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What Actually Is Karmic Debt & How Can You Know If You Have It?

Sarah Regan
May 19, 2021
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
karmic debt
Image by Megan Doty/mbg Creative / alvarez + Various/iStock
May 19, 2021
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They say, "What goes around, comes around," and if you're a believer in karma, you might be interested to know that sometimes karma is said to transcend lifetimes. Karmic debt is just that: karma from past lives.

The good news is, once you understand your own, you can take steps to balance it. Here's what you need to know about karmic debt, according to experts.

What is karmic debt?

Karmic debt describes something that occurred in a past life that you're now making amends for in this lifetime, numerologist and author of You Are Cosmic Code Kaitlyn Kaerhart explains to mbg.

Clairvoyant and acupuncturist Deganit Nuur adds that "when you haven't mastered a karmic lesson, it'll repeat itself over and over again until you master it."

That said, both she and Kaehart add that karmic debt doesn't need to mean the end of the world. Most of us have karma—but holding fear and shame around it isn't conducive to growth. Instead, there are many fulfilling ways we can go about "repaying" or balancing these debts.

For example, research shows that helping others can actually help improve your own life down the line—perhaps an explanation for balancing your karma in this lifetime.

Signs you have karmic debt:


You experience seemingly inexplicable behaviors and patterns.

According to Nuur, if it can't be explained in this lifetime, chances are it's rooted in a past life. "This tends to make sense of most irrational fears or other behaviors or patterns that wouldn't otherwise make sense in context to this lifetime."

Whether it's a fear of open water, an aversion to joy, a distrust of authority figures, etc., if there's nothing from this lifetime that can explain a feeling or behavior, it may stem from a past life.


Opportunities for mastery present themselves.

Try as you might to avoid the issue, if you fail to address your karmic debt, it's going to keep popping up, beckoning you to settle the score and master your karma.

"Just like any pattern, these incomplete karma cycles can turn into habits if you don't cultivate self-awareness," Nuur explains, "so you'll just accumulate more and more incomplete karma with time."


You've had one or more karmic relationships.

Sometimes, karmic debt relates to very close relationships that have crossed lifetimes, which is where karmic relationships come into play.

You may be repeatedly drawn into a relationship with one particular person, for example, who seems to be teaching you the same lesson over and over again. These relationships can be toxic, but they can also be necessary for us to work through our karmic debt.


You're aware of one or more themes repeating in your life.

Again, even if you try to bury your debts, you likely already know the themes and issues that continuously pop up in your life.

Nuur notes incomplete karma can feel like a trap, and it's hard to ignore feeling trapped. Karmic debts can feel monumental and overwhelming to overcome at times, but they cannot be avoided.


You have karmic debt numbers.

And lastly, from a numerological perspective, Kaerhart explains that some (but not all) people have karmic debt numbers in their personal numerology chart. Those numbers are 13, 14, 16, and 19.

Karmic debt numbers:

  • 13: If you have a 13 karmic debt number, this is associated with laziness and selfishness in a past life. You may deal with blaming others and not taking responsibility, being negative, and also being stubborn and controlling. Your karma is to hold yourself accountable.
  • 14: A 14 karmic debt number is all about abuse of freedom, whether through indulgence or dominating others. You may deal with a lack of self-control, overindulgence, and commitment issues. Your karma is to develop self-discipline and vulnerability with other people.
  • 16: The 16 karmic debt number can be the most challenging to overcome and signifies a very strong ego in a past life, as well as relationship issues. You may have had many "failed" relationships, difficulty connecting to others, and an egotistical streak. Your karma is to be more thoughtful of others and consider how you affect them.
  • 19: The 19 karmic debt number indicates someone who abused their power in a past life and caused people to suffer. You may be selfish or manipulative, narcissistic, and very concerned with public appearances and perceived success. Your karma in this life is to make caring for others a priority.

How to figure out your debt.

At this point, you might be wondering how you calculate karmic debt in numerology. According to Kaerhart, it's as simple as looking at the single-digit core numbers in your chart and considering the equation you used to get to them.

