Carrying unsecured debt tied to poorer physical health, MU study finds

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – A researcher at the University of Missouri has found that the stress of carrying unsecured debt throughout adulthood is also linked to poorer physical health conditions, including pain that interferes with daily activities.

“Unsecured debt isn’t like student loan debt or like mortgage debt, wherein the end taking on that debt helps you to build wealth over time or gives you some financial security,” said Adrianne Frech, Ph.D. “Unsecured debt is credit card loans, payday loans, or money that you owe to businesses with something like a business credit card. These are the kinds of loans that aren’t tied to an asset that helps you build wealth over time, and these kinds of debts are also harder to repay because they have higher interest rates.”

Adrianne Frech, a medical sociologist and associate professor in the MU School of Health Professions, analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to examine the financial health of nearly 8,000 ‘Baby Boomers’ from age 28 to age 40 as well as their physical health at age 50.

“The most worrying thing we found was that even people who paid down their debt over time also experienced more pain at mid-life than people who just never had very much unsecured debt, so the effects are lasting,” Frech said.

Frech hypothesizes that debt can cause problems with an adult’s mental health, leading to physical impairments.

“We’re following individuals over time, and so we’re looking at people who are carrying this unsecured debt for years and years,” said Frech. “People with the highest level of unsecured debt had more pain when they turned 50 years old and this is the kind of pain that interferes with your everyday activities.”

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