The American dream is a life without debt


I dream of the day I will be 100% debt free!

I took on debt fairly early in life, when I borrowed money to help cover the cost of my Penn State degree.

That turned out to be a terrific investment — I got a good communications job at a high-tech company right out of college and paid it all back without incident — so that modest debt turned out to be a wise decision.

Debt in and of itself is not a bad thing and often a good thing.

I’ve been lucky to buy a house and a few other properties because of affordable debt. Luckily my credit is solid and I qualified for 3% financing — a bargain that isn’t expected to return any time soon.

In 2020, I borrowed money to buy a new Toyota Tacoma truck. I borrowed about half the value of the truck and almost have it paid off.

Thanks to covid and the many poor decisions our government bodies made in response to it that disrupted the used car market, according to Kelly Blue Book, the truck is worth anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 more than I paid for it.

Sure, I’ve had some positive experiences in my life with debt — but I’ve had far more unpleasant experiences with it.

Early on in my freelance writing career, I had to borrow money just to meet my April 15 tax obligations.

Nothing is more painful than borrowing credit-card money at high rates to pay off self-employment income taxes that confiscate my earnings at even higher rates.

I share with you my experiences with debt over the years because of a recent study, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Boyond Finance for National Financial Freedom Day, that finds that the average American has about $54,000 in debt.

“People’s biggest debt hurdles include credit card debt (57%), mortgages (30%), automobile loans (30%) and medical debt (28%),” the survey reports.

Inflation, which spiked to about 8.5% last year and is now 4%, is one of the key driving forces of debt. People have been borrowing just to make ends meet.

Medical debt is also a major issue — our medical system is a financial burden to millions.

I’ll never forget meeting a Home Depot employee one Sunday. We got to chatting and he told me that he had to take on a second job because his teen-age daughter became ill.

He explained that when the government last “reformed” our healthcare system, his company’s medical insurance deductible shot up from $3,000 a year to $9,000 for his family plan.

His daughter’s illness maxed out his deductible two years in a row, putting him $18,000 in the hole.

The Beyond Finance study didn’t get into the $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt that is causing pain to millions who made bad financial decisions — and an extra shot of pain to those who didn’t understand that a president can’t wave a magic wand to make their repayment obligations disappear.

Debt stinks.

Debt makes you do work you don’t like for the money you need to repay it.

Debt can bring you to your knees until it is finally repaid and you are truly free to live a frugal and happy life — a dream, sadly, that too few Americans will ever get to enjoy!


Tom Purcell, creator of the infotainment site, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at