Debtors Anonymous

    It’s no coincidence that Debtors Anonymous sounds a lot like another, more well-known organization — Alcoholics Anonymous. DA was founded in 1968 by AA members who believed that their financial difficulties also were caused by an addiction. The group’s original name was the Penny Pinchers, later the Capital Builders and finally in the 1970s and ’80s, it became Debtors Anonymous. Today there are more than 500 DA groups worldwide. DA is free, and offers group sessions, dial-in meetings, mentoring by phone, and live online groups.

    Like its namesake, DA members commit to a rigorous 12-step program to help them avoid too much unsecured debt and stay solvent. It is DA’s tenet that “compulsive debting,” like alcoholism, is an affliction that cannot be cured, but can be controlled. The organization allows potential members to decide for themselves if they are, in fact, compulsive debtors, by providing questionnaires regarding their relationship with money, earning, spending and credit.

    In Debtors Anonymous, members come together to share their experiences and their strengths to help one another recover from compulsive debt behavior. They work with the organization’s Twelve Promises and promulgate various tools in pursuit of debt-free lives.

    Debtors Anonymous Encourages New Money Habits

    The DA encourages its members to create clarity regarding their economic situation, rather than “terminal vagueness,” which is characterized as a systematic avoidance of monitoring one’s finances, including avoiding communication with creditors. In order to have clarity, a member debtor is required to “keep numbers,” which is the daily practice of recording each penny earned, spent and owed, including any part of a debt that has been repaid. A detailed spending record kept for a member’s initial 90 days in DA will reveal his or her habits and responsibilities concerning spending and finances.

    These daily records then become the basis of a monthly spending plan, which is a list of all of a member’s necessary purchases in a given month, including categories for debt repayment that are consistent and manageable. A spending plan is designed to give a member a road map for the best possible life under his or her present financial circumstances — one that does not incur any further unsecured debt. DA also recommends careful and systematic recording of each payment made to a creditor, specifically noting debts that have been fully paid.

    The DA, like many other self-help groups, urges its members to change their worldview from one of “deprivation thinking” — which tends to accompany compulsive debt behavior and overspending — to a belief in an “abundant universe,” where there are enough resources for everyone, debtor and creditor alike.  DA members are also encouraged to develop a vision, or a clear and specific pictures of what they want to do in life.

    Like AA, the DA encourages abstinence — in this case, the avoidance of any new unsecured debt, including credit card debt as well as unsecured loans from friends or family. The strict definition also requires members to pay bills on time. If a member has abstained for a day, he or she is solvent for that day.

    The 12 Promises of Debtors Anonymous

    1. Where once we felt despair, we will experience a newfound hope.

    2. Clarity will replace vagueness; we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.

    3. We will live within our means, yet our means will not define us.

    4. We will begin to live a prosperous life, unencumbered by fear, worry, resentment or debt.

    5. We will realize that we are enough; we will value ourselves and our contributions.

    6. Isolation will give way to fellowship; faith will replace fear.

    7. We will recognize that there is enough; our resources will be generous and we will share them with others and with DA.

    8. We will cease to compare ourselves to others; jealousy and envy will fade.

    9. Acceptance and Gratitude will replace regret, self-pity and longing.

    10. We will no longer fear the truth; we will move from hiding in denial to living in reality.

    11. Honesty will guide our actions towards a rich life filled with meaning and purpose.

    12. We will recognize a Power Greater than ourselves as the source of our abundance; we realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

    Bill Fay

    Bill Fay is a journalism veteran with a nearly four-decade career in reporting and writing for daily newspapers, magazines and public officials. His focus at Debt.org is on frugal living, veterans' finances, retirement and tax advice. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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