Can Debt Help You Accomplish Your Financial Goals?

ByNathan Paulus

Updated: June 15, 2023

ByNathan Paulus

Updated: June 15, 2023

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Contrary to what many people think, there’s such a thing as good debt. There are certain purchases and financial goals that offer good return of investment (ROI), such as mortgages, student loans and auto loans. You can even improve your credit profile if you manage your debt responsibly and make payments on time. However, good debt may not be for everyone, especially if making payments is a challenge. Learn more about what good debt entails and how to use it to your advantage.


What Is a Good Debt?

While many Americans struggle with debt, there are certain types of debt that can be considered good to have. Generally, good debt helps generate income, build net worth and achieve financial goals. Understanding how it differs from other types of debt can help you make better financial decisions.

Where Debt Can Be Advantageous

Borrowing money is sometimes necessary. If it helps increase your net worth or can be considered an investment with future value, it can be categorized as good debt. These include mortgage, auto loans, student loans and small business loans.

While accruing debt may be worth it since you are investing in your future, it may not be the best option for everyone. It’s important to consider your needs and circumstances.


Good Debt vs. Bad Debt: Examining the Differences

Knowing how to differentiate between good and bad debt can help you make better financial decisions. If the debt shows growth potential, is an investment or the monthly payments are worth it, the loan is considered good debt.

On the other hand, loans for low-value purchases and unnecessary items are categorized as bad debt. If the loan provides you with short-term relief but is costing more over time, it's bad debt.


Examples of ”Good” and ”Bad” Debts

Knowing what types of debt are good and which are bad can help you protect your financial health. The following are some common examples of good and bad debt to help you in differentiating them.


Further Exploring Types of Good Debt

Choosing good debt can help you manage your finances more effectively. It can also leverage your wealth since it helps you purchase things that can improve your financial health over time. That said, it's important to understand taking on debt comes with potential risks. Depending on your debt tolerance, even good debt may not be for you. Make sure you understand the terms of a loan before deciding to borrow money.

Buying a Home

Most, if not all, Americans dream of owning a home. Aside from having a safe place for you and your family to live in, owning a home builds equity. However, purchasing one can be expensive. That’s why many consider taking out a home loan. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, mortgages contribute to 70% of household debt in the U.S.

Take time to understand how you can best use a mortgage, what your limit should be and how much you can afford.

Getting a Mortgage

During the last quarter of 2021, the average sales price of homes sold in the country was $477,900. That’s 18.32% higher than the average cost of $403,900 in the last quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, the 2020 year-end average saw a 5.02% increase from the average price recorded in 2019.

Let’s say you bought a $384,600 home in 2019 using a $334,600 mortgage with 3.5% interest rate and $50,000 down payment. A 20-year fixed loan term would cost $1,941 monthly, which covers the principal amount and interest. Throughout the next few years, as detailed below, your home loan amount decreases while your equity increases.

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Taking out a mortgage to finance your home can be advantageous as long as you know how to maximize the value of your loan.

  • Evaluate your finances. Before getting a mortgage, make sure you can afford your monthly payment. Come up with a budget and determine how much of a down payment you can afford. Then, consider your monthly income. Generally, your mortgage payment should be 28% or less of your total monthly gross income.
  • Pay on time. Your mortgage comes with interest. That’s why you need to pay on time. Depending on the terms and conditions of your loan, you may incur fines for late payments. Additionally, failure to pay can also affect your credit score.
  • Choose the right loan. Shop around and compare lenders. Aim to get at least three mortgage quotes. Make sure you understand the interest rates and different fees. You can also use a mortgage payment calculator to get an idea as to how much your monthly payments would cost.

Pursuing an Education

Generally, obtaining your college degree can help increase your earning potential. That’s because you’re qualified for higher earning professions.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for people with a high school diploma is $746. In comparison, having a bachelor’s degree can increase that to $1,248.

However, pursuing a higher education degree may not be affordable for everyone. That’s where a student loan can be helpful. It may also come with an opportunity cost — what you might sacrifice from doing one opportunity instead of another. For example, taking out student loans and acquiring debt versus working full time and increasing your savings.

Although student loans are good debt, you should also be aware of the risks. While there are student loans with low-interest rates and tax-deductible interest, inability to pay off the loan within the terms could be detrimental.

