According to the Federal Reserve, the average credit card debt per American household is almost $16,000, with almost 610 million credit cards held by U.S. consumers in 2009. With each cardholder having an average of 3.5 credit cards, it is no surprise that chapters of Debtors Anonymous are popping up all over the country. Their 12-step program is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, and helps members recover from “compulsive debting” and lead happier, healthier lives.
According to Debtors Anonymous, the 12 signs of a compulsive debtor are:
- Being unclear about your financial situation: Not knowing account balances, monthly expenses, loan interest rates, fees, fines, or contractual obligations.
- Frequently “borrowing” items such as books, pens, or small amounts of money from friends or others, and failing to return them.
- Poor saving habits: Not planning for taxes, retirement or other non-recurring but predictable items, and then feeling surprised when they come due; a “live for today, don’t worry about tomorrow” attitude.
- Compulsive shopping: Being unable to pass up a “good deal;” making impulsive purchases; leaving price tags on clothes so they can be returned; not using items you’ve purchased.
- Difficulty in meeting basic personal or financial obligations, and/or an inordinate sense of accomplishment when such obligations are met.
- A different feeling when buying things on credit than when paying cash, a feeling of being in the club, of being accepted, of being grown up.
- Living in chaos and drama around money: Using one credit card to pay another; bouncing checks; always having a financial crisis to deal with.
- A tendency to live on the edge: Living paycheck to paycheck; taking risks with health and car insurance coverage; writing checks hoping money will appear to cover them.
- Unwarranted inhibition and embarrassment in what should be a normal discussion of money.
- Overworking or under-earning: Working extra hours to earn money to pay creditors; using time inefficiently; taking jobs below your skill and education level.
- An unwillingness to care for and value yourself: Living in self-imposed deprivation; denying your basic needs in order to pay your creditors.
- A feeling or hope that someone will take care of you if necessary, so that you won’t really get into serious financial trouble, that there will always be someone you can turn to.
If one or more of the above statements sounds familiar to you, Debtors Anonymous may be the answer. During their treatment, members trace their problems to a compulsion they were unable to control. Members begin their “recovery from compulsive debting” by keeping detailed records of their expenses and income – a process most find illuminating. Along with attending the meetings, members are encouraged to read the Debtors Anonymous literature and start implementing the 12 steps that lead to recovery. After 30 to 45 days in the program, a new member is teamed with two long-term members for a pressure relief meeting, where they review the new member’s situation and develop a spending plan and an action plan.