My Credit Card Debt Is As Bad As Substance Abuse
by Jake Mohan
I now, embarrassingly late in the game, see credit-card debt as a problem for many that is nearly as pernicious as drug and alcohol addiction. This shouldn’t be a surprise — there is such a thing as Debtor’s Anonymous, and the same cycle of abuse, denial, and inertia that accompanies habitual substance abuse is what drives my credit-card use: “I’ll quit drinking (racking up debt) next month, after the holidays are over”, “I’ll limit myself to five beers (purchases) a week,” etc.
Where once my goal was to quit drinking by the time I was 30 (a goal I eventually achieved more or less on time), now my goal is to be free of credit-card debt by the age of 40. I still have trouble believing the first of these goals would be easier to accomplish than the second.
But I’ve punched all the numbers (balance, APR, days until July 12, 2016) into various online debt calculators, and the numbers they spit back at me are grim. Even if I halted all credit-card purchases, I would have to hand over nearly half my monthly salary to Citicard for the next 2.5 years, and that’s not feasible.
The trap here is that, seeing how dire my situation is, I’m tempted to say (as I’m sure many others are) “screw it, who cares” and keep spending, maxing out my cards. That’s more or less been my attitude for the past several years. But since I’ve been married and become at least partially responsible for someone else’s financial solvency, I’ve resolved to navigate something of a middle way, a plan similar to what Logan has been documenting on this site. I have actually been successful in not using my highest-balance, highest-interest credit card, and I’ve transferred some of its balance to a new card that’s interest-free for the next 18 months. I will not use this new card to buy anything, and I will be assiduous about getting as much balance off my old card as possible. I will pay down my smaller retail cards most aggressively, since they have small balances and high interest rates. I am also doing a fairly good job of only buying what I can afford with real money, but that’s hard to do during the holiday season, and whoops I also just bought myself a new bike, because biking through Minnesota winters is crucial to my mental health.
So yeah, I realize I have some work to do.
But my new plan is better than the fiduciary equivalent of binge-drinking myself to death. Ultimately, I lay a great deal of blame at the feet of our country’s financial system and the morally hollow, predatory lending practices of credit-card companies. I know I got myself into debt, and I take responsibility for that. But why was it so easy for me to do that? Why am I still solicited by new credit cards almost daily, with my terrible credit? On a larger scale: Why have I not had a full-time job in nearly 10 years? How did I accept as the norm a life where I cobble together multiple part-time jobs, each of which barely pays a livable wage, one of which is at a prestigious institution of higher learning and requires a masters’ degree? How can paternalistic financial advisors keep a straight face while telling me to “set aside” a little money each month that I now use for “lattes” and “movie tickets” when my entire salary is a probably a tiny fraction of what their second home cost?
My indignation and resentment of that naïve privilege masquerading as sober-eyed advice is what causes me to paradoxically and self-destructively spend more and rack up more debt, much as once upon a time my solution to problems caused by my drinking was to, illogically, drink more. But I’m working on it.