Debt is no stranger to most Americans. Credit is becoming easier to obtain and people are charging well beyond their means and at interest rates reaching 20% or more. While "debt" is a scary word that usually is seen in a negative light, not all debt is bad. You can actually make intelligent decisions and use debt as a vehicle for building personal wealth.
Being intelligent with money and making good choices means you need to understand the difference between good debt and bad debt. Consider purchases "bad" that immediately lose their value as soon as you purchase it, or a purchase that has no potential to increase in value. Those are bad debts!
There are many times when it's almost impossible to avoid bad debt completely. For example, if you need a new vehicle, you may need to obtain financing. A car loan is actually considered a bad debt, because once you drive it off the show room floor, it loses some of it's value; and the car will continue to lose value every day that you drive it. If you're unable to pay cash for a car, then you have little other options when it comes time to get another vehicle.
What about credit cards and store credit? Plastic money can be extremely tempting, with promotional offers for low or no interest repayment options and the ability to make smaller payments on a larger purchase when the money is tight. If used widely, many credit cards can actually help people leverage their spending power and their wealth. Unfortunately, most people aren't always able to pay off their credit card balance in full each month, and the resulting interest charges from carrying a balance from one month to the next are often quite staggering.
For people who fall for the store credit promotional offers- the ability to save 10, 15 or even 20% off the current day's order is tempting enough for most people to open a new store credit account. The problem with store credit offers and discounts like these is that if you miss a payment or carry the balance to the following month, often the interest rate is charged at a higher rate than the amount of money you will save on the purchase.
While most people can understand the downfalls of bad debt, many may be confused to learn that there is actually debt that is considered "good". Any debt that is actually an "investment debt" and has the potential to create value is considered a good use of your debt. For example, real estate loans are usually good debts because the land and/or building can increase in value. Student loans are considered good debt because you are investing in the probability of obtaining a higher paid job once you graduate college.
Other debt that is considered a good choice is debts that are tax-deductible and have the potential to generate wealth over the long term. If you use a tax-deductible, home equity loan with a fixed, 6 or 7% interest in order to pay for a high interest credit card, your new debt is a good choice.
Unless you are independently wealthy, it's almost impossible to avoid all types of financing and debt throughout your lifetime. In order to keep it under control however, you should limit the amount of "bad" debts you acquire and try to maximize your debt by financing your purchases with as much "good" debt as possible.