There is so much shame attached to money problems, and debt in particular.
“I should have known better…”
“How could I have let it get this far?”
“I’m so irresponsible…”
“I can’t be trusted.”
Whenever I speak with a potential client who is struggling to pay off debt (and it doesn’t matter how big the debt is), I can usually tell pretty quickly whether or not they will be successful.
And it doesn’t have anything to do with their job, their bank account, their willpower or their circumstances.
In fact, from where I sit, the most important indicators of whether or not a debt will get paid off is how a person perceives his or her debt and how they perceive their role in it all.
It’s almost a universal constant: the more shame someone feels over their debt, the harder it will be to pay it off.
That seems backwards, right? If a person feels more shame about it, shouldn’t they be more motivated to pay it off? Maybe on paper, but that’s almost never what I see in practice.
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How you talk about debt matters
Language plays a huge role in understanding how close someone is to successful debt payoff. It has nothing to do with how much you talk about your debt with other people, and EVERYTHING to do with how you talk about it with yourself.
I’ve helped tons of people with debt payoff because I never judge, make them feel bad, or feel wrong or deficient or SHAMED for having debt. Because — and this is the important part — debt is neutral. Doesn’t matter if it’s so-called “good” debt (like a mortgage or student loan) or “bad” debt (like credit card balances); it has nothing to do with your character as a person.
People need to do this for themselves as well. If you think someone will judge you for having debt, don’t discuss it with them. Especially if you’re still struggling to forgive yourself! Debt is simply a symptom of a challenge that you were having, and your desire to achieve debt pay off says everything about what you learned from that experience.
I always tell my clients to look at debt as a symptom of something greater. Say you racked up a huge credit card bill; what was that a symptom of? A job loss? A medical problem? A bad breakup? A period of depression? There’s always something bigger going on.
Check your attitude
While I never want someone to feel shame over their debt, I have noticed attitude signals that will point to whether or not someone is ready to start seriously managing debt pay off or not.
The signs I most often see are:
- Continuing use of credit cards. If you’re crystal clear on how much you spend every month AND how much you have to pay on your credit card above and beyond monthly expenses, then you might be able to continue to use your credit card while paying down a balance. The majority of people I see who refuse to stop using their credit card DON’T have this clarity.
- Ongoing reasons for incurring debt. If there is always a reason why you have to charge something else on your credit card—and always a GOOD reason—then you’re not ready to start a serious debt payoff plan. (Medical expenses might be an example here.)
- Not believing they have resources to get out of debt. If you don’t actually believe you make enough money to pay off your debt, and see no other alternatives other than to continue to carry the debt, then you’re not ready to start a serious debt payoff plan. Personally, I’ve rarely ever seen someone who couldn’t adjust their spending plan and find at least a few dollars a month to put towards repayment. But you have to believe it, not me.
Maybe most importantly, you have to make the choice that it’s all up to you. If you’re still busy blaming someone or something else for the debt, what you’re actually doing is looking for reasons not to pay it off yourself.
But once you truly make the choice to pay off debt, I believe anyone can achieve it.
Steps to successful debt pay off
Ready to start paying down that debt you have? Here are the crucial planning steps that you must take if you’re serious about debt pay off once and for all:
- Start with your intention. Whenever you start any successful venture, you have to define success. What does successful debt pay off look like for you? How long will it take? How much will you put towards your debt each month?
- Gain clarity. You can’t know if you’re making progress toward debt pay off unless you first understand the current situation and define a plan of action. Just like you can’t know if you’re successful at weight loss until you step on the scale. Gather your documents and get some clarity — even if it’s painful at first!
- Identify recovery actions. Most of the time, people expect debt payoff to go smoothly, but it never does. Stuff happens. You might have to charge something in an emergency. When you get thrown off your “ideal” plan, have a back up. How will you decide what constitutes an emergency?
- Throw off discouragement. Everyone faces obstacles and setbacks, but if you’re resolved, then the obstacles never seem as insurmountable as when you lack confidence in your plan. When you become discouraged at lack of progress, have specific steps in place to put yourself back on track as soon as you can.
- Notice your language. Are you berating or shaming yourself for what you perceive to be money ”failures?” The sooner you forgive yourself, the sooner you can move on to creating the money reality you desire.
- Notice your mindset. Did any of the excuