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Understanding the types of debt



The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

“Debt” is the word that keeps a lot of Americans up at night. In fact, one 2019 survey found that 25 percent of Americans report worrying about their financial situation all the time. While debt can feel overwhelming and shameful, it’s essential to understand that not all debt is created equal.

Debt is a financial obligation that requires an individual (the debtor) to pay money back to another party (the creditor). It’s a way for us to receive an item or service now but pay for it later. While the term “debt” often has a negative connotation, there are different types of debts, and not all are necessarily bad. This article will discuss the different types of debts, including what is considered a “good” debt and what is considered a “bad” debt.

Is it always bad to have debt?

No, it’s not always bad to have debt. Debts are typically split into two categories: good debt and bad debt. Good debt is more like a necessary evil, though—you might just think of it as “better” debt.

Good debt

Simply put, good debts are investments either in yourself, your business or your future. Good debts are ones that will increase your net worth or have future value. Examples of good debt that will increase your net worth over time are mortgages (a home) or student loans.

As you pay off your mortgage, you’re building equity. This equity is considered an asset and increases your net worth. A student loan also increases your net worth as it gives you the skills you need to grow your career and income.

An example of a good debt that helps you generate income is a smart investment or a small business loan. You may not see the returns right away, but these debts have the potential to earn returns in the future.

Lastly, it might surprise some individuals to learn that consolidated debt is considered good debt. Consolidated debt is when you take out one large personal loan to pay off several smaller loans with varying interest rates and timelines. This type of debt is a smart decision that usually means you’re paying less interest overall on all your previous outstanding debts.

Bad debt

Bad debt usually has one of three characteristics:

  • it cannot be reliably repaid and will incur interest,
  • it purchases a depreciating asset, or
  • it cannot generate income in the long term.

Unfortunately, bad debts typically carry high interest rates. Credit cards are an example of bad debt. The average credit card interest rate is 16 to 20 percent.

Payday loans are even worse. Approximately 12 million Americans take out payday loans annually. And, on average, the people taking out these payday loans only make $30,000 each year. The average interest rate on payday loans varies by state depending on the specific state’s regulations. In Nevada, the average APR is 652 percent, while in Virginia, it’s 254 percent.

Using that Virginia rate, let’s examine a $500 loan over a 12-month period. The borrower will end up with a monthly payment of $117.57, pay $910.84 in interest and pay a total of $1,410.84 to borrow $500. That $910.84 in interest could’ve been put toward better financial decisions such as saving, investing or paying off existing debt.

Lastly, auto loans are bad debts because cars are a depreciating asset. We’ve all heard the expression that cars start losing value the minute you drive them off the lot. In fact, a brand-new vehicle can drop by more than 20 percent after 12 months of ownership.

One way to identify bad debt is to recognize that it costs you more money than the initial price tag.

What are the main categories of debt?

When you’re trying to determine whether a debt is good or bad, it can help to understand these three main categories used to define debt: secured, unsecured and revolving.


A secured debt requires some form of collateral. Car loans and mortgages are common examples of secured loans. The auto dealership gives you a car after approving you for a loan. Or, the bank approves you for a mortgage on a property. A credit check is needed on secured debt to ensure the borrower is reliable on payments. If the borrower stops making payments, the creditor can take back its property.


An unsecured loan doesn’t have any collateral; the creditor is just trusting that the borrower will pay back the debt. As these types of loans are riskier for the lender, they often come with higher interest rates.

The borrower is bound to pay back the debt by a contractual agreement. The creditor can take them to court for failure to pay back the full amount, including interest. Some common examples of unsecured loans are credit cards, medical bills and gym memberships. Often when a lender can’t get their payments, they contract out the negative balance to a collection agency to retrieve payment.


Revolving debt is a defined contractual agreement that allows an individual to borrow up to a maximum amount on a revolving basis. As long as the account is open, the individual can borrow the money at any time. Some examples of this are credit lines or credit cards.

Revolving debt can have a fixed interest rate (credit cards) or a variable interest rate (a credit line). Additionally, this type of debt can come secured (a home equity line of credit) or unsecured (a credit card).

Often, if you have a good credit history, you’re given access to higher amounts of revolving debt—for example, increases to your credit card limit.

How to manage your debt

Your debt is a crucial factor in determining your credit score. It’s incredibly important to manage debt properly, no matter what kind of debt it is.

Choose your debts carefully

Whenever possible, don’t take out debt you don’t need. If you can live without the purchase, it’s often better to buy it when you can pay it off right away.

