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The Mental Toll of Student Debt, and Other Predictors of College Students’ Financial Stress

Dr. Kristy Archuleta and colleagues studied[1] 180 college students who sought financial counseling. Their objective was to explore the impact of financial concerns on individuals’ mental well-being. The investigation delved into various factors, including debt, individuals’ satisfaction with their financial situation, and their knowledge of finances, aiming to discern the relationships between these factors and the experience of financial stress. The primary focus of the study was to uncover the influence of student debt on an individual’s financial anxiety.

graduation cap on a stack of money

Many college students face important financial decisions as they pay for their education, often relying on student loans and credit cards. In the same study, Archuleta found that having student loans and credit card debt was found to be associated with mental health problems and overall stress. Financial stress among college students can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, and a decline in academic performance. This can in turn impact a person’s financial well-being.[2] 

With the rising costs of tuition, it’s common for graduates to carry substantial student loan debt, often exceeding the average of $25,000.[3] Research has shown that when students accumulate a high level of debt, they tend to feel less self-assured, experience lower financial well-being, and suffer from increased stress.[4] When facing significant financial stress, individuals may exhibit behaviors like avoiding discussions about money, withdrawing from social activities, and experiencing anxiety. These signs may indicate a need for support. Guiding these students to seek help from financial professionals can alleviate stress, enhance financial well-being, and foster a more confident and informed approach to managing debt. Such assistance has been associated with improved financial management, reduced stress levels, and enhanced overall financial well-being. 

The same study of college students also discovered that satisfaction with finances significantly influenced stress levels. Specifically, experiencing positive emotions about one’s financial situation resulted in a 30% reduction in worry. Finally, those who were knowledgeable about finances also tended to experience less stress. In summary, student debt, financial satisfaction, and financial knowledge were identified as factors impacting students’ stress related to money.[5] 


1.     Be content with your finances even as you work towards financial goals.

woman with head in her hands sitting in a chair

Financial well-being is tied to how people perceive their financial situation, such as their feelings about their income and their perceived ability to deal with unexpected expenses, meet essential needs, manage debts, save money, or even achieve future financial objectives.[6] The more content you are with your financial situation, the less financial stress you are likely to experience.[7] Of course, reality plays an important role, but—to some extent—so can your attitude. 

2.     Increase your financial knowledge.

Financial knowledge is about your grasp of money matters, from a broad understanding to specific details like comprehending credit card interest rates. This knowledge significantly influences individuals’ financial behaviors, impacting how they manage daily expenses, utilize credit wisely, save money, and make informed investment decisions.[8] To fortify financial literacy, students can actively seek knowledge through resources such as financial literacy courses and practical examples, which are real-life scenarios illustrating various financial concepts, making theoretical knowledge more tangible and applicable to everyday financial decision-making. 

3.     Reach out for help.

Debt is linked to mental health, and it’s important for students to know where they can turn for help. Financial advisement centers can help students learn about their financial options and available resources to improve their financial well-being, and mental health counseling services can help students improve their overall well-being.[9] 


[1] Archuleta, K. L., Dale, A., & Spann, S. M. (2013). College students and financial distress: Exploring debt, financial satisfaction, and financial anxiety. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 24(2), 50-62.
[2] Joo, S., Durband, D. B., & Grable, J. (2008). The academic impact of financial stress on college students. Journal of College Student Retention, 10(3), 287-305.
[3] Roberts, R., Golding, J., Towell, T., & Weinreb, I. (1999). The effects of economic circumstances on British students’ mental and physical health. Journal of American College Health, 48(3), 103-109.
[4] Goetz, J., Cude, B. J., Nielsen, R. B., Chatterjee, S., & Mimura, Y. (2011). College-based personal finance education: Student interest in three delivery methods. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 21(1), 27-42.
[5] Klontz, B., Britt, S. L., Archuleta, K. L., & Klontz, T. (2012). Disordered money behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Behavior Inventory. Journal of Financial Therapy, 3(1).
[6] The Project on Student Debt. (2011). Student debt and the class of 2010. Retrieved from
[7] College Board. (2008). Trends in Student Aid. Retrieved from
[8] Perry, V. G., & Morris, M. D. (2005). Who is in control? The role of self-perception, knowledge, and income in explaining consumer financial behavior. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 299-313.
[9] Robb, C. (2011). Financial knowledge and credit card behavior of college students. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 690-698.