How Your Student Loans May Be Impacting Your Health (and Not for the Better)
June 30, 2014

No doubt you’re not thrilled about your student loans, no matter how much or little you owe and how much or little you’re earning. After all, who wants debt? But for those that are deep in debt, it can be downright distressing. It’s commonly known that high amounts of debt can contribute to depression and greater risk of suicide, but did you know there are a whole host of other health risks that can crop up when your money gets tight and the bills pile up?

Debt tied to depression

Student loans can lead to health issues
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons User Sander van der Wel

Research on debt and health

A study of OECD countries, which includes most of Europe and North America, examined debt and health outcomes between 1995 and 2012. During the period studied, consumer debt grew by 60%. The study found out that with higher amounts of debt come lower life expectancy and premature mortality (i.e. death that could have been avoided through lifestyle modification).

They further found that health outcomes caused by debt can cause a health/debt spiral. You’re in debt and your health suffers, then you struggle to work because of your poor health and this makes your debt worse, which makes your health worse and so on. The study found long term debt had the greatest negative impact on health – and with 10 years or more of payments, that’s what student loans are.

Level of debt drives your health

Another study out of Northwestern University considered the impact on physical health as the association between mental health and debt is well known. In some cases, mental health issues drove the physical health issues as depression encouraged poor food choice, sedentary lifestyles and overuse of drugs or alcohol.

In turn, the study found this lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and metabolic issues. The study found the health impact was most heightened in those with negative net worth – i.e. those that owe more in debts than they own in assets. This is quite common with recent college graduates saddled with a high amount of student loans and unable to invest in a home or other substantial assets.

What can you do to protect your health and wealth?

The study results are a downer, no doubt, but there are things you can do to get yourself healthier while making your debt more manageable. Here are some steps to take ASAP to improve your life:

#1 Get on an affordable repayment plan – Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn cut payments to as little as 10% of your disposable income and are simple to apply for – click here for a How To guide and info on how this also gets your balances forgiven.

#2 Get off the sofa – Even a little bit of exercise can make a huge difference in your life. You don’t need a gym membership. Just get out and take a walk. Studies show a 30 minute walk once a day will give you more energy, improve your mood and amp your libido.

#3 Get better food – Fast food is one of the cheapest ways to eat, but it’s devastating on your health. Fresh fruit and vegetables are affordable and cooking at home is far cheaper and better for you. Check out this list of 15 healthy foods that cost just two bucks each.

#4 Get on with your life – Too many people put their life on hold because of debt. “I’ll do _____ when my loans are paid off” is no way to think and can increase a mental funk that can affect your health. Set goals that aren’t money-dependent and chip away at them.

#5 Get it straight – You are not your debt! Don’t allow your debt to define you. You are capable of many things, have a purpose to serve, can accomplish your goals and will live a great life despite your debt. The only one who can allow your debt to control you is you.

To keep track of your debt and see the impact of alternate repayment plans, sign up for Tuition.io’s free student loan tool. Keep an eye on our blog for lots more information and be sure to check out our Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Private Student Loans.