Methods: A deductive approach utilizing qualitative inquiry design was used to provide an understanding of the collective experiences of Asian immigrants regarding their perception of debt. In-depth semi-structured interviews of first-generation Asian immigrants were conducted in a large Midwestern city. Non-probability sampling was used to recruit participants that were over the age of 18 years and born in Asia. Immigrant participants were asked open ended questions that explored their perceptions of debt. Data was analyzed using the RADaR technique’s team-based approach in Microsoft Word. The research team used coding as a mechanism to link broad concepts, and thematic analysis to identify patterns and salient themes within the data. Inter-rater reliability (IRR) was calculated to ensure consistency across coders, with an average IRR of 88% agreement between coders. Asian participants (n=14) were from the following countries: India, Hong Kong, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Results: Two main themes emerged that detailed first-generation Asian immigrants’ perception to debt: 1) there is a natural aversion to debt due to upbringing in home country, and 2) there is a severe lack of understanding and knowledge of the U.S. financial system. Results suggest that the aversion to debt stemmed from participants upbringing, where growing up debt was often viewed negatively and they were cautioned against incurring debt. Participants also experienced a severe lack of financial system understanding here in the U.S., particularly with regards to the credit and debt system, which was difficult to gain an understanding of as a newcomer. While the majority still maintained their views that debt is a burden, they were also able to acknowledge that there are positives to debt, as it can allow for opportunities that they may have been previously unable financially afford.
Conclusions: This study explores the unique perceptions of debt among first-generation Asian immigrants. Recommendations include advocating for and designing culturally appropriate financial literacy programs targeted to helping all immigrant groups navigate the U.S. financial system. Specifically, policies that seek to eradicate the credit access barrier for immigrants need to be implemented, to ensure that newcomers are able to successfully integrate into formal financial system here in the United States. This study addresses one of the grand challenges guiding the current social work agenda, which includes building financial capability for all.