15 Warning Signs You’re Addicted to Debt

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Most compulsive debtors will answer “yes” to at least eight of the following 15 questions. Your answers might surprise you.

By the way, this survey comes from Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step organization that helps people with compulsive borrowing and spending problems. Jesse featured DA in podcast episode 057 – “When debt is an addiction.”

1. Are your debts making your home life unhappy?

Yes. Kate and I have had our share of arguments over debt. One fight that stands out in my memory was when I was taking out another round of student loans near the end of school – loans I would definitely not need. Kate finished her degree with no debt, and could not understand why I would be borrowing money for no other reason than to borrow it. Smart woman, that wife of mine.

2. Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?

Absolutely. As a small business owner, I found myself constantly weighing business decisions in terms of how much and how fast they’d increase my income, which would allow me to accelerate the paydown of my debt.

That’s the point of owning a business, right? Right, but the smart business owner takes the long view and says “How do we make this thing work forever?” not, “How can I pay myself an extra $5,000 next month to hurry up and zero a credit card balance?”

3. Are your debts affecting your reputation?

I never had friends and family tell me directly that my borrowing (and generally terrible financial management) damaged their view of me, but how could it not? Who do you trust and admire – the high-earning big spender/borrower, or the thoughtful, patient budgeter?

4. Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?

Yes. The longer I borrowed, and the bigger my outstanding balances, the less I respected myself. At its worst, I considered myself an outright loser for having accrued massive debt in spite of earning an income far above the average.

5. Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?

No, thank goodness.

6. Have you ever made unrealistic promises to your creditors?


7. Does the pressure of your debts make you careless of the welfare of your family?

Careless? I don’t believe so. But the pressure of my debts absolutely affected the quality of my peformance as a husband, father, and friend. I don’t think my debts made me careless, but they certainly made me care less (as in, give less attention to) everything in my life that actually matters.

8. Do you ever fear that your employer, family or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?

Yes. There were times during my peak borrowing years that I’d meet someone new, and literally as I’d shake their hand in introduction, or as we’d discuss our professions, I’d find myself thinking about my debts and hoping they’d never know what a financial mess I was.

Now that I live on a budget, and the worst of my debts are paid, I find myself more confident in my interactions with people, more at ease. I actually find myself wondering if they have a budget, and how much happier and less stressed they’d be if they thoughtfully managed their money.

9. When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?

There was a time I’d have answered yes. During times of financial turmoil – like while starting a business and paying for two adoptions – the idea of being able to borrow the money actually eliminated my stress (very temporarily). Boy, was I confused.

These days, the thought of borrowing one red cent makes me physically ill (thank goodness).

10. Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty sleeping?


My debt would be the last thing I thought about as I fell asleep, and the first thing I thought about as I woke up. It consumed me.

11. Has the pressure of your debts ever caused you to consider getting drunk?

No, but yes.

I’ve never had a drink, but alcohol isn’t the only thing we humans use to medicate ourselves, is it? I escaped my stress with bad food – in the form of eating out way too often and snacking on gas station junk food (how embarrassing is that?).

Whenever I see an overweight person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt. Probably just a case of projection – but probably not far from true.

12. Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?

Let’s see, that would be just about every time I’ve ever borrowed money. So – yes.

13. Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?

Until three months ago – no. My credit was basically flawless. Today – yes. My credit is trashed. Ironically I find my newly-terrible credit rating a huge relief. Although I live on – and love – a budget, I’m pretty happy to know I couldn’t borrow money today if I tried.

14. Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?

It definitely sounds like something I would do, being a lover of grand schemes who often doesn’t follow through.

When I finally became truly disgusted with my debt (and myself), I created a ridiculously aggressive debt repayment plan and did follow through on it. It is the greatest financial accomplishment of my life (which is a sad commentary, but hopefully the foundation for better things to come).

15. Do you justify your debts by telling yourself that you are superior to the “other” people, and when you get your “break” you’ll be out of debt overnight?


This hits disturbingly close to home. While borrowing all this money, I did consider myself superior to others. I saw myself as a savvy borrower who was simply funding my ability to grow a large income. Total crap, obviously.

I’m just grateful I eventually had my debt-hating epiphany, and that it came at a time when my income let me pay off around $75,000 in debt in 18 months.

Wow – I answer a definitive yes on 11 of the 15 questions. It would appear that I do have some level of addiction to borrowing. Makes me all the more enthusiastic about my new life as a budgeter.

How many “yeses” do you come up with taking the debtors’ survey? Which questions elicit a stressed or emotional response?

