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The 15 Questions of Debtors Anonymous

by J. Money on Wednesday, August 6, 2014

debtors anonymous

I bet you didn’t know there was a Debtors Anonymous, huh? :) Indeed there is though, and it sounds like an awesome resource. Here’s a brief bio from their website (DebtorsAnonymous.org):

“Debtors Anonymous offers hope for people whose use of unsecured debt causes problems and suffering in their lives and the lives of others… For many it is a false crutch that feeds fantasy and magnifies obsession… In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience with the newcomer, and to reach out to other debtors.”

How cool is that? And totally makes sense that this is around too. I mean, we’ve got it for drugs and alcohol (and sex, sex, sex!), why not something equally as disastrous to our finances? And to our lives, for that matter? If you’re in need of attending D.A. it’s safe to assume you’re in dire straights. And it doesn’t sound fun :(

The 15-Question Debt Test

Here’s their 15-question test in order to gauge whether you’re a compulsive debtor or not. If you answer “yes” to at least 8 of these, chances are you should seek help:

  1. Are your debts making your home life unhappy?
  2. Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?
  3. Are your debts affecting your reputation?
  4. Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?
  5. Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?
  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?
  8. Do you ever fear that your employer, family or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?
  9. When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?
  10. Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
  11. Has the pressure of your debts ever caused you to consider getting drunk?
  12. Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?
  13. Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?
  14. Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?
  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?

Just reading these makes me sad :( But how awesome is it that this organization EXISTS??? Maybe some of y’all reading this right now could use the extra help? I do my best to encourage y’all to pay attention to this stuff, but I’m not the most believable person to talk to when it comes to the debt doo-doo department – having never (fortunately) dealt with a ton of it myself (outside of mortgage debt, which doesn’t count here – that’s “secured” debt). It would be interested to attend one of these though and see how it all works… maybe offer an ear?

The 12 Steps of Debtors Anonymous

And since I know you’re wondering, yes – Debtors Anonymous has a 12-step plan too.  Very similar to that of A.A. actually, from a quick comparison. In fact, I think if you just swap out “alcohol” with “debt” in the respective places you’ve got it?

Here they are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over debt–that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive debtors, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There’s also a handful of pretty amazing recovery stories too, if you want to check those out. Reading those steps up there for the first time though, I’m actually surprised of the number of times God is mentioned? Are these programs religious based? I can appreciate that as a Christian myself, but I wonder how hard/different/strange it is if you’re attending without a belief in something greater than us all? Or if it scares anyone away from attending? Probably a topic for a whole other day though, haha… Or site for that matter ;)  Not trying to get anyone riled up here!

Tips on Coping With Debt

Lastly (and my favorite part), here are some tips they offer to coping with debt:

  • Stop incurring any new unsecured debt – First and foremost, we suggest that you stop incurring any new unsecured debt, one day at a time. Unsecured debt is any debt not backed up by some form of collateral. Although refraining from compulsive debting may be difficult and painful, it establishes a solid foundation for our recovery.
  • Record your expenses and your income – A good way to do this is to buy a small notebook or planner that is easy to carry. Throughout each day, we write down everything we spend and any income we receive, no matter how small the amount. Do not be discouraged if you cannot keep perfect records. If you lose track, begin again as soon as you can. We believe in progress, not perfection. (<—– YES!!! I’m totally stealing this for my money coaching clients :))
  • Ask for a Pressure Relief Meeting — After you have recorded your income and expenses for (preferably) 30 to 45 days, attended at least six meetings, and made a commitment to D.A., we suggest that you ask two members of D.A. (usually a man and a woman) to meet with you in a Pressure Relief Meeting. These two D.A. members should have abstained from incurring unsecured debt for at least 90 days and had two Pressure Relief Meetings, and if possible they should have recovery from issues similar to yours. As the members of your Pressure Relief Group, they will help you review your situation and formulate a Spending Plan and an Action Plan.

So an overall great source of help for anyone in troubled waters. It’s hard for a lot of us to fathom it (myself very much included), but debt can destroy a life like no other. Owing tons of money to people can lead to illness, despair, ruin, prison, and worst case even suicide. It’s no joke.

If you know of someone who needs help, or if YOU need help yourself, please go over to DebtorsAnonymous.org and get started on the recovery process. Then, come back here and inspire us all :) There’s no shame in admitting we have problems, baby!

