Do you know how much you owe?
If not, you’re not alone. According to a New York Fed report, Americans tend to underestimate their credit card debt by 37%.
In other words, we owe more than we think we do — a LOT more.
Read more: 9 successful habits of debt-free people
Wake-up call: your debt won’t magically disappear
Whether it’s a result of apathy, ignorance or denial, facing the facts of your financial life, however unsettling, is the only way to start moving toward an empowered fiscal future – and a life on your own terms.
Now before the excuses start…
… but I’m financing my wedding…. I’m too busy to deal with it right now… YOLO ….
…. let me remind you that no matter how high you let the unopened bills pile up or how many debt-collection numbers you block on your phone, your debt will not magically disappear.
Maintaining debt denial, be it in the form of ignorance or excuses, will inevitably exacerbate the problem.
Here are five signs you may be in debt denial and stories from fellow consumers who were once there too. See how they faced their respective financial realities to take ownership of their debt – for good.
5 signs you’re in debt denial
1. You’re rationalizing your debt as “good”
Student loans, mortgages, small business loans – essentially any form of debt that has the potential to increase your wealth in the long-run is often classified as “good” debt. As opposed to auto loans, credit card bills or debts accrued while purchasing items that depreciate in value – that’s “bad” debt.
While I think “good” debt can be a useful tool in some cases, I would caution against leaning on the characterization of debt as “good” as a justification for over borrowing or payment procrastination. Taking on a mortgage for example, isn’t good if you can’t afford to make the payments, and neither is a loan you can’t afford to pay off.
Considering the national student loan debt is over $1.3 trillion and 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans are in delinquency, default or deferral – I think it’s safe to say that the concept of “good” debt has enabled some less than stellar borrowing decisions.
Monica Louie of OurDebtFreeFamily shares hers …
“We didn’t think we had a debt problem because our only debts were our student loans, a home equity line of credit and our mortgage. We have always paid off our credit card balance every month, and we paid off our cars before I left my job.
2. You’re paying the minimum – and only the minimum
“I was in debt denial for the longest time. I had about 7 active credit cards open with large amounts of debt. All totaling over $50,000 – and that doesn’t include the over $25,000 in consumer loans I had,” shares Grayson Bell, founder of DebtRoundup.
Why pay more than the minimum?
Implementing Grayson’s strategy of writing down your total amounts owed can also serve as the wake up call you need to stop your debt denial in its tracks. When you see just how much of that total comes from accrued interest, you’ll probably find the motivation to pay it off as soon as possible.
3. You keep opening new credit cards
“When I was in credit card debt, I was in denial that it really wasn’t a problem. I even opened up a new card with a 0% balance transfer rate to save on interest. My thinking was that I would transfer the balance and pay it off in the 12 months I had with 0% interest.
I didn’t think about the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to actually make that large of a payment each month. But I didn’t get that far…
I started charging on the old card within 2 months! It started off just one thing. Then another. Next thing I knew, I was in the hole for thousands on both cards,” says Jon of MoneySmartGuides.
“I had my wake up moment at the mall one night as I was about to buy a jacket. I don’t know why, but something just clicked inside and I questioned why I needed another jacket. I put it back and did a lot of thinking.
I ended up piling all of the clothes and electronics I bought onto my bed and took a picture. I carried that picture with me every time I wanted to buy something.
In the end, I had to get real with myself – I was depressed and had low self-esteem. It wasn’t until I addressed these issues was I able to overcome my spending habit. “
If you keep running up against your credit limit, it’s pretty good sign you’re living beyond your means.
Ignoring the limits of your debt by opening new lines of credit won’t make the problem go away. Get a copy of your credit report so you can see exactly what you owe, what it’s costing you and whether you can really afford any more, while reassessing your spending and making a plan to pay down what you already owe.
Read more: Understanding your credit reports and score
It also doesn’t hurt to think about what might be underlying your debt denial. As Jon found, it may serve as just the motivation you need to be proactive in your payback.
4. You figure you’ll eventually out earn your debt
Even with a six-figure paycheck, Brian, founder of Debt Discipline, couldn’t afford to continue his debt denial…
“I knew we had an issue for a few years, but never wanted to face it. It finally came to a head when I could no longer increase my credit lines on any of our 5 credit cards to finance a family vacation.
With no cash and a six-figure income I knew something had to change.
It forced us to educate ourselves and begin making a plan for our money. 50 months later we paid off our $109k of consumer debt.”
Financial coach, Melissa, realized she couldn’t out earn her debts either…
“I became debt free so I could pursue my dream of meeting Elton John.
My initial turning point was in 2007 when I could not attend Elton John’s 60th birthday concert. I just did not have any money to go.
Initially, I felt like the “answer” was to just make more money, which I did by working odd jobs and starting a Direct Sales Company business.
But the more I made, the more I spent because I just did not have good money management skills.
In December of 2009, I was buying Christmas presents. Once again, the holiday had “snuck up” on me and I wanted to do whatever I could to “make Christmas happen” for our boys who were five and four at the time.
As I was sitting at my desk with a few credit cards, it occurred to me that I had lost the true meaning of the holiday. I was so much more concerned with how to make Christmas happen when all the credit cards were almost maxed out than with the true meaning of the holiday.
That became my true turning point. I vowed to never allow myself to be in this situation again. We became debt free on September 27, 2013 – paying off $43,544 of consumer debt.
Ps. Since becoming debt free, I average 3 Elton John concerts per year!”
5. You just ignore it
“Right after I graduated NYU, I signed up for Mint.com and synced all of my accounts. It was the first time I saw that I had $68,000 left in student loans. That, compared with my student budget was a huge blow.
I panicked. Instead of coming up with a financial plan, I deleted my Mint.com account because I couldn’t handle what I saw.
Six months later, I decided to leave NYC because I didn’t have a full-time job and realized that my student loans weren’t going to go away magically. It was a difficult first step, but I realized I had to take action to pay off my student loans.”
- Melanie Lockert, founder of DearDebt – she is now debt free!
When you face your debt head on, you stop letting it control you and start to become empowered, gaining control over it, which enables the ultimate end goal – the freedom to live on your own terms!
Read more: Know your rights with debt collectors