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31 Responses to “15 Warning Signs You’re Addicted to Debt”

  1. mysocalledbike

    I’m a grateful member of DA – it has completely changed my relationship to my finances with regard to both spending and earning – and I highly recommend checking out a meeting (in your area or on the phone if there are no in-person meetings where you live) if you are struggling with chronic indebtedness. Many people in our program use YNAB to keep track of our finances. We don’t call it a “budget,” though – we refer to it as a “spending plan” since “budget” has a negative connotation. Also, we do things differently than the YNAB suggested 4-step program. We focus on not using debt one day at a time, and putting our needs before paying our creditors. This might seem counterintuitive, but it does work. I am earning over 3x what I was earning when I first started working the program 5 years ago, and all of my debts are in repayment. My debt and my credit score are not my “higher power” as we put it in our program, so we don’t focus on paying your debts off as quickly as possible – that tight buckling down and then binge spending is what led many of us to the program to begin with, and doesn’t work for us. Instead we find a balanced approach to meeting our financial needs and repaying our debts. I highly, HIGHLY recommend DA – it has completely changed my life.

    Also, I really wish YNAB would consider making their program more customizable, so that those of us who have found a financial program that works for us can use YNAB to help us track and maintain our finances more easily.

    • izbiz

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve been in the same amount of debt for four years now and every time that try to crate a crazy plan, I break it and it’s probably because I’m too aggressive. Really, thank you for your comment.

      • mysocalledbike

        No problem. Glad that helped. I really encourage you to check out a meeting if you are struggling. We have all kinds of great tools, like a Pressure Relief Group – where two other members of the program sit down with you for an hour or two and help “relieve pressure” around your financial situation. I have one once/month, and I also sit on PRGs for other people. It’s been invaluable. http://debtorsanonymous.org/admin/index.php/find

  2. Mark DeNio

    I’m 14 out of 15 and it’s true on the overweight person issue. I’m close to 400 pounds and can’t lose it because I keep comfort food eating. I tell people eating and spending money are my comfort actions so fast food acts on both.

    • mysocalledbike

      There are a lot of people in my program (DA) who are also in Overeaters Anonymous (OA)

    • mark

      Mark, my heart goes out to you. I hope you’re able to get help and form some new habits. Sounds like there are plenty of people in the same position, and organizations to assist in the transition to a less-stressed life.

  3. Andrea

    Using YNAB has helped me tremendously in this regard. I would have said yes to almost every single one of those questions a few months ago, but getting this program has really helped change my views on money. I always tried creating budgets before, but we could never stick to them and we always ended up overdrawing our accounts and then relying on credit cards to get through until the next payday. Now we both have the app on our phones so we can see exactly how much is left in each budget rather than seeing how much money and/or credit we have available to use. What a difference it has made! We actually have money left in our checking accounts by the next payday; we started a savings account; our credit card debt has gone down by a third; and we no longer feel desperate or guilty about our spending. Sure, we still have an embarrassing amount of debt, but it’s actually going down now and that in itself is a huge relief.

    • mark

      I don’t know about you, Andrea, but I feel much less embarrassed about my remaining debts now that I’m a) making great progress toward paying them off, and b) living on a budget.

      Congrats on your success, and keep it up!

  4. Melissa

    8 out of 15. Ugh. I totally hear you on the overweight point, too. Using my YNAB everyday is helping me realize all this. And from a previous post, I have found it useful also track my weight everyday for the sake of “awareness”. Who would have though thought that having budget could change so many things about you (in a good way!).

    • mark

      Hey Melissa – I’m with you – I was just saying the other day in the YNAB forum that I feel like budgeting is making me better at every other aspect of my life.

  5. Steve

    This hit really close to home for me…I used to be that guy, heavily in debt depressed and overweight. Then I took part in Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” I worked hard applying what I learned paid off all of my debts and then lost 90 lbs. I stay fiscally fit using YNAB and I hit the gym to keep physically fit! I have never felt more alive or free…so much so I moved to Cabo San Lucas to try something totally new!

    • mark

      Hey Steve – congrats on your financial success and your move to Cabo! The combination of budgeting and eliminating debt opens so many doors.

  6. Tricia Ballad

    Just a quick reminder – while debt can be addictive, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a useful tool. I’m not in a position where I could go out and purchase a house or a reliable car with cash. My available choices for those purchases are either taking on a manageable amount of debt, or making my family go without those necessities for 5-30 years while I save the cash to buy them. Refusing to take on that type of debt, simply out of a desire for the ability to brag “I have no debt” is pointless and rather selfish. Debt – when carefully managed and not out of control – isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    • mysocalledbike

      Hi Tricia – just to clarify, DA’s purpose is to help people stop incurring unsecure debt, which is any debt that is not backed up by some form of collateral such as a house or other asset. DA does not suggest that its members refrain from taking out loans on things such as cars or houses.

