12 Signs You're Addicted To Debt

The headlines are screaming that America is more addicted to debt than crack. Then there are people out there who actually have a psycophysical need to spend spend spend. Are you one of them? Is your partner or friend? These are the 12 warning signs to watch out for…

Not knowing account balances, monthly expenses, loan interest rates, fees, fines, or contractual obligations.

Such as books, pens, or small amounts of money from friends and others, and failing to return them.

10. Poor saving habits
Not planning for taxes, retirement or other not-recurring but predictable items, and then feeling surprised when they come due; a “live for today, don’t worry about tomorrow” attitude.”

“Good deals” are literally irresistible; making impulsive purchases; leaving price tags on clothes so they can be returned; not using items you’ve purchased.

or personal ones, and/or an inordinate sense of accomplishment when such obligations are met.

than when paying cash, a feeling of being in the club, of being accepted, of being grown up.

Using one credit card to pay another; bouncing checks; always having a financial crisis to contend with.

Living paycheck to paycheck; taking risks with health and car insurance coverage; writing checks hoping money will appear to cover them.

in what should be a normal discussion of money.

Working extra hours to earn money to pay creditors; using time inefficiently; taking jobs below your skill and education level.

Living in self-imposed deprivation; denying your basic needs in order to pay your creditors.

A feeling or hope that someone will take care of you if necessary, so that you won’t really get into serious financial trouble, that there will always be someone you can turn to.

How did you do? Remember, these are all a question of degree. If you can say definitely, yes, that’s me, to seven or more of these, you could have a serious problem.

Signs of Compulsive Debting [Debtor’s Anonymous]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ciscokidinsf says:

    Not sure why # 3 is there. This site has told us time and time again is a good thing to get a second job to pay debt off. Is this code-speak for being a hooker or something?

    And as for #1, isn’t Paulson the white knight? He does exist, right?

    • jscott73 says:

      @ciscokidinsf: Maybe that’s why its not bolded like all the other ones, I agree, picking up a second job to pay off debt is a great approach if you are strict as to what you use that money for, debt only, no lifestyle “improvements”.

    • KristinaBeana says:

      @ciscokidinsf: I have a friend that more or less is this entire list. She has a degree in education, but instead of teaching she works retail – mostly because of all the overtime they allow her to work. With the September earnings reports that probably will not last too much longer, and she will be forced to pick up a second job to pay for all the stuff she has needlessly acquired.

    • ironchef says:

      @ciscokidinsf: No.3 isn’t a good indicator. I agree. I work like crazy but I am not in debt. Maybe I’m just paranoid that money is hard to come by regardless of how liquid I am.

    • mac-phisto says:

      @reverendskinner: there are correlations that can be drawn between money & self-worth. it’s hard not to be depressed when your life begins to revolve around money & your lack of it.

      i agree with you with that bit about college. i frequently shake my fist at those teachers, professional speakers & experts that droned on about the importance of a college education in today’s society. i think they need to spend a little less time trying to convince us that we could all be astronauts & a little more time preparing us for entering today’s workforce. maybe then i wouldn’t be looking at pages & pages of minimum wage classifieds every week.

  2. slowinthefastlane says:

    “BUYING ON CREDIT FEELS DIFFERENT” Does it count if buying on credit feels terrifying? It always has for me. I threw up when I got a mortgage…

  3. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Unfortunately, one of my friends’ mothers meets all these criteria.
    She got into the jewelry selling pyramid scheme so she could have some extra money and that crashed and burned.
    She’s a medical doctor but because of medical reasons can’t work a full day any longer, so she’s taking a “home visiting” job which is $45 a visit, and she can barely clean house because of her back.
    They’re undergoing a divorce, she’s stuck with the mortgage and a 13 year old child with crazy spending needs and they just got 3 more pets for “comfort,” which if I may say are some of the most expensive obligations outside of children. >_<

  4. JackAshley says:

    I meet most of those criteria, but I’m a student who’s getting married in 8 months and graduating in 3 – does this make it (at least somewhat) better to be living off debt, paycheck to paycheck, line of credit paying off credit cards, zero savings and so forth? Input from the gallery would be welcome :)

    • Moosehawk says:

      @JackAshley: I think as a student it’s probably impossible to meet some of that criteria, mostly the saving. But being a student also means staying away from the other big ones. Such as shopping sprees.

      A lot of my friends even after being in college for 2 years still think student loans are free money.

    • reverendskinner says:

      @JackAshley: Please, Jack, allow me to give you some advice from somebody who has lives with some truly tremendous debt because of college: MINIMIZE IT!