"If one of those numbers is related to 13, 14, 16, or 19," she says, "that means you have a karmic debt."

Here's how to calculate your five core numbers and figure out whether they correspond with any karmic debt.

Personality number.

This number is all about your personality and how you relate to others. It's calculated by adding the digits of your birth day and month. (Don't include the year here.) For example, someone born on August 14, would add 8 + 1 + 4, which is 13.

How it relates to debt: Reduced to a single digit, 1 + 3 is 4. That's the personality number. However, those root numbers of 1 and 3 indicate that a person has a karmic debt number of 13.

Life path number.

To find your life path number, which is akin to your sun sign in astrology, you add up your birthday numbers the same way listed above, but this time with your birth year included.

How it relates to debt: So let's say the full birthday mentioned before was August 14, 2001. 8 + 1 + 4 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 1 = 16. 1+6 adds up to 7, (the life path number), with 16 as the underlying karmic number.

Expression number.

Your expression number is all about your abilities and passions. It's found by adding together the digits of your name. Here's a helpful visual:

  • 1: A, J, S
  • 2: B, K, T
  • 3: C, L, U
  • 4: D, M, V
  • 5: E, N, W
  • 6: F, O, X
  • 7: G, P, Y
  • 8: H, Q, Z
  • 9: I, R

How it relates to debt: So let's say someone is named Jackson. 1 + 1 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 6 + 5 is 19. 1 + 9 = 10, which in numerology reduces down 1+0, or 1. But again, to finding karmic numbers, you'll want to look at the numbers that come before this single digit. In this case, that's 19—another karmic number.

Birthdate number.

This number is just the day of the month you were born, and it represents any skills you've brought with you from a past life.

How it relates to debt: If someone was born on the 13th of the month, their birthdate number is 4 but, you guessed it, their associated karmic number is 13.

Soul urge number.

Lastly, your soul urge number deals with your heart's desires, and it's found by adding up the digits of the consonants in your full name, no vowels included, using the alphabet chart above.

How it relates to debt: The name Jane Doe (J, N, D), for example, would be 1+5+4 = 10. This reduces to a 1 soul urge number, and a 10 karmic number. This is a number of karmic completion, meaning there is no debt to be paid.

Karmic lessons vs. karmic debt.

Karmic lessons and karmic debts are related in that they both deal with karma from past lives. However, karmic debts tend to bear more weight throughout the course of our lives.

From a numerology perspective, karmic lessons are also calculated differently than karmic debts. And unlike debts, which speak to current challenges that you're facing, lessons describe what's missing from your life that could help you.

How to repay karmic debt.

As Nuur explains, "It's not as simple as being nice to someone today because you were mean to someone yesterday. You can absolutely do your best to master your karmic lessons, complete karma, and be mindful to not cause harm—but we're not guaranteed heaven, a holy land, or an award for becoming 'debt-free.'"

That said, she does advise cultivating awareness around the impact of your actions and making choices with that awareness. "If you're approaching karma like a bank account, hierarchy, or checklist, you've missed the mark entirely," she adds.

Rather than thinking of it as repaying, Kaerhart likes to view it more as a necessary experience. You have to go through experiences that "show you what others around you went through because of you," in a past life, she explains. "And in understanding that, you're meant to find a better approach."

When we can approach our karmic debts with more understanding and compassion, we can address them head-on rather than avoiding them, though there's no guarantee we'll break the cycle in this lifetime.

If you're really keen on clearing as much karma as you can, it could be worthwhile to seek the guidance of someone who specializes in past-life readings, as Nuur does, so you can learn what really happened in your past lives and how it's affecting you now.

The bottom line.

It's not so far-fetched to think karma exists, ever in flux, as we go about our lives. And if you believe it can transcend lifetimes, it can be easy to feel stuck, not understanding why things are happening to you. By studying past lives, or taking a lot into your numerology chart, you can start to unravel the mystery of your karmic debts and work toward finding more balance in this lifetime.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.