Debt is a common part of American life. U.S. household debt reached $16.9 trillion in Q4 2022.1 But how do you differentiate between debt that will help you move toward your financial goals and debt that will set you back?
Good debt can be defined as money you borrow for something that has the potential to increase in value or expand your potential income. For example, a mortgage may help you buy a home that can appreciate. Student loans may help you increase your future income. Good debt is often considered an investment.
Bad debt can be defined as money you borrow for something that you quickly consume, depreciates in value or doesn’t help you make progress toward your financial goals. The best example is high-interest credit card debt, especially if you can’t pay off your balance each month.
Since not all debt is the same, these questions can help you determine whether you’re able to manage the debt you’re considering taking on.
1. What's your debt-to-income ratio?
Your debt-to-income ratio is calculated by taking your monthly debt payments (car, mortgage/rent, credit card, loans, etc.) and dividing that number by your gross monthly income.
Generally, a debt-to-income ratio below 36% indicates a healthy balance sheet. If that’s the case, you may be able to manage taking on more debt.
A debt-to-income ratio above 36% could indicate added risk. You may have a harder time repaying the debt if you face an unexpected financial challenge. You may want to reconsider taking on additional debt.
2. How does the debt fit into your overall financial plan?
If you haven’t fully considered how debt fits into your financial plan or don't have a plan to pay it off, it may be wise to create an overall financial strategy. Consider the different affects taking on debt can have on your finances.
3. What are the specifics of the debt you’re considering?
Using debt strategically can help you work toward your financial goals. Read how to use debt to build wealth.