      I used many excuses for debt when I was going to school. “It’s not that much,” or “It’s for my education,” or “I really can’t get a very demanding job and still keep my grades,” or “I’ll be making tons when I get out, surely I can pay all this back in a couple of months.”

      I’ll tell you right off, without sugar coating it, that debt is going to be a real life-crippler once you have to seriously pay it back.

      You’ll be living paycheck to paycheck for quite a while, so I wouldn’t sweat that too much. What you do need to do is find ways to lower your expenses and bring your credit usage to an absolute minimum, and never shift credit around when there’s nothing to gain but another month to pay it.

      It always sounds annoying when people give advice like “cut out the little things to save money.” But it is actually sound advice, as long as you cut out some big things too. If you can shorten your “needs” to your actual needs you’ll quickly find that less is needed for just as good a life.

      Make sure you have a solid, realistic budget written down of what you want to spend in a month for what you need, and, most importantly, follow it.

      Using systems like the “debt snowball” (look it up) and minimizing “needs” while maximizing savings, I’m on the fast track to paying off all my debt in about 7 years, which may sound like a lot, but a far cry from the 30-year sentence my creditors have planned for me.

      Sorry about the lecture, but students with debt is a passionate subject for me.

      • oneandone says:

        @reverendskinner: I wish I had gotten that lecture! It’s quite good advice. Luckily, my student loan debts could have been a lot worse, and I could have racked up a LOT more cc debt in college, despite trying to be responsible. In retrospect, I could have been a LOT more responsible.

        In addition to the above, I would add:
        – know your finances very, very well. Especially with student loans, there are things you can do to cut your interest rates (even with things all loopy now). Most lenders (esp those legitimately associated with state or federal loans) will reduce your rate by .25% for 36 on-time payments. DO NOT miss your first payment (which is what I did) because then you will be ineligible. My problem resulted from a grad-school related glitch – I was enrolled, but school didn’t update the lender, they billed me, but I had moved….. make sure you know exactly when things are going to start becoming due. There are rewards for paying on time, and it’s a shame to miss out.
        – Most lenders will also reduce your interest by another .25% if you set up an autopay through your checking account. Some will even do it if you just switch to paperless billing.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @JackAshley: Keep it simple. If you’ve got credit cards with debt, get rid of the debt ASAP. Then start fresh by paying off your bill every month, in full. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you can’t do that, lower your spending. If you can’t lower your spending, you’ve got some kind of psychological issue because everyone can lower their spending. Don’t buy new clothes, don’t eat out as often, etc.

      Let me tell you as someone who recently got married, paying for your wedding will drive you insane. If parents are footing the entire bill or they’re helping, that’s very generous. Ours did, but we still had a ton to pay for.


      1. Figure out a budget for each item that you are expected to pay for. Everything. from clothing to travel to cake to photography, figure it all out before you start paying people.

      2. Have priorities. Living paycheck to paycheck is fine, it’s not the end of the world. After all, you could be living off nothing if you don’t even have a paycheck. BUT, when it comes to paying for a wedding, keep your priorities straight. Certain things are more important – you just have to throw out your idealistic fantasies and be a realist. Saving money is one thing, but if every professional photographer with a good portfolio is charging $1,200 to $2,000, you better pick the one you like best and start negotiating. You can’t re-create a wedding.

      3. Take advantage of birthdays and holidays. Instead of getting that amazing new pair of shoes for Christmas, think about something you actually really need. I got a shredder last year from my parents in law. They were expecting me to say clothes or books, but I actually really needed a shredder. It’ll make you happier in the long run.

      4. You need savings. You really, really need savings. Whether your future spouse’s family or your family has a history of illness, or poor spending habits (if your future in laws are not wise with money, watch out), you need to be prepared for that. Savings are key.

  5. strayxray says:

    If I start by investing in the lottery each week, will that help me break my addiction? $35 a week, but I’m sure to hit the big one soon…

    (I’m kidding)

  6. dale3h says:

    I only meet one of those criteria. The “Poor Saving Habits.” I’ve always been bad at this…

    • kc2idf says:

      @dale3h: Same here. I don’t save only because the net gain of putting money into paying off debts is higher. I used to meet several of these criteria, though.

  7. Thank you, Consumerist! This list helps me reaffirm that I’m not addicted to debt…but you might as well face, I’m addicted to love.*

    * I now owe $1.00 to “Huey Lewis and The News” for borrowing that malarchy phrase.

  8. Kishi says:

    Hey, if I didn’t borrow books (from friends, family members, and the library) I’d buy them and then I *would* be in debt!

