Confidence in your sense of self
Debt carries a huge stigma and can weaken self-esteem at its root.
"Real financial stress -- it eats a person's soul in a way that's very different than other parts of our lives," says Howell.
The shame associated with debt can drive people to mask their hardship in unhealthy ways. "You can still have the nice house, the nice things," says Dlugozima. "But really, behind it, the financial walls are crumbling."
Indebtedness is painful, but so is losing face when it comes to light. "People are pretty unforgiving ... when you essentially lose financial trust," says Howell.
After Francine Bostick and her husband, a couple based in Kansas, paid off $120,000 of debt in five years, they could finally afford to buy a new car for the first time in their lives. "When (the car salesman) said they were going to run the credit check, I started to get that sick feeling, (like) when I had debt," says Bostick. "Then I thought, 'No, this is going to be good. Come on, run it!' I couldn't wait."
Confidence turns on like the flip of a switch, Dlugozima says, adding that people even want to share their debt stories. "You become more open about it because you've gotten through the other side," says Dlugozima. "It's empowering."