7 March 2000

Could high levels of credit card debt be bad for you?

by Kate Melville

Who amongst you can get through the week without using their credit card? Very few after discounting conspiracy theorists who imagine they are being tracked by secret governments and hermits living in caves so as to be closer to nature.

Well now we can tell you that according to researchers from Ohio State University people who suffer stress about their credit card debt also showed elevated levels of physical impairment and felt in worse health than those with less debt!

While this may sound blindingly obvious, according Prof. Paul Lavrakas of Ohio State, "as far as we know, we're the first to actually look at the connection between credit card debt and health."

The study was based on telephone surveys of 1,036 Ohioans. While it showed that credit card debt was not an important factor when compared to specific health measures like weight and tobacco use, it did still indicate a clear link between debt and health even after all other factors including income and age were taken into account.

"Any one of us who has debt knows that it can cause stress in our lives, and it makes sense that this stress may be bad for our health," said Prof. Paul J. Lavrakas, co-author of the study and director of Ohio State's Center for Survey Research. "The stress of owing money, and knowledge that we're paying high interest rates, may lead to increased stress resulting in worsening health," Lavrakas said.

In the survey respondents had to rate their health on a scale ranging from very good to very poor as well as being catergorised for physical impairment using a standard scale that asked them to rate how difficult it was to perform everyday activities. From their responses participants were given a rating or 'heath index' and this was then mapped against a 'debt stress index', designed by Lavrakas. The debt stress index asked respondents how greatly they worried about their total debt and showed a strong correlation between debt stress and personal health.

So basically the amount of debt a person has and their debt stress play an additive role, each contributing to worsening health. However, the findings showed that the only factor related to health was the ratio of credit card debt the participants owed to their total family income.

Therefore, while we doubt many readers will stop using their credit cards based on these findings alone, it is another factor to consider if you want to decrease your stress levels. Perhaps a logical extension is to quit work and to forget about your credit card debt. Provided you have credit card insurance the outstanding balance on your cards will be covered and so you can decrease your stress level to an even greater degree!