“How did you go bankrupt?”  “Two ways, gradually and then suddenly” – Ernest Hemingway, ‘The Sun Also Rises.’

In this famous quote, the influential 20th century author, in one of his most revered novels, says that going broke happens slowly at first and then all at once. Individuals who are struggling with debt will probably understand that feeling.

Debt plays an important role in our economy and is necessary for many purchases and endeavours. However, carrying debt for extended periods can restrict your financial freedom, force you to live well below your means, and damage your ability to retire at the age you wish.

Paying off debt isn’t easy, but it is important. Here are five excellent reasons to start tackling your debt today:

1) To stay healthy. The Society of Occupational Medicine ranked 100 life events by the amount of stress they cause. Number five on the list was “Getting in debt beyond means of repayment.” It was considered more stress-inducing than learning of a partner’s infidelity. Experts say that simply relieving the stress of debt can lead to a significant improvement in one’s health.

2) To improve your relationships with those close to you. Financial hardship is one of the leading causes of divorce. The stress associated with substantial debt can lead to arguing, lack of communication and even deception. That kind of dysfunction between spouses can trickle down and cause stress among children and anyone else in the household. Paying off debt can ease that tension and allow everyone involved to lead less stressful lives.

3) To preserve your retirement. Saving for retirement is hard enough without the added burden of having to service debt in your golden years. Ideally, you should be debt-free when you hit retirement so your savings and income can be used to finance the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. Even so-called “good debt” like mortgages can become difficult to maintain when you’re living off of savings and retirement income.

4) To create financial security. When you’re debt-free, you have the flexibility to absorb changes in your income or to take risks. With debt hanging over your head, you may be forced to continue at a job that you don’t enjoy or pass up on business opportunities that you would otherwise pursue. Being debt-free gives you the financial stability to live life your way.

5) To own your assets. There may be no better feeling than knowing that your home, car and other assets are truly yours and that no one else has any claim on them. Again, owning your assets outright gives you the flexibility to make decisions based on what you want to do rather than what you feel you have to do.

Paying off debt isn’t an easy process, but it can be done. The first step is being honest with yourself about how much debt you have and what it will take to pay it off. A financial advisor could help you analyse your situation.

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