Wondering if you have too much debt? The total of certain types of debt compared to your income can help you answer that question. For example, debt loads (excluding a mortgage and student loans) greater than 40% of your annual income may be overwhelming.
If you can't keep up with payments, or you're facing stress or sleepless nights, then it’s likely time to assess what you owe and investigate how you can pay off your debt.
Figure out your debt load
Use the calculator below to tease out whether your debt is problematic. The calculator will also offer recommendations for what to do next.
Enter various debts — such as credit card payments and medical bills — and your income into this calculator. Student loans and mortgages tend to be less problematic forms of debt, so set those aside for now.
View your result for these riskier types of debt in terms of possible solutions:
If it's less than 36%, your debt load is within the range considered affordable compared with your earnings.
Think of those guidelines as a general rule of thumb. “There is no one rule for debt,” says David Nash, a certified financial planner at Magister Wealth in San Antonio, Texas. However, he adds, “If your debt level is increasing as a percentage of your income, that indicates some tougher tradeoffs need to be considered.”
Distinguish between good debt and bad debt
It's important to separate the good, the bad and the toxic. A mortgage with an annual percentage rate of 3.5%, for example, can be weighed differently than a credit card with a 20% APR.
What’s good debt?
When the interest rate is low and fixed, and the loan is used to buy something that grows in value, like a house, business or college education. It’s also good if the interest is tax-deductible, like most mortgage and student loan interest.
What’s bad debt?
Loans with high or variable interest rates that are used to buy things that lose value or get used up. Examples include high-interest personal loans for discretionary purchases like vacations, auto loans stretching five years or longer, or high-interest credit card debt with increasing balances.
What’s toxic debt?
No-credit-check and payday loans with APRs above 36%, loans so long you end up paying more than the item is worth, or loans requiring collateral you can’t afford to lose, like your car.
Bad debt has crushing interest costs and limits your cash flow, savings and ability to borrow for goals like buying a home, says Erika Safran, a certified financial planner with Safran Wealth Advisors in New York City.
But a low-interest mortgage that you can comfortably afford shouldn’t keep you up at night.
Common warning signs of problem debt
Your debt balance is not going down despite regular payments.
You’re living paycheck to paycheck, with no money at the end of the month.
You’re not contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan because you need the money.
You’re unable to build an emergency fund of at least $500 to buffer against financial shocks.
You’re using credit cards for cash advances.
Are my other types of debt a problem?
The following guidelines give you an idea of how much is too much in these debt categories and what to do if you’re overloaded: