Why is It So Hard to Talk About Debt?

Two friends talking.

Money is often one of those topics that people will do almost anything to avoid talking about – many of us have been raised to believe it’s not polite to discuss.

Talking about debt is even more taboo and embarrassing to boot. In a recent survey commissioned by Questis, a finance startup, 56 percent of respondents revealed they believe discussing money is taboo. Debt was such a taboo topic that 3 in 5 (58 percent) respondents admitted to faking financial stability on social media.

Why Do We Feel Uncomfortable Talking about Debt?

When we’ve absorbed the cultural messaging that debt is bad, opening up about it is even more difficult. Why is that? For many people, money is something we believe we should be able to handle on our own. We buy into the idea that success is earning and saving money, and so, conversely, debt is a sign of failure.

We may feel guilty about the reasons why we’re in debt, and we may feel ashamed about our inability to better manage the situation.

Shame and guilt are cousins, but they’re slightly different from each other. When we feel shame, we focus our feelings inward and see our whole self, and our character, in a negative light. We feel guilt, on the other hand, when something we did resulted in a poor outcome.

Staying silent about money issues can only feed shame and guilt. The silence affects our ability to develop good money skills. Opening up about debt—and being willing to talk about money—are the only ways through to financial health.

How to Cope with Emotions Around Debt

First, it’s important to remember that debt is quite common. It can happen to anyone, for many different reasons, including divorce, job loss, medical emergency, major home repairs, or needing to financially support a family member or friend. Typically, most of these situations are entirely out of our control.

Second, it’s important to understand that debt isn’t a sign of personal failure – it’s not a reflection of your character. While you may worry that people will judge you for it, remember that your debt doesn’t define you. Try your best to be kind to yourself – give yourself some grace for experiencing what is a very stressful situation.

Third, remember that your debt is temporary, even if it feels all-encompassing and you can’t see a way out of it right now. You may feel overwhelmed, but with the right plan and some hard work, you can make debt a part of your past. There is absolutely a light at the end of the tunnel.

How to Talk to Your Loved One Who Has Debt

Perhaps you’re not the person struggling with personal debt, but your spouse or family member is. If you can see they need help, approach them with empathy and understanding. Make it clear you’re not judging. Also, emphasize that your love and acceptance isn’t contingent on their financial success.

Don’t dwell on the how and why of the debt—they don’t need to defend their actions. Instead, focus on the achievable steps you can take together to start addressing the debt. Help them feel supported. If you’re able, offer to help them create a plan or put some of those steps into action. If they need to talk to someone else, help them find a trusted friend or professional to ask for support.

How MMI Can Help

MMI can be part of that conversation, either to help you or your loved one. We provide confidential, judgment-free advice and support. If you’re having a hard time finding someone to talk to, you can talk to us. If someone you know is struggling, and you want to help get them on the right track, we’re here to help with that conversation, too.

Tagged in Psychology and money, Navigating change, Debt strategies

Thomas Nitzsche.

Thomas Nitzsche is Sr. Director of Media and Brand at MMI, where he uses his personal experience and professional expertise to create conversations about money and destigmatize debt.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Candid GuideStar Gold Transparency level 2022 Candid
    MMI has achieved a Gold Seal of Transparency by Candid (formerly GuideStar), a leading source for insights on thousands of nonprofit organizations. For decades, Candid has provided data that powers hundreds of websites, programs, and applications related to philanthropic giving in order to help grantors make informed decisions.
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.9/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.