Home > Managing Debt > A 12-Step Program for Debt Addicts

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Debt can happen for a variety of reasons — you could be saddled with student loans, funding a home purchase or paying off credit card debt related to emergency car repairs. But for some people, money woes are the result of a serious proclivity to overspend.

People struggling with a debt addiction may be surprised to learn that there is a support group out there that can help: Debtors Anonymous is a 12-step program designed to help people whose use of unsecured debt is causing great stress in their and their family’s lives.

What Is Debtors Anonymous?

There is a reason why that format may sound familiar: The program grew out of Alcoholics Anonymous, the well-known, non-profit organization that helps people with drinking problems recover and stay sober. Back in 1968, a small group of recovering AA members began discussing their persistent money issues.

“[They] had gotten sober, but they were having difficulty with their debts,” said a spokesperson and member of the organization, whose name is being withheld for purposes of anonymity. “[They wanted] to apply what they learned in AA.”

Debtors Anonymous borrows heavily from the AA model. In addition to the 12-steps (one example: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all”), members attend meetings, use sponsors and contact each other ahead of and after high-pressure situations, like a necessary trip to a local mall.

There’s also strong spirituality component. Members can belong to any faith they choose, but the program does involve acknowledging that you need help from a high power to succeed, the spokesperson said.

To help identify and alleviate financial woes, members are asked to track spending in a notebook. They also sit down with two other members — “generally who have more experience than you,” the spokesperson said. “They should not have unsecured debt for at least 90 days” — to go over their finances.

Participation is free. And, of course, anonymous. Members don’t disclose last names, aren’t required to sign any paperwork and are asked to protect the anonymity of other people in their group.

In terms of funding, “we do pass the hat,” the spokesperson said. “We do donate to the program if we’re able to. If you can’t that week or don’t care to that’s perfectly all right.”

The organization also takes donations on its website. Anyone interested in getting more information about the Debtors Anonymous program can visit the organization’s website or call 800-421-2383.

Getting Help With Your Debt

Remember, there are other programs out there for people struggling with debt, though not all of them are free. Be sure to ask any organization you are considering about its fee structures ahead of time so you get a clear picture of what it may cost before signing up.

And no matter what service you are considering, it’s a good idea to research the organization or individual online to see what current or former patrons have to say. For instance, you may want to check their rating with the Better Business Bureau.

If you are saddled with debt outside of addiction, you may want to use certain pay-off strategies to alleviate money woes more quickly. You can prioritize payments by either attacking a balance with the highest interest rate or lowest dollar amount, review your budget to find simple ways to save or consider a balance transfer credit card or debt consolidation loan.

High levels of debt can impact your wallet and your credit score. As you work to improve your financial well-being, you can track your credit score progress by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.

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