    • mark

      Hi Tricia – I agree with you on borrowing for a home, and we can agree to disagree on the rest.

      Being able to brag about not having debt has never crossed my mind.

      To say that refusing to take on debt of any kind is selfish and pointless…well…you lost me there. It’s hard to imagine a person going broke or becoming a financial ruin due to debt avoidance.

      I’ve always liked Dave Ramsey’s take on buying a car: you should buy the very best car you can pay cash for.

  7. Debt RoundUp

    Before July of 2012, I would have said Yes to most of these but now I can say that I don’t have the debt problem anymore. I might say yes to only about 3 of these now. My, what a few months will do to your rationale.

  8. Amber

    I have no consumer debt, but a colossal amount of student loan debt. All of my borrowing is in the past, fortunately, and I only answered “yes” to three, but two of them are pretty critical, in my opinion. I lose sleep because of my student loan debt, and I often think less of myself because of it. In fact, I spent the better part of the day today beating myself up for not making better decisions in the past because I found out that there’s no way I can afford to buy a house in the neighborhood where my teen son has spent his entire life so far. I’m a single parent, but I make quite a good living – and I can’t afford to keep us in our neighborhood. That feels terrible.

    Still, when you know better, you do better, right? I didn’t allow myself to use feeling low as a permission slip to spend money today. Instead, I went to my budget and reviewed my plan. THAT feels great.

  9. sjordi

    Lucky me: 15 x “no”.
    Never had debts in my entire life. When reading all about that, it makes me feel really lucky.
    Probably part of my country’s culture (Switzerland): people prefer to wait before buying something, to make sure they have enough.

    This country is the most hated for Credit Card companies as most of the citizens pay in full when they get the invoice instead of splitting over months. This way, the companies actually don’t get anything from where they actually make most of their money: interests.

    Most people here use a credit card as a convenient way to pay without handling cash around, and adding some miles to the airline accounts, but that’s it.

    It’s not in the mentality. I’ve seen a very funny documentary on a German TV channel once where the Amex CEO was actually laughing about that, saying it’s crazy that one of the richest country doesn’t really give much back in return to credit card companies.
    Some of those latter actually thought about leaving the swiss market in the 80s.
    They still make money on commissions, and that’s how they survive today

    When I moved to the US, most of my friends were stunned about my behavior (buy only when I have the money), and made jokes at me. But in a way, I always slept like a baby, without worrying about the next day.

    Now of course, a lot of persons fall into debt without wanting: illness, job loss, bad event. That’s a different matter of course.

    Just my 2 cents (how do I categorize them by the way ? :-)

  10. Gary

    Thanks for posting this. Going to the DA site was eye opening.

    The exact confrontation I needed.

  11. Kaitelan

    I’m also almost 400lbs but it isn’t because of debt. Other than the temporay monthly debt (bills, rent and credit card) which are paid off every month I have no real debt (praise YNAB!).

    I’ve been binge eating (or what I call binge eating, pizza, donuts, hot dogs, candy, etc) every week for the last year and I still wearing pants that are too big for me (66Waist) and I just can’t put on the weight to make the pants fit. I’m thinking medical. Glandular, Diabetes, I don’t know. But what scares me more than bingeing is goint to the doctor to fine out what’s going on.

    I tried OA in the late 80’s. I couldn’t find a higher power and too many of the people at the meetings had what was known then as “fat serenity”, meaning they had given up and were happy as they were.

    You cannot make assumptions based on your own projected feelings or experiences.

    Not ALL fat people are in debt and not ALL people in Debt are fat, or have drug problems or alcohol problems.

  12. Debt-Free Fatty

    Wow is that offensive in SO MANY WAYS. I’m really regretting buying YNAB software now, because I hate supporting companies who are so bigoted.

    The only thing you can tell about a fat person from looking at them is how you feel about fat people. Someone’s appearance has absolutely nothing to do with their abilities, their financial responsibility, not even with their health, as the many fat Olympic athletes prove.

    When I see a post like this, the assumptions I make about the author are that the person is a huge a@#hole who has really messed up projection issues. Admitting it doesn’t help.

    Off to email customer service to see about getting my money back.

