After my wife and I finished all of our many years of higher education, we sat down and looked at how much debt we had to pay back.  It was at this time that the seven stages of debt grief began.

Stage of Debt Grief #1: Denial – We felt numb.  We couldn’t believe we owed a combined $180,000 in student loan debt.  It didn’t seem like we were going THAT far into debt throughout undergraduate and graduate school.  We ran the numbers again and again, sure there was a mistake.  Of course, there was not.

Stage of Debt Grief #2: Guilt – “Oh my God, how did we allow this to happen to ourselves?  We’re starting out our lives as indentured servants!”  We talked openly about how we should have gone to cheaper universities, how we should have scrimped more over the years or went where we were offered full scholarships.

Stage of Debt Grief #3: Anger and Bargaining: “What’s up with these awful universities suckering young adults–kids really–into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt without any guarantee of increased job prospects!?!  Or: “If only we could go back in time”….or: “if we can just get out of this debt, we promise we will never get into debt of any kind, ever again!”

Stage of Debt Grief #4: Depression: “What’s the point…we’ll never pay off this debt.  Why even work?”

Stage of Debt Grief #5: Getting Back on Track: “We made our bed, we might as well lie in it and try to do the best we can to pay this debt off.”

Stage of Debt Grief #6: Reconstruction: “If we both work side jobs like freelance writing and try our best to maximize our salaries, perhaps by 2024 we will be debt free!”

Stage of Debt Grief #7: Acceptance: “We are in debt but that doesn’t define who we are.  We will do the best we can to pay it all back (with interest).  There is hope that we can beat this debt.”


Have you ever experienced the Seven Stages of Debt Grief?  What was your experience like?



Chris Thomas, owner of the online freelance writing and web-copy company, FreelancePF. Chris’s interest in personal finance stems from leaving grad school with six figures in student loan debt.