There Are No Simple Tips For Debt Repayment

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As much as I’d like to say that most of my reading includes prestigious longform journalism and the most important news of the day, the truth is that a huge portion of it is DIY blogs, life hacks, and service-y pieces about improving my home, my career, and my relationships.

I love them because they promise to be “easy” and “simple — and they usually are! Ten years ago I learned that you can add one can of Diet Coke to a box of cake mix, bake it, and it tastes better than cake you actually have to put effort into!

Five years ago, I put an auto-payment of $15 per week onto a student loan account. I didn’t get an alert for it so I forgot about it then continued to make the minimum payments on time. I paid it off four years early and had totally forgotten I did it because it had been so simple.

So I should be stoked about all of the debt repayment and extra income blogs that have emerged in the last several years promising simple and easy solutions to financial burdens.

I’m not.

Because no “simple or easy” debt repayment listicle is actually simple or easy.

Let’s start with a post like, “12 Simple Money Moves You Should Make Before the End of the Day.”

Seeing as most to-do lists are doomed to fail for having too many tasks on them, attempting to do twelve of them is setting yourself up for failure.

Also, the money moves aren’t even simple at all! The post suggests no less than fourteen different product sign-ups, most of which involve entering your financial information, possibly negotiating your rates on the phone, and also checking your credit score which, if you’re deep in debt, is never a simple task.

I pick on this post in particular not because it stands out as more misleading than others but because as of right now, it has been viewed 67 million times and shared on social media 770 thousand times.

That are a lot of people setting themselves up to feel bad that their attempt to take control of their finances before the end of the day didn’t pan out.

These blogs purporting to have easy, simple, and even painless solutions are everywhere. But the “simple” steps in each one are not actually guaranteed to result in debt relief.

Also, lines like, “Don’t have a savings account yet? You really should,” go so beyond condescending that you just feel bad for the writer who thinks anyone in debt hasn’t already read four thousand times that having savings is a good idea.

I can’t even begin to talk about how many of these “simple” tips are actually things like “Just become a driver for Lyft or Uber in that spare time I assume you have because you couldn’t possibly be tired from a full-time job or have any family obligations and you certainly live a major metropolitan area where these services are in high demand.”

Or, “Don’t like driving? Just rent out that exceedingly well-decorated extra room that every American apartment or home has on Airbnb to strangers who will come flocking to it because you don’t have kids, pets, and you live in a vacation city!”

Actually I can talk about them.

A lot of advice out there is out-of-reach for most borrowers and even for those they are accessible to, nothing about them is easy or simple.  

Even among the more practical personal blogs that talk about the easy and simple ways that individuals paid off debt (that aren’t as stuffed with affiliate marketing ads for apps and services) they are still a reach.

Take the blog post, “Pay Off Your Student Loan Debt Fast With 7 Simple Steps (Smart Tricks From A Nursing School Graduate)” which promotes important steps like financial literacy and eliminating excessive spending. Great!

She concludes that her only true needs were “grocery shopping, housing, pet food, and nanny” which makes sense if you notice that early in the blog, she mentions “we” in reference to welcoming a new baby.

My guess is that invisible half of “we” might be covering things like utilities, car payments, home and life insurance, internet access, etc. Especially since we read that “simple” step #3 was that she put 90% of her income toward her student loans. (I’m so annoyed that I keep actually saying “90%?! 90%?!” out loud with italics in my actual voice.)

The reality is that there are no simple or easy solutions to earning extra income or paying off debt.

American debt is a massive systemic problem that wasn’t caused by consumers who don’t know that paying more than the minimum balance is good for their overall financial health.

The Private Debt Project, a non-profit doing much-needed research on American debt (that has no apps to sell to my understanding) concludes in one of their research papers:

No single factor drove US household debt up. Instead, a complex combination of economic, institutional, and social forces allowed households to accumulate vast debt stocks and reach financially fragile positions. These forces included: financial liberalization of the economy that relaxed financial constraints, rising real estate prices, increasing inequality and the stagnating real wages, as well as underlying social forces and demographic shifts.”

In other words, forces you had nothing to do got you into your debt.

And those same forces aren’t showing any interest in making it easy for you to get out. It’s that simple.