A lot of Americans struggle with debt, particularly credit card debt, these days, and we here at WalletPop hear regularly from people who are just completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they owe. It's perhaps no wonder, then, that there's a growing interest in a free, voluntary program called Debtors Anonymous that seeks to relieve debtors of the financial and emotional burdens that comes with carrying a heavy debt load.
"I don't feel afraid anymore," says Sally, a member of Debtors Anonymous. Sally agreed, as did other members, to be interviewed by WalletPop on the condition that her last name and location not be published.
"I don't have that kind of fear like something bad could happen," she adds. "I don't have emotional attachments about finances anymore." Sally says this was a hard-won break-though; she acknowledges she came from what she calls a "financially dysfunctional family" and would go on spending splurges and couldn't seem to manage her finances despite a high level of education and professional success. Sally says Debtors Anonymous provided the means she needed to control the money issues that had been controlling her.
According to the group's website, debtorsanonymous.org, you don't need to show up with anything other than a willingness to stop accruing new debt one day at a time. If you think you can manage that, Debtor's Anonymous might be a good fit for you.
The basics of the program
The site has a page that offers would-be members a 15-question checklist to determine if their debts are causing them enough hardship that Debtors Anonymous would be helpful to them. The checklist asks things like, "Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty sleeping?" and "Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?" Members meet in person in groups; they can also virtually gather over the phone and via the internet. Members are paired with fellow members, generally long-term members, who can provide them with practical advice as well as emotional support as they tackle their debts. Members also learn to keep track of their daily expenditures and draw up a spending plan for their lives.
While the group -- in keeping with its pledge for anonymity -- doesn't keep member logs or attendance rolls at meetings, one person who's involved with the group at a leadership level says interest in the form of requests for information via the phone and the internet are on the rise. Certainly, the growing number of Americans in debt gives groups like this one a higher profile.
The recent proliferation of easy credit, teaser rates and promotions that lure people into taking on more debt than they can carry plays a big role in the growing popularity of the group. "I hear people say they've been through one, maybe two bankruptcies," says Debtors Anonymous member Jeanne, describing the stories new members share today as compared to a decade or two ago. "It's more the number of credit cards and the schemes people play, moving money from one to another. It's much more intense than it used to be."
Committing to paying down your old debt and not incurring any new ones does require sacrifices, members admit. "I had to live in a $375 apartment for years when many of my friends were buying houses," says Sally. "I didn't buy a new car so I could put my money towards my debts. It's a one-day-at-a-time sacrifice, but there so many positive consequences that grow out of it."
For many people, Sally acknowledges, adjusting to the new guidelines can be hard on the ego. If, for instance, you're used to buying a new car every year or two, eating out a lot or otherwise keeping up with the Joneses, committing to Debtors Anonymous could mean committing to a serious lifestyle change.
For committed members, though, the trade-off is well worth it. "Sometimes there are temptations, but the peace I found well outweighed the sense that i was missing out on anything," says Jeanne. "My quality of life was so diminished from that fear."
If this fear of which she speaks is a familiar monkey on your back, consider looking into Debtors Anonymous for some free, nondenominational insight into how to break the cycle of debt and escape the financial and emotional toll it extracts.
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