  9. whatdoyoucare says:

    What is he getting ready to snort in the picture? Does that say, “Visa”? Ha ha! That is funny.

  10. reverendskinner says:

    #3 and #2 just sound like the result of low self-esteem or general apathy.

    Although, I have lived in some pretty sub-standard conditions to pay off debts, but mine were nice, inescapable student loans. Funny how they rope you into those with the promise that “You’ll make more than enough money to pay them off once you get the job we’re training you for.” Lie.

    • AMetamorphosis says:


      Well said.
      Still paying here for a crappy piece of paper & a substandard education financed by an E-Z to get loan (sign here)

      One day home sick and in-between the baby mama’s on Maury & the trailer folks on Springer and I counted 54 commercials ( in an 8 hour period ) for “education” with schools like Kapland, ITT, local trade schools and colleges …

      Oh, if the remote hadn’t been on the floor …

      I still like that one can get a college loan for massage therapy and then be a college graduated hooker giving hand-jobs for 100 a toss … lol

  11. mocena says:

    #5 sort of bugs me. It implies that most people who live paycheck to paycheck choose to do so and that is definitely not the case. Many people can’t afford health insurance and while yes, it’s a risk, what exactly are they supposed to do? Just get a better job? This is a crap economy and there are a lot of impoverished, undereducated people out there who simply have no other choice.

    • Xay says:

      @mocena: I agree but also there are plenty of educated people who have to live paycheck to paycheck also. A lot of us who graduated from college during the last 10 years are juggling student loan debt along with the bills we pay to live. Earnings have not kept up with inflation and it is hard to have a “good job” that covers your cost of living with room to spare.

  12. Dacker says:

    I busted my wife a few years ago on another one:

    * Raiding your kid’s college fund for a few thousand to pay-off the credit card that month.

  13. "I Like Potatoes" says:

    If you borrow stuff from people and don’t return it, that pretty much just means you’re a jerk.

  14. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    I wonder about a couple of these things. The only one I fall into, sort of, is number 9. The buying things and not using them part. I seem to do that with video games. I keep them and all but I have around 40 games or so over 3 different systems that I have yet to play. They sit there shrink wrapped. Some are collectible I guess, but they were all around 10 bucks or so.

    Everything else I buy I use, and I dont buy much anymore. I do with what I have due to the economy. I do use credit cards more than cash but thats because I am taking advantage of a 0% apr card that earns points right now, and I use it to pay for gas and a couple bills to consolidate into one payment rather than a bunch of small ones. It replaced my debit card.

    • AMetamorphosis says:


      I do the same thing with DVD’s … always hunting for special movies and titles on DVD @ the lowest price possible. Have over 500 and I would say @ least 50 – 75 of them have never been watched.

      Oh well, if thats the worst financial #$%^ up I do I can live with it :-)

      You too with video games :-)

    • Outrun1986 says:

      @socalrob: Sealed games aren’t that bad of an investment, even current ones, have you SEEN the prices on a copy of Castlevania for the Gameboy advance, its well over 200$ on ebay now. You could make a load of money on those games in the future, especially if you only paid 10$ each for them. If your spending 50$ per game and leaving them sealed then thats a total waste. If your buying a couple 10$ games every year then thats nothing.

  15. hexychick says:

    #11 and #12 are just due to being a lazy jerk, not a debt addict.

  16. Read the last line: If seven of these apply to you, you may have a problem.

    If one or two of them apply to you, you may be offended that they’re on here, but that doesn’t mean you have a problem. I would say #5 definitely applied to me at one point, but there was a reason for it and I understood the risks I was taking. And #3 applied to me too.

    It’s kind of like when a drug counselor comes in and gives you a list of 10 signs you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. If one of those things applies to you, it probably means you’re normal (nobody’s perfect or ideal). But the guy who has 7 of them probably has one. The guy who has all 12 definitely has one.

  17. Hey, Consumerist! Stop offering these insatiable “morning deals”! YOU’RE FORCING ME TO GO INTO DEBT!!!


    Too Soon?

  18. Quilt says:

    I think this is why I love going to the bank SO much. They shower me with compliments on how good I am with my money. At first I thought it was odd, but now I understand that there’s just a hell of a lot of people in way too much debt.

    I’m an oddity to my bank and am greeted with smiles. It’s a much more positive pick-me-up then buying some frivolous shit.

  19. Megladon says:

    Maybe this is off topic, but what 5 year old did they get to color the red lines in the photo? Seriously if your going to steal pictures do it with a less obvious smearing of color covering up watermarks.