    • Melissa

      Whoa – I think some people are taking this way too seriously. It’s not about being terribly in debt. It’s the idea that the ability (or lack thereof) to manage one’s health may spill into other aspects of their life. It’s true for me, all due to lack of awareness. That’s really the key.

      So let’s not all get our panties in a bunch here.

      • Vee Deveaux

        Well, that “key point” is utter bullshit and it’s offensive! Assuming that someone is fat because they overeat (as opposed to hundreds of other reasons) and that overeating means someone must be lazy and stupid and in debt as well is horribly offensive. If you can’t understand that, then I pity you, since it seems that logic is failing you entirely.

      • Melissa

        lol. OK, thank you. :) I wish you well on this beautiful day.

  13. ECA

    “Whenever I see an overweight person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt. Probably just a case of projection – but probably not far from true.”

    Seriously? You actually think that overweight people are all in terrible debt? I’d have to argue that your “projection” is VERY far from true. As the above poster has mentioned, there are many reasons that someone could be overweight. (It should be noted that not all larger people have food issues, either)

    I am very glad for you that you are managing your debt, but the comment about thinking that all overweight people must be struggling with debt is pretty insulting.

  14. Jeani

    I’m with Debt-Free Fatty — I’m really disappointed that I paid for YNAB before finding out that this company publicly associates size with fiscal responsibility.

    Mark, you may not be aware of this, but fat people are fat for a whole hell of a lot of different reasons. As Debt-Free Fatty said, “The only thing you can tell about a fat person from looking at them is how you feel about fat people.”

    I’m a fat person and YNAB customer. In the past, I was a fan of Dave Ramsey (and I still like his basic financial peace plan) but I had to stop listening to his podcast because he often described being on a budget as being similar to being on a diet. Guess what? Diets don’t work!! If you don’t believe me, ask any fat person, or better yet, consult the freakin’ research and educate yourself by reading Health at Every Size or similar books. Approaching budgeting from a place of deprivation is a bad idea and only sets us up to fail.

    Truly, the bottom line is that YNAB should be about money and money planning. This is NOT the forum for “expert” thoughts like “Whenever I see an overweight person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt.” That type of comment is just perpetuating a cultural myth and hurting people.

    I think what Mark meant to say is that overindulging in one area can often spill over into another. But that’s not what he said. For those of you that think I’m just picking on one little part of this story, keep in mind that I walk around in my fat body every day. I’m tired of hearing all kinds of negativity heaped onto it by the rest of the world.

    Off to email customer service now — I’m not giving my hard-earned money to a company that believes discriminatory and prejudcial speech is reasonable.

    • mark

      Hi Jeani –

      Rather than edit the post, I’ve chosen to leave up all the comments I’ve received since it’s publication. My comment was in poor taste, and many of those offended have chosen to voice their hurt here. I’ll leave all comments intact for future visitors to review. It’s unfortunate that you’ll miss out on years of benefit from the YNAB software and methodology because of one misguided statement.

      – Mark

  15. Jeani

    Wow! What a bigoted statement: “Whenever I see an overweight person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt.”

    You know, it’s possible to share your OWN experience without negatively commenting on a whole group of people. We fat people have enough issues in this country without you heaping your assumptions onto us.

    Please consider deleting the second part of your response to #11. Many of us overindulge in multiple parts of life, but to extrapolate from YOUR experience turning to food and make such a prejudicial statement about millions of people is truly awful.

    Think I’m overreacting? Imagine the statement with any other group of people named … “Whenever I see a ______ person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt.” [black, gay, short, disabled, etc. etc. etc.] If you’re uncomfortable with the statement when it refers to another group of people (even a group of people that have historically had lower incomes), why is that statement ok when it refers to fat people?

    And now I’m off to customer service. I can tell you one thing — YNAB won’t get this fatty’s money if you think prejudice and discrimination are ok.

    • mysocalledbike

      Most overweight people in this country are not born that way – they are overweight due to their lifestyle. How is comparing someone who eats compulsively and doesn’t get adequate exercise the same as someone who is born black, gay, short, or disabled? I’m short, but there’s nothing I can do about that – I was born that way. Many of my family are overweight, but they were absolutely not born that way – they became overweight by years of overeating (possibly mild food addiction), and a sedentary lifestyle. I did not do anything to be the height that I am, or the gender that I am.

      I acknowledge that his comment was not the best way to make his point, and I could see how it would trigger people, but I’m not sure that comparing your situation to the thousands of black and gay people in this world who have been bullied, murdered, and lynched for how they were born is really a wise way to make your point.

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