// End J. Money’s PSA


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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirsten @ Indebted August 6, 2014 at 6:26 am

Sweet! I think I had heard of them before but wouldn’t have remembered them to pass ong to others. Interesting 12 step plan, too. I guess since ours is student loan debt, we have a lot of apologies to make to ourselves ;-)

But, seriously, I hope some of your readers connect with a local group. How great would that be to have accountability and support (no blog required!)

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2 Ben @ The Wealth Gospel August 6, 2014 at 6:39 am

That’s pretty awesome! It’s hard, but some people need to realize that there’s no shame in having weaknesses. Some of us suck at some things and are better at other things. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself.

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3 Aimee August 6, 2014 at 7:05 am

I’ve known people with debt problems and it’s crazy how irrational they are. It’s a true addiction. As with any addict, I feel for them. I hope this organization helps a lot of people!! I’ve been toying with being a credit counselor for the past few years. Anyone have any experience/insight on that?

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4 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:39 pm

That would be a good service to provide :) Esp since there are so many shady ones out there!

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5 Brian @ Debt Discipline August 6, 2014 at 7:59 am

Very cool. Never heard of them before, but glad they are out there. I see they have meeting too for support.

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6 Chris @ Flipping A Dollar August 6, 2014 at 8:18 am

“1. We admitted we were powerless over debt–that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Come on. That’s bull shit!

How about you admit that you f’d up and need to deal with it? I understand that it’s hard, but wiping your hands and saying “It wasn’t MY fault” is not the solution.

I’d much rather put the blame and therefore the control in my own hands.

The Tips that you mention seem to be the real, actionable steps that the problem towards solution instead of just deflecting the blame saying “I’m fundamentally flawed so it’s not my fault.”

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7 Aimee August 6, 2014 at 8:30 am

That’s the difference between “us” and “them”. People without an emotional/mental problem with getting into debt do make a mistake and then later say to ourselves “that was stupid!” People with an emotional/mental problem with getting into debt are “slaves” to their problem and deal with the 15 issues in the debt test. They WERE powerless over their debt problem and part of the program is teaching them to be in control. I think the interpretation is “it wasn’t my fault, but I have the responsibility to fix the situation my problem caused and learn how to prevent it from happening again.”

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8 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm

Well said :)

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9 Catina August 6, 2014 at 8:19 am

This is awesome! I feel like being here is sort of my own “pressure relief meeting” 3 times a week BUT, definitely worth passing on.

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10 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:44 pm

I like that you look at it that way :) It’s not always one-on-one, but it does have more of a far-reaching affect sharing ideas on a blog like this… I guess my new money coaching is an extension of it and even more so like a pressure relief meeting, eh?

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11 Catina August 7, 2014 at 8:31 am

Absolutely! I think everyone should have several accountability partners and this is the perfect space for that.

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12 Prudence Debtfree August 6, 2014 at 8:43 am

I found out about DA when I used the term in a blog post to describe a get together I had with a friend who is deeply in debt. I was comparing our conversation with an AA meeting, and I used “DA” without even knowing such an organization existed. Someone commented to let me know that DA actually operated out of two locations locally. I contacted our local DA, and the person there was extremely open in sharing is experience. It seems like a GREAT resource.
AA was started by Christians, so the reference to God is fundamental. Most 12-step programs use “Higher Power” now instead of “God”. The people I know who attend AA meetings are not believing Christians, but they have accepted a higher power. One friend said to me, “AA is my Higher Power.” (Interesting fact, as I have opened up to others about our debts, people have opened up to me about things like being in AA.)

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13 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Oh wow, that is interesting! So cool you reached out and learned more about them too :) I wonder if you could be a helper/counselor if you don’t suffer with the addiction too? It seems most people/leaders there have gone through it so are perfect for relating/helping to the newcomers, but would be cool to lend a hand every now and then if they needed it.

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14 Prudence Debtfree August 6, 2014 at 11:19 pm

I actually talked with a friend who is in AA about this. I asked what she thought about the idea of my attending a DA meeting. She told me that I shouldn’t – since I don’t have the addiction (just a history of bad money management). She said I might actually end up sabotaging someone else’s recovery by trying to take part. I took her at her word and didn’t pursue it. I didn’t actually speak with anyone in DA about it though. If you’re interested, there is no harm in asking.

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15 Free To Pursue August 6, 2014 at 8:51 am

I have never been so happy to fail a test.

Seriously though, I think this is a great organization and it provides the support many (unfortunately too many) may need now or in the future.

I have to admit that when reading the questions, I wondered how many individuals would have answered “yes” to many of these questions in the 2007 to 2010 timeframe, simply due to a change in circumstances. The movie “Company Men” comes to mind as an example of the angst a previously successful family would have felt.

