In today's economy, people tend to think that any debt is bad. While the ideal is to live debt free, that is not possible for many people. It is true that many types of debt will only hurt you in the long run, but there are some types that can be good for you. Learning to differentiate bad debt vs. good debt is an important aspect of wise money management.
What Is Good Debt?
In a nutshell, good debt is any type of debt that will benefit you in the long run. In other words, any debt that provides you a net gain can be considered good. This means financing a purchase which will appreciate in value, or paying for educational opportunities that will enable you to get a job with higher pay. Although you have to take out debt to begin with, in the long run you will be better off for having done so.
A classic example of good debt is the student loan. Taking out a student loans enables you to go to college or to pursue career training, which will pay off by helping you find a better career with higher pay. At least it should, its not advisable to borrow solely to get a degree in basket weaving as the saying goes. Student loans become bad debt if you choose a major that will not get you a good job. However, simply possessing a degree may open more doors to you, so it may still be good debt if you use it to further your goals.
Mortgages are another example of a situation where the distinction between bad debt vs. good debt is not so clear. If your house appreciates in value, then it is good debt. However, with the collapse of the housing market many people are finding themselves upside down on their mortgages, which means you may owe more than your home is worth. That can quickly turn it into a poor investment.
As you can see, it is important to carefully choose what good debt you take on to make sure it actually will pay off in the end.
However, if you plan carefully you will likely benefit and you can work to invest only in good debt and work to move bad debts into the good category.
What Is Bad Debt?
Bad debts are any balances owed on an item that depreciates, or decreases in value. For example, using a store credit card to buy clothing is bad, because the first time you wear that clothing it will be worth much less than what you paid for it. Sometimes this kind of debt is almost impossible to avoid, such as if you lose your job suddenly and need to put some expenses on credit cards to get through.
However, that should be paid off as quickly as possible and efforts made to avoid this type of borrowing.
Car loans are another classic example of bad debt. They may be necessary if you need transportation and cannot afford a car on your own, but you should strive to minimize the amount you owe and pay it off quickly. Cars depreciate very quickly, particularly luxury cars or other more expensive vehicles.
If you are having trouble determining whether something is bad debt vs good debt, just ask yourself whether it will be worth more in five years than it is now, or whether you will make more money off of it.
For example, a student loan could be good debt, but a personal loan taken to finance a vacation would be bad debt. One will pay off in the future, while the other will just leave you paying a lot of interest.
Bad debt is easily avoided by living within your means and saving up for large purchases rather than giving in to the temptation of putting them on a credit card. Even borrowing from friends or family in a pinch is better than paying on a high-interest credit card.
Getting Out Of Debt
If your ultimate goal is to become debt free, the best way to do that is to focus on getting rid of your bad debt first. Pay the minimums on any good balances you have, but pay substantially more than the minimum on bad debts. If you are just paying your minimum credit card payments every month, you will be paying them off for a long time and paying much more in interest than you need to. Credit cards generally have higher interest rates than mortgages or student loans as well, so it makes sense to pay the cards down first. Once that is done, you can begin focusing on paying off your other bad credit lines and avoiding any additional borrowing.
Figuring out which is bad debt vs. good debt can be tricky at times, but is fairly straightforward if you keep in mind the 5 year benefits test. The most difficult part about it is being totally honest with yourself. Think carefully before you take on any new debt in order to make sure you are making choices that will benefit you in the long run. With a little careful planning and practice it will be easy to make good financial choices.
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