Additionally, always watch out for interest rates and other terms. A credit line likely has a lower interest rate than a credit card, and a credit card has a lower interest rate than a payday loan. Examine all your options and prioritize the loan with the lowest interest rate. As a general rule of thumb, always try to avoid payday loans.

Always pay off revolving debt

It’s very easy to lose control of things with revolving debt. At the very least, you want to make your minimum payments on time. However, try not to make this a habit. Preferably, you want to pay off your revolving debt in full every month. If you can’t do so, it means you’re spending beyond your means and you need to cut back.

Look out for your credit

The different types of debt you carry and how you handle them can have long-standing consequences. Many types of debts are attached to your credit report and credit score. Your credit score impacts many areas of your life. A poor credit score can stop you from getting a phone, a car, a rental agreement, a property and sometimes even a job.

Always monitor your credit score and try to keep it above 670. If your credit score dips below this amount, get a copy of your credit report and consider credit repair services.

At Lexington Law, we understand how challenging it can be to overcome debt and a less-than-ideal credit score. If you have inaccurate and unverified negative items weighing your score down, get credit help from our team. Start taking control of your credit and finances today.

Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Credit Cards

Does Getting Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Both Spouses’ Credit?



couples credit history

While marriage can help you improve your financial situation, it does not automatically mean that you and your spouse will share a credit report. Your credit records will remain separate, and any joint accounts or joint loans that you open will appear on both of your reports. While this can be advantageous, it’s critical to remember that joint account activity can effect both of your credit scores positively or negatively, just as separate accounts do.

Users Who Are Authorized

An authorized user is a user who has been added to an existing credit account and has been granted the authority to make purchases. Authorized users are typically issued a card bearing their name, and any purchases made by them will appear on your statement. The primary distinction between an authorized user and a shared account owner is that the account’s original owner is solely responsible for debt repayment. Authorized users, on the other hand, can always opt-out of their authorized status, although the principal joint account owner cannot.

If your credit score is better than your spouse’s as an authorized user, he or she may benefit from a credit score raise upon account addition. This is contingent upon your creditor notifying the credit bureaus of permitted user activity. If your lender does report authorized users, the activity on your account may have an effect on both you and your spouse. However, some lenders report only positive authorized user information, which means that late payment or poor usage may not have a negative effect on someone else’s credit. Consult your lender to determine how authorized users on your account are treated.

Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Your Credit Score

Opening a joint credit account or obtaining joint financing binds both of you legally to the debt’s repayment. This is critical to remember if you divorce or separate and your spouse refuses to make payments, even if previously agreed upon. It makes no difference who is “responsible,” the shared duty will result in both partners’ credit histories being badly impacted by late payments. Regardless of changes in relationship status or divorce order, the creditor considers both parties to be liable for the debt until the account is paid in full.

Accounts Individuals

Whether you’re happily married or divorced, you and your spouse may decide to open separate credit accounts. Most creditors will enable you to transfer an account that was previously joint to one of your names if both of you agree. However, if there is a debt on the account, your lender may refuse to remove your spouse’s name unless you can qualify for the same credit on your own. Depending on your financial status, qualifying for financing and credit on a single income may be tough.


While creating the majority of your accounts jointly with your spouse may make it easier to obtain financing (two salaries are preferable to one), reestablishing credit independently following a divorce or separation is not always straightforward. To make matters worse, your spouse may wind up causing significant damage to your credit rating following the separation, either intentionally or through irresponsibility – making the financial situation much more difficult.

Before you rush in and open accounts with your spouse, take some time to discuss the shared responsibility of these accounts and what you and your husband would do in the event of a worst-case situation. These types of financial discussions can be difficult, especially when you rely on items lasting a long time, but a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s credit can go a long way toward keeping your score when sharing an account.

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Credit Cards

Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?



rebuilding credit

While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.

Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.

If you have high-interest debt, pay it down

When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).

In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.

High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.

To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.

If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.

Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.

If you’re nearing retirement, start to save

The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).

Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.

Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.

Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.

Aim for both goals by improving income

As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.

The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.

If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.

For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.

While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).

Learn how you can start repairing your credit here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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Credit Cards

How does a loan default affect my credit?



loan default

Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.

Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.

30 days late

Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.

The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.

More than 30 days late

Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:

  • The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
  • You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
  • If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.

Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.

Other ways a default can hurt you

Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:

  • If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
  • If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
  • In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
  • You could face bankruptcy.

Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.

How to avoid a loan default

Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:

  • For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
  • For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.

Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.

Clean up your credit

The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.

Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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