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16 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:47 pm

I don’t know, but I hope people are saving and staying on track so they’re prepared for a future meltdown one day! You never know when one will hit, but you DO know it eventually will.

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17 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 6, 2014 at 9:12 am

I would love to see some support groups that weren’t religiously based.

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18 Natalie @ Financegirl August 6, 2014 at 9:25 am

Wow! I cannot believe there is a debtors anonymous. I don’t know why I’m surprised though! The 12 step programs work so well for alcoholism and Al Anon (family of alcoholics) that it seems like a good program for debtors. I’m sure the community is what makes the program so successful. What better way to get ahold of your debt problems than to work a program with guidance and support from others.

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19 Iron Mike Sharpe August 6, 2014 at 10:05 am

See, I think the 12-step programs don’t work well at all for alcoholics / drug addicts. The “you are powerless” line of thinking just makes it too easy for people to relapse.

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20 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm

I feel like they do help or else they wouldn’t have gotten so big/popular over the years, but I would be interested in hearing thoughts on that by a leader at AA… Maybe it does give people an “out” but it helps way more than it hurts? Like 75% helpful and 25% not? I’m just making up numbers now, haha… I’ll stop.

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21 Even Steven August 6, 2014 at 10:15 am

Life is a little harder when you are in debt, it’s great they have a group, I like to think of the personal finance community as my personal support group.

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22 Million Dollar Ninja August 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I learned about Debtors Anonymous from reading the book How to get out of debt, stay out of debt, and live prosperously by Jerrold Mundis. The book is a little old but the steps haven’t really changed much, if at all.
I’m so very happy that I now get to answer no to those 15 questions because that wasn’t the case a few years ago.

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23 Kassandra August 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm

That’s how I learned of DA, from the same book you had mentioned. Most people don’t mention his book when they list PF books but I found it to be a solid read.

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24 J. Money August 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Yeah, never heard of! But just looked it up on amazon – looks like you can get an updated version for $10′ish or the original one for $6′ish… Here’s the link for anyone interested:

How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously

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25 Mrs. Frugalwoods August 6, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Great resource to pass along–thank you! I think you make a great point that while it’s hard for a lot of us to imagine what having that type of debt fees like, it’s a serious struggle for some people. I’ll definitely be sharing this resource with others.

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26 Amy August 6, 2014 at 10:19 pm

I actually have heard of DA, because I recently read a book that’s based loosely on the principles behind it. Good stuff.

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27 downunder sugarglider August 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

wow! I like it! I feel the same as many others here – sometimes I pay attention to my own weaknesses and how they stop me from making progress toward my goal. Not sure about the need to keep repeating “trust in god” in the 12 steps – but No. 4 I reckon is behind non-useful debt. I’ll hang onto that one!

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28 EL August 7, 2014 at 9:06 am

This is awesome, I can only imagine how much stress and pressure someone might feel with 200K of student loan debt. I wonder how long they have been around helping debtors? Thanks for sharing J.

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29 Michelle August 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I have never heard of this, but I think it is awesome. I would totally join! I answered yes to almost all of those questions. I think i could get in.

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30 J. Money August 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm

You should check to see if there are any in your area :)

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31 Emma @ emmalincoln.com August 8, 2014 at 3:06 am

I have some friends who are in DA, and supposedly it’s life-changing. I guess they don’t just focus on becoming debt free, they also focus on the mindsets that accompany debt, and the “money deprivation” attitude which causes people to be greedy, unethical, ungenerous, etc.

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32 J. Money August 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Yes, right! It’s more about the money and debt for sure – gotta dig deep and work on mindset/etc, esp if things are rooted from growing up in certain situations.

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33 Jon Maroni August 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm

12 step programs can be incredibly successful when someone actually follows their steps. I think the thin I love most about them is that they require each person to take a honest self inventory of their situation. I also am very impressed that not only do you make a list of who you have harmed, but you do your best to make things right. Powerful stuff. I also didn’t have any idea something like this existed for those in debt, thanks for sharing it with us.

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34 MonicaOnMoney August 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I had no idea that this exists! But I love the idea of a support group of people in debt because I think talking about money makes us all better with money. Thanks!

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35 J. Money August 10, 2014 at 2:36 pm

That’s true – no matter what stage/area in finance we’re in!

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36 Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans August 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I love that there’s a DA! Debt is a REAL problem with REAL consequences and it’s about time that it’s recognized so that we can help prevent/treat!

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