Higher Education: Benefits and Opportunity Costs

Before you decide to obtain a student loan, it's important to understand the advantages and risks. Learn more about some of the potential benefits and opportunity costs of getting higher education.

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With proper use, you can take advantage of student loans and enjoy their benefits. You can also avoid making mistakes that could lead to opportunity costs.

  • Pick your ideal repayment plan: It’s essential to choose the right repayment plan for your circumstances. While it's tempting to choose the plan that offers the lowest monthly payment, you have to consider long-term effects like paying more in interest.
  • Decide on the amount: Determine how much student loan is too much for your circumstances, repayment and your future salary potential. You should also consider your living expenses, other debts and income. Consult a financial advisor or professional if you need additional help with financial planning.
  • Determine the borrowing cap: Weigh your student loan options before deciding on what is best for your circumstances. Compare the terms, advantages and risks. You should also check the borrowing cap for each option.

Investing in Real Estate

A mortgage can also be used when investing in real estate. There are several types of real estate investments, such as rental, commercial, retail, industrial and residential.

Some people use a mortgage or loans for real estate due to its potential to gain higher ROI rates. It also allows them to have multiple investments at the same time and helps leverage wealth in the long-term.

Make sure this option is right for you and consider the possible risks. Otherwise, this investment can turn into bad debt.

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Real estate can be a great investment. However, you should know how to properly manage your investment to benefit from it.

  • Figure out your goals: Why do you want to invest in real estate? What are your goals? Once you determine your motivations, create a time frame for each of them. This timeline can serve as your guide.
  • Determine your purchasing power: You have to figure out how you can finance this investment. Do you have enough purchasing power? If not, consider getting a loan or mortgage.
  • Decide on the right property: You should also ensure that the real estate investment you choose can help you financially. For instance, buying a property that has earning potential, such as a rental unit, can help you earn income you can use to pay off the loan that you took to finance your purchase.

Starting a Business

Starting a business requires money, time and effort. You will need to come up with enough capital to cover the initial expenses. Aspiring entrepreneurs who do not have the financial capacity to launch their dream business can opt to take out a loan. Depending on your needs and circumstances, the best loan option may vary. For instance, the most common loans for startups are small business loans and personal loans.

But before you decide on a loan, make sure you understand the requirements, steps and potential risks.

Examples of Successful Businesses that Took on Debt

Taking out a loan to start a business is not something new. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs in today’s market started small. However, this method does not apply to every business. You have to make sure you understand the potential risks of using a loan to launch your business — failure can lead to a huge debt that is hard to pay off.

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Starting a business comes with many expenses. Fortunately, there are various ways to finance a startup. One of these is through a loan. The following tips can help you determine the best use of a loan for your business.

  • Inventory: Depending on the business, you may need to have a lot of supplies. You can use a loan to purchase inventory or replenish your stocks. You can also use it to produce the items you want to sell.
  • Equipment: Aside from inventory, businesses may also need to invest in dependable equipment. A loan can help you get the necessary equipment to start your company and keep it running.
  • Expenses: Running a business comes with daily expenses, such as utility bills. Taking out a loan can help you pay for these while you are trying to earn revenue.
  • Refinancing: A loan can help consolidate your debt. You can use it to pay other debts so that you only have one loan to think about.

Getting a HELOC

There are various ways to build wealth using good debt. One of these is through the home equity line of credit (HELOC). Generally, HELOC is a type of revolving line of credit taken against a home. With this, you can get a maximum loan amount with interest. Instead of one lump sum, you can use the HELOC whenever you need it.

HELOC can be used in different ways. For instance, you can get money for renovation, education, investment or debt consolidation.


Are HELOCs a Smart Move?

Getting a HELOC can be advantageous. For some homeowners, it can be a smart move. However, depending on the circumstances, getting a HELOC may not be the best fit for you because you’re putting your home on the line. Make sure you weigh the pros and cons before applying for a HELOC.

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Depending on how you use HELOC, it can be a smart move. However, not fully understanding how it works could lead to a negative impact.

  • Check the APR: Make sure you check the annual percentage rate (APR). Some lenders may charge high APRs that could lead to higher payments. You should also check how long the introductory rate lasts.
  • Watch out for markup increases: Some lenders may quote their HELOC interest rate is based on the prime rate. But you should not simply assume that they're really using the prime rate. Ask if there’s a markup. In some cases, the lender uses the prime rate but adds a markup.
  • Compare your options: Do not apply on the first lender you encounter. The interest rates and terms of a HELOC vary per lender. So, make sure you compare your options before coming up with a decision.

