Going into debt is never a good thing. But someone needs to tell that to college students. Why? Because a new study shows that debt doesn’t bother 20-something’s.  In fact, it makes them feel empowered!

Researchers at Ohio State University asked thousands of young adults about their student loans and credit card debt. The volunteers also completed a questionnaire that measured their self-esteem and something researchers called sense of mastery.  That’s the psychological term for an individual’s belief that they’re in control of their life, and able to achieve their goals.

The result: For students under the age of 27, more debt of any kind meant more self-esteem - and a greater sense of control. The researchers expected to see positive results from student loan debt, because it helps young people get an education they might not otherwise be able to afford. But they were surprised to find that a high credit card balance had the same effect! Why? Scientists think it’s because a lot of kids see getting a credit card as a rite of passage into adulthood.

But the false sense of “spending as empowerment” disappears at about 27 years old. And owing more equaled less confidence and lower self-esteem. Why? Because the big spenders had gone from accumulating debt to the reality of having to pay it back.