Ashamed of Your Credit Card Debt? Join the Crowd

Credit card debt is our No. 1 source of embarrassment in a new poll. Credit score comes in a close second. Here's how you can improve your situation.


A young woman worried by her credit card statement
David J. Green/AlamyMany Americans struggle with credit card debt -- and the shame that comes with it.

By Lindsay Konsko

We all have secrets we'd rather not trumpet to our friends. For some, it's age; for others, it's weight. And for many Americans, it's money mistakes.

Carrying a balance on plastic is a way of life for tens of millions of Americans. In April 2014, the average household credit card debt stood at $15,191, according to a NerdWallet analysis. This means if you routinely charge more than you can afford to pay off in a month, you're in good company. Despite the prevalence of overspending, it's a habit most of us are deeply ashamed of. More than 2,100 people answered the National Foundation for Credit Counseling March 2014 poll, which asked:
I'd be most embarrassed to admit my ...
  • A. Age
  • B. Weight
  • C. Credit card debt
  • D. Bank balance
  • E. Credit Score
  • F. None of the above
Thirty-seven percent of respondents ranked credit card debt as their No. 1 source of embarrassment. Credit score came in a close second, with 30 percent of people claiming it as their biggest cause of shame. Weight came in a distant third place at 12 percent. The data shows that many of us struggle under two related burdens –- credit card debt and the humiliation that comes with it.

To tough-love advocates, it might seem like a good thing people are embarrassed by their debt. This negative emotion will serve as a source of motivation to pay it off, right? Actually, wrong. Shame is counterproductive when you're dealing with debt because it can lead to actions that interfere with the payoff process.

"When a person is embarrassed about his or her credit card debt, instead of using that emotion as the incentive to do something about their financial situation, just the reverse can happen," foundation spokeswoman Gail Cunningham wrote in an email. "Facing the financial facts can be painful. Thus, people often choose to bury their head in the financial sand and ignore the problem -- often until it becomes unmanageable."

The first step on the path to debt freedom is setting your shame aside. This will put you in a position to take control of the situation. If you're struggling to let go of your embarrassment, remember this:
  • As the average household credit card debt figure indicates, a lot of people are carrying debt. You are not alone.
  • Being in credit card debt isn't a reflection on your worth or moral character.
  • There's nothing you can do about the charges you racked up in the past. What matters is planning for a debt-free future.
Design a Payoff Plan

After you put your shame in its proper place, it's time to set in motion a debt payoff plan. We recommend following these six steps:

The bottom line: Credit card debt is no laughing matter, but feeling ashamed is no way to conquer it. Put your humiliation aside, and use the tips above to get debt-free fast.

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