Ashamed of Debt

So where does all the shame come from?

I suspect it actually comes from having a good moral character. From truly desiring and intending to be the kind of person who keeps their word, who is trustworthy and caring.

Who wants to take care of their family, and live up to their own ideals. Who helps others too sometimes.

So if you’re struggling with debt or going through hard times, it can feel awful to not be able to do that.

It can feel shameful, or embarrassing, or so stressful you can’t even sleep.

You want to live up to your own expectations, and for whatever reason you’re not able to right now.

So of course it feels bad.

Food for Thought

But I will tell you a few things that I’ve learned over the years. I’ve been on national media with my name and picture saying that I had over $147,000 in debt.

And during the long payoff process, I told friends, family, co-workers, and even chatted with total strangers in line at the grocery store about working to pay it off.

I don’t pretend to know what they thought, but I can tell you what I heard over and over again. Things like:

  • “Oh that’s so great that you’re getting out of debt!”
  • “I wish I could do that too!”
  • “How did you do that?”
  • “Oh I have so much debt too”
  • “What do you think my first step should be?”
  • Etc

No one had anything bad to say about it to me.

And if someone had, they would have been drowned out by the support.

If someone says something bad to you about your debt or you, they are not the kind of person you want to be listening to.

There are people out there that don’t always say nice things. It happens sometimes.

But no matter who they are or what is said, we don’t have to let negative thoughts or comments into our lives.

Even if that person is you telling yourself negative things about yourself. You can tell yourself “stop!” and refocus on something else instead. It takes practice, but it can be done.

Most Importantly…

I will tell you that debt is not forever.

And right now is not forever. It’s only right now.

The future could improve. You could make small changes that set you on a completely different path — a path that leads to a bright future down the road. You could make very hard changes. You could do a mix of things.

But one thing I hope you will do for sure is let go of any shame. Acknowledge it, move on, and do the best you can. Your life is worth it.

Why debt is not a moral failing

4 thoughts on “Debt is Not a Moral Failing

  1. Love your blog Jackie! You are so supportive and always willing to lend a hand to people who are struggling with debt. Congratulations on your journey. Keep up the great work!

    1. I’m speaking to people who feel like they are a bad person because they have debt. Personally I got into debt for several reasons; maybe I’ll write about them. But there are also people who use debt because they don’t have *enough* money to manage even for basics like food, somewhere to live, or medication.

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