NerdWallet: 5 common financial fears and how to conquer them

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Fear can consume you. The anxiety of the unknown can drive you to pull the blanket over your head, whether you’re worried about a rustling sound outside your bedroom window or that you won’t have enough retirement savings.

Financial fears — not wanting to check your credit, confront your debt or even discuss your student loans — can feel especially shameful. But facing those fears can empower you to take action.

1. Student loan stress

Student loans topped the list of most-feared financial topics among U.S. adults, according to a 2019 survey of 1,006 consumers by TD Ameritrade. Student loan debt, at 36%, outranked even living paycheck to paycheck (26%) and credit card debt (20%).

How to conquer it: Understand your loans in detail — that’s key to knowing whether you’re on the best repayment plan. Know each loan’s term, balance, interest rate and whether it’s a federal or private loan.

For unaffordable federal loans, look into income-driven repayment plans. For private loans, you may be able to refinance for a lower monthly payment (but it may cost more overall).

2. Recession anxiety

Indicators like slowing global economic growth hint that a recession might be coming, raising fears of job loss and asset depletion.

How to conquer it: Shore up your savings and diversify your skills. Build up at least $500 in savings to cover an emergency, advises Boston-based financial coach Kimberly Zimmerman Rand. After that, work toward having a few months’ worth of expenses saved in case of job loss. Make saving easier with direct deposits from your paycheck or automatic transfers from checking to savings.

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“On the professional side, since we’re not in a recession right now, see how you can improve your job skills, your network, your resume, so if the unfortunate does happen, you’ve already laid the foundation to transition to a new position,” Zimmerman Rand says.

3. Credit card debt concerns

Paying off credit card debt can feel like a never-ending task, but there are ways to get it done.

“I’ve had clients who come to us for debt counseling that have the fear that they’re the worst situation we’ve ever seen financially, and that’s never the case,” says Maura Attardi, director of financial wellness at Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.

This fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: You’re afraid to check your overall debt because of how high it might be, but while you’re not looking, you keep accruing interest.

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How to conquer it: List each account, interest rate and balance. Then choose a payoff strategy. One popular option is the debt snowball, where you pay off your smallest debts first then roll those payments toward your bigger debts.

4. Credit crisis

Ever been afraid to undergo a credit check or apply for credit because you thought your credit profile wasn’t up to snuff? You’re not alone: 46% of 1,503 U.S. adults surveyed by the financial service company Finicity found themselves in just that situation.

How to conquer it: Check your own credit score at your favorite personal finance website or bank website, and access your credit reports free by using Looking at your score and reports will help you understand your options for improving your credit.

“Go through your credit report with a fine-tooth comb and contest any untrue information,” Zimmerman Rand says.

“For bringing up your score, start on positive financial behaviors, like making on-time payments,” she says. If you use credit cards, keeping the percentage of your credit limit you use below 30% on all cards will help too.

5. Broke retirement blues

“Among my clients, there’s a kind of feeling of hopelessness when it comes to the idea of retiring,” Zimmerman Rand says. But starting early is most important, not waiting until you can put away a lot.

How to conquer it: Choose a retirement plan. If you have a workplace retirement plan that offers an employer match, contribute enough to get it. An individual retirement account is a good alternative if you don’t have a workplace plan. Set yourself up for success by automating contributions and bumping up how much you’re saving every time you get a raise.

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Avoid withdrawing money from your retirement account to get the maximum benefit from compound interest, where you earn interest on your interest.

“The magic of compound interest is truly magic — and it works,” Zimmerman Rand says. “After you’ve been saving for years, your investment begins to double a lot faster. For millennials, now is the time to start investing.”

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Sean Pyles is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SeanPyles.