Spending Ten Hours a Day Worrying About Debt

Last week WalletPop brought us Worrying about debt costs you an average of three and a half hours a day.

Harrumph.C Cards 2 (Andres Rueda)

The data is from a survey carried out by an outfit called Survey Sampling International. I’ll give them credit for having one of the more intriguing taglines I’ve seen in a while: “Superior data wrapped in an engaging experience.” I’ve no idea what that means. Which makes it intriguing.

The survey, conducted on-line with a sweepstakes entry as compensation, was done on behalf of DebtPlan.com, a site that appears to provide basic on-line debt management tools for $14.95 a month.

As WalletPop explains pretty quickly, the “you” in the title is really “you, if you are one of the 45% of Americans who consider themselves in debt.” So the number for the average American overall is something like 1.575 hours a day. That’s assuming that the 55% who don’t consider themselves in debt don’t worry about debt at all, which come to think of it is a bit of a leap in the context of this survey.

Apparently, 10% of the in-debt group spend at least 10 hours a day worrying about debt. For me, that one item is enough to crumple the whole survey into a ball and toss it in the wastebasket. (BTW, Adobe, there needs to be a PDF equivalent for that.)

It’s not just that worrying 10+ hours a day about debt (or anything else) is excessively unlikely. I think it may be medically impossible. The stress would kill you in a week. In fact, anybody who finds themselves thinking about a single subject, even a nice pleasant one, for 10 hours a day should seek professional help immediately.

This is, of course, yet another example of the unreliability of surveys, particularly those done in order to generate a press release for a commercial enterprise. The problem is that respondents have a tendency to be casual with the truth. Not business casual. Backyard water balloon fight with just the family casual.

And claiming to spend a lot of time worrying about debt is fashionable just now. Even President Obama claims that debt keeps him up at night. (I don’t believe this for a minute. Not so much because I think he is ideologically unconcerned about debt but because I don’t think he has ever lost sleep worrying about anything. Barak Obama has ice water in his veins. I mean that as a compliment.)

Part of the attractiveness of claiming to spend lots of time worrying about debt is that, although it is not quite as good as actually doing something to reduce what is owed, it is a whole lot easier. This principle certainly applies to most of our elected officials, who go to lengths to express concern about government debt while acting as if they couldn’t care less.

But what really annoys me about this survey, and WalletPop’s dutiful repeating of its findings, is its sheer innumeracy and unconcern for the factual truth. 10% of in-debt Americans spending 10+ hours a day worrying about debt is a result that ought to have been too embarrassingly and obviously bogus to publish.

Moreover, the survey designers found the in-debt respondents by simply asking them “Would you consider yourself to be in debt?” As if being in debt or not was a subjective state of mind. It’s not.

Financial matters, money matters, are about cold, hard, facts and figures. You either have a positive net worth or a negative one. You owe more than you can pay off or you don’t. How you feel about that doesn’t change reality. And worrying about it, or claiming to worry about it, won’t help either.

[Photo – Andres Rueda]


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