Powerful Ways to Build Wealth With Debt

For some people, borrowing money is a great way to earn money. That may be true in some cases. With good debt, you can build your wealth and maximize the returns on loans. However, you have to make sure that you are using debt responsibly. Create a clear plan and determine your objectives.

Borrowing to Invest

Investing can be a powerful tool to build wealth. If you do not have enough money to access a good investment, you can opt to borrow a modest amount. Then, invest the money. For instance, you can use it to purchase a real estate investment property.

That said, there are many factors you need to consider. Research tax implications. Paying off a debt will not only require you to prepare the amount you borrowed. You have to pay interest rates. There will also be taxes on the amount you settled.

Fueling Investments Through Debt

Many consider the leverage they could achieve when using debt for investment — when you use the money you borrowed to increase ROI. It helps you achieve the returns you are aiming for. The following are some various methods to build wealth by leveraging debt.


Debt for Wealth

Borrowing money can help you start your investment journey to build wealth. Let’s say you decide to borrow $50,000 for your investment portfolio. A 20% gain in your portfolio will lead to a $10,000 return.

Now, if the interest rate for your loan is 5%, you will only need to pay $2,500 in annual interest. Since your portfolio has earned $10,000, you can pay off the interest and still have $7,500 in returns.

This only applies for a year. The money you borrowed and invested is still at risk.

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While you can increase the money you borrowed, there’s a chance you can lose it. If that happens, you will end up with a debt without any returns. That’s why you should feel confident with your investment options and determine if investing is right for you.

Paying Off High Interest Debt

Good debt can help with debt consolidation. It’s when you avail one huge loan so that you can pay off multiple smaller debts. This is a great strategy to address high-interest debts such as credit card and medical debts.

There are two types of loans you can use for debt consolidation. The first one is a secured loan, where you use a personal asset as collateral to fund the loan. The second option is an unsecured loan. With this, you can borrow money without collateral. However, unsecured loans typically have higher interest rates compared to secured loans.

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Using debt to consolidate debts can help you manage your finances. However, there may also be risks you need to be aware of. For instance, you risk losing the asset that you used as collateral. Depending on the loan interest rate, it may also be possible for you to end up paying more than the amount it would cost to manually pay down the debts.

Debt Recycling

Debt recycling offers a way of managing debt to build wealth. This strategy includes paying off non-deductible debt, such as a home loan, to recycle it as a tax-deductible debt.

With proper execution, debt recycling can help you start investing without having a financial source. It can also help pay off your mortgage earlier than planned.

However, it's important to understand that debt recycling is not for everyone. It comes with potential risks. For instance, if you use the existing equity of your home, you risk losing it. Additionally, your investment may not incur income and even end up in losses.

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Similar to other methods of building wealth, debt recycling comes with risks. If you are a low-risk investor, it may not be for you. That’s because debt recycling depends on your investments’ performance. Consider your cash flow, existing debts, assets and expenses before getting into debt recycling.


5 Rules to Avoid Pitfalls and Bad Debt

Debt can be a good thing. It can help you attain your financial goals and even build your wealth. But debt also comes with responsibility. You have to make sure that you can manage your payments well. A solid financial plan and adopting good money management skills can help ensure that good debt will not turn into bad debt.


How to Determine Your Debt Tolerance

Debt, even good debt, is not for everyone. Before getting a loan, you have to weigh the pros and the potential drawbacks that come with it. Aside from your finances, your well-being can also be affected by having too much debt.

Knowing your debt tolerance can help you figure out how much debt is too much for you. Calculate your debt-to-income ratio. Check your credit utilization. It’s also helpful to know your comfort borrowing level.

How Much Debt Is Too Much?

Good debt can turn into bad debt if you fail to manage it properly. But when is debt considered too much? The following are some signs you can watch for to determine whether you have too much debt. Recognizing these early can help prevent more financial problems.


You are unaware of how much debt you have.

If you can no longer keep track of your debt or you’re ignoring it, then you may already be suspecting that you have more debt than you can afford.


Your monthly bill is higher than your income.

If the total monthly debt payments cost more than the money you are earning, you have too much debt. You have to make sure that your monthly debt bill is 28% or less than your monthly income.


You constantly borrow money to pay off debts.

If you are trapped in a cycle of getting loans, taking cash advances or borrowing money from family and friends to pay back debts, your debt is too much for you to handle.


Your debt affects your mental health and work performance.

Losing sleep over financial worries may be a sign that you have too much debt. Likewise, if your financial problems affect your work performance, it's time to evaluate your debt situation.

Assessing Your Reasonable Amount of Debt Load

The reasonable amount of debt load may vary per person. That is because of differences in financial situations and circumstances. Generally, using the 28/36 rule can help you determine how much debt you can handle.

The 28/36 rule is a way to calculate the amount of debt an individual should assume. According to this rule, you should only spend 28% of your income for household expenses. For debt service, the total should not exceed 36% of your gross monthly income.

Aside from this method, you can also calculate your debt load tolerance through the following:


Calculate debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

DTI is a way for lenders to determine whether you can handle the amount of loan you are applying for. You can use this to gauge your debt load tolerance. Compare the monthly debt payments to your gross monthly income. Ideally, your DTI should not exceed 36%.


Monitor your credit utilization

This refers to the amount you owe versus your credit cards’ limits. Keep in mind that credit card debt has high interest rates and is considered bad debt. While you can use it for big purchases, you have to make sure you can afford the monthly bills.


Add your total debt

Borrowing more money can cause more interest charges and fees. Make sure you review the interest rates of the loan product you are interested in. You can then break the payments into monthly dues to understand how much your debt really costs.


Determine your comfort level

Evaluate your current financial situation. Are you ready to take on the risk of having debt? Can you afford to pay the loan throughout the loan term? Considering your comfort level can help you strategically take on debt and keep you within your budget.

Getting Help Managing Your Debt

Sometimes, managing debt requires professional support. That is especially true when your debt becomes a burden. Aside from the financial implications, debt can also affect your mental health. In such cases, the best option is to seek help. The following tips can be started immediately to properly manage your debt.


Create a payment calendar

Looking at the debt as a whole can be overwhelming. What you can do is to take payments one at a time. For instance, you can create a payment calendar. Mark the dates when you will receive your paycheck. This way, you can prepare for your bills.


Pay the minimum amount

If you cannot afford the full monthly dues, consider paying the minimum amount. While this strategy may not help you pay down the debt quickly, it can keep your account in good standing and avoid late fees.


Learn to prioritize

The best way to pay off debt is to prioritize. List your debts based on interest rates. For instance, credit card debts tend to have high interest rates. So, it may be ideal to take care of them first. Consider consolidating your debts by taking out a high loan amount with a low interest rate.


Get help

If you find it hard to manage and pay your debt, it helps to seek outside help. You can hire a debt counseling service provider or apply in a debt consolidation program. Financial therapists can also help.



Whether good debt can help you or not depends on your circumstances. The following resources and tools can help you better understand how to use good debt to your advantage.

  • Banks: Financial institutions offer loans. Depending on where you plan on using the money, you can get good loan opportunities with fair fees and interest rates. Talk to your bank to learn more.
  • Federal Student Aid: If you are looking for grants and aids to finance your education, you can check the Federal Student Aid website. Here, you can find options to pay for your studies.
  • Federal Trade Commission: Be aware of various frauds and scams that target consumers. Find out how you can prevent falling victim to these scams and protect your finances.
  • Use this online resource to find government loans. Check the eligibility requirements for different types of loans.
  • Kabbage: This online resource gives access to different tools you can use to grow your business. Find funding options and apply in minutes.
  • National Small Business Association: Learn more about running a small business. Get updates on legislations, find business insurance providers and see how NSBA partners can help your business.
  • Personal Loans USA: The company helps connect borrowers to lenders. Simply submit your loan request and wait for interested lenders to contact you.
  • Small Business Administration: If you are interested in starting a company but you do not have enough capital, you can get help from SBA to access a loan.
  • Small Business Development Centers: The SBA funds development centers to offer counseling services to local businesses and entrepreneurs. Find a development center by entering your ZIP code.
  • Learn more about different government programs and find grants and loans suitable for your financial needs. You can also check the requirements on their website.
  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development: If you want to own a home and are looking for loan options, check out the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and find out more about FHA Loans.

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.