Debtors Anonymous is dedicated to helping people dig out of financial holes. These days, that requires a lot of shovels.
Americans are on a spending binge, with household debt hitting $13.51 trillion in November of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s a 20% jump in five years, and about $4 trillion of that was in unsecured loans.
Unsecured loans – typically credit card debt – is the type of borrowing Debtors Anonymous targets. Secured loans like mortgages or auto loans, require the borrower to show they are capable of paying them back. Unsecured debt like credit cards requires the borrower to be alive and smart enough to fill out an application. That’s not too difficult. The demanding part is having the discipline to pay those bills.
Millions of people find they can’t control their spending. That’s where Debtors Anonymous comes in.
What is Debtors Anonymous?
Debtors Anonymous began, fittingly enough, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was 1968, back when people wore bell-bottomed pants and Nehru jackets and were just finding out what the term “credit card debt” means.
The first members started discussing their money problems. They were frustrated at their inability to save money. After a few meetings they figured out the problem was rooted in their spending habits.
Buying things had become an addiction and addiction is a disease. It can’t simply be wished or scolded away. It must be treated with a disciplined, scientifically based plan. It can’t be cured, but it can be controlled.
The group decided to adopt the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and apply them to debt addiction.
A member named Susan B. described it this way in “Recovering Shopaholic”: “In Debtors Anonymous, I learned that I had a spiritual sickness, one that deluded me into believing I could have anything I wanted when I wanted it while ignoring the grim reality of the aftermath of such thinking.
“In recovery, I learned that the obsession of the mind will pass if I don’t give into it by buying what I cannot afford. Because if I do give in, I will be struck by cravings too strong to resist that will ensure that I continue spending until I am literally spent.”
Debtors Anonymous emphasizes clarity – keeping track of spending, communicating with creditors, knowing where every dollar is going.
New members keep a detailed spending record over the first 90 days. From that, they make a monthly spending plan.
Anybody can come up with a budget, of course. The problem is executing it. For addicts, that requires a mental makeover.
DA urges 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.
Members are also encouraged to develop a vision, or clear and specific pictures of what they want to do in life.
The strict definition also requires members to pay bills on time. It’s much like a debt management program offered by nonprofit organization. If a member has abstained for a day, he or she is solvent for that day.
What is Debt Addiction?
It’s not just compulsive spending or running up credit card bills when you’re laid off or have an emergency.
With addiction, debt is a crutch to deal with financial and personal problems. It controls your life and you have no plan to escape.
Like drug addiction, it starts slowly and can strike people regardless of their background or income. Say your air conditioner goes out and you pay for the replacement on your credit card.
You intend to pay it off as soon as possible so no real harm is done. That’s like a first experimental hit of a drug.
Then you decide to just pay the minimum balance one month. And your car needs new tires, so you put them on the credit card.
You’re a regular user now. It’s become easy to slap things on the card whether you need them or not. But you don’t want to go over the credit limit, so you get another one, then another one.
Pretty soon, debt piles up. You start worrying about juggling bills and being able to come up with new loans to pay for old loans.
You have become addicted.
Signs of Compulsive Debting
As with drug or alcohol addiction, the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you’re not sure, there are many indicators that should help you decide if you have a problem to admit.
Here are some compulsive debting indicators:
- You don’t keep up track of your bills or your account balances.
- You don’t have a budget to designed meet monthly expense or a savings plan for large purchases or retirement.
- You can’t resist a good shopping deal even if you don’t need the item, so you end up with a closet full of unused clothes or shoes.
- You pay off one credit card with another credit card or get cash advances to cover the checks you’ve drawn on your bank account.
- You borrow money without considering the interest rate and how much paying it off will actually cost.
- You start working extra hours to try to keep up with your spending habits.
- You give false information in order to get a credit card.
- You lose sleep worrying about debt.
- You start drinking to avoid worrying about mounting debt.
- You worry that your family, friends or your employer will find out the extent of your debt.
- You hope that someone will take care of you financially if you get in way over your head.
- You come up with a budget but can’t stick with it.
Debtors Anonymous Meetings
What can you expect if you go to a meeting?
First, expect a little anxiety. That’s only natural when you enter a room full of strangers who obviously know you have a problem.
But remember that they have the same problem and have felt the same anxieties. You will be welcomed and nobody will pressure you to join DA. In fact, the program does not even have formal memberships.
Meetings are usually held at churches or public libraries. Attendance ranges from half-dozen people to up to 100.
A leader will make a few announcements and go over the format. Newcomers will be asked to introduce themselves and will be welcomed.
At that point, a designated speaker will get the ball rolling by taking about his or her financial woes and how DA is helping. Then the floor is open for anyone to speak about their money problems and the success they’re having, or hope to have with DA.
People can be very candid and emotional. Tears may flow. It might be awkward if not for the fact everyone in the room can relate to the struggles the speaker is going through.
Meetings usually last 60 to 90 minutes. At the conclusion, there may be another announcement or two and there’s a closing statement that reminding people that everything they heard was said in confidence.
There are no dues, but you can make a voluntary contribution that helps cover the venue costs.
Meetings end with everyone standing and holding hands and saying a short prayer. DA is not a religious organization, but it does emphasize that a “higher power” is integral to conquering debt addiction.
Identifying that power is left to the individual. It can be God or whatever force they believe controls their lives, or just the power inside themselves.
Where can you find a Debtors Anonymous Meeting?
The best way to find one is through the DA website:
There are more than 500 chapters around the U.S. and 13 other countries, so DA has come a long way since those bell-bottomed days of 1968.
Unfortunately for millions of Americans, getting in debt never goes out of style. So give DA a try. The only thing you have to lose is debt.