Depressed? Consider Putting Away Your Credit Cards

New research looks at the way different types of debt affect people’s outlook.

Next time you’re in Kohl’s checkout line, think about paying cash instead of charging your new jeans. Your purchase will be less likely to cause depression, suggests a study to be published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

Credit cards, overdue bills and other short-term debt increase depressive symptoms, says the first study of different types of debt and their effects on various groups of people.

Depressive symptoms were particularly strong among unmarried people, people reaching retirement age and less-educated people, says lead author Lawrence Berger, Ph.D., a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work professor.

Midterm and long-term debt were not linked to depressive symptoms, Berger said.

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Berger’s study suggests ways to decrease debt stress among the most vulnerable. For example, debt contract provisions could include mandatory financial counseling and the right to rescind within a specified time frame.

“The findings could also be used to help mental health practitioners better understand the impact of clients’ borrowing habits on depression,” he said.

Berger’s team focused on data from about 8,500 working-age adults in two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households, conducted six years apart and ending in 1994.

Overall, 79 percent of respondents had some debt, totaling an average of $42,000, and most of it was long-term.

Credit-card debt causes Americans more embarrassment than their age, weight, credit score or bank balance, says a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Using your credit card to buy now and pay later has turned into a habit for many Americans. (See: 5 signs you may be a credit abuser.) But, as this study suggests, the immediate gratification from buying on credit has longer term implications for your financial and mental health.

If you need credit restoration, see our Solutions Center.

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Stacy Johnson

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