Your credit-card debt might be making you sick

Mounting debt may be ruining your health.

American consumers reached a scary milestone in 2017: They now have the most collective credit-card debt in U.S. history, topping $1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. About 38% of American households have credit-card debt, with an average balance of $5,700.

How did we get here? Maybe by following others’ examples — and not being able to avoid their mistakes, according to a new analysis by the personal-finance company NerdWallet.

Debt can have grave consequences, not only for financial health, but physical and mental health, too. Some 38% of people who have credit-card debt say it has negatively affected their happiness, according to NerdWallet’s survey of 2,000 people in January. One third said it affected their standard of living and one in five said it even had a negative effect on their health.

See also: Millennials say anxiety about money is literally making them sick

Money is a common worry for Americans. Some 72% of the 3,000 people the American Psychological Association surveyed in 2014 said they felt stressed about money at least some of the time during the past month. And some said they put off healthcare for themselves because it was too expensive. Money and finances were the top worry in the APA’s survey every year between 2006 and 2015. (In 2016, the top stress was the presidential election.)

Some consumers see family members struggle with credit-card debt and “feel really scared by it,” said Kimberly Palmer, a credit card expert at NerdWallet. And they have reason: Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure and the clogging of arteries and is linked to anxiety, depression and addiction, according to Harvard Medical School.

Americans may be resigned to financial stress

Low wages, combined with high expenses for housing, healthcare and education have made budgets tight. About two-thirds of American adults don’t even write out a budget, and about the same percentage say they would have trouble coming up with $2,000 in an emergency, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

Households have to take a look at their financial needs and current spending behaviors to take control of their debt, Palmer said. Credit-card debt “can feel insurmountable,” she said, but at least making minimum payments can be a step forward. Once you can hit the minimums, “make additional payments, even if it does take a long time,” she said. This is a strategy of last resort, however. Paying just the minimum payments can make credit-card debt spread over years, collecting thousands in interest.

Aja McClanahan, a mother of two in Chicago who writes about personal finance, paid off $20,000 with her husband in two years. They did it by starting small, making additional payments of $20 when they could. Eventually, McClanahan increased her income and had more “extra” money to put toward the debt. “Start where you are, with what you have,” she told MarketWatch. “I say that because that’s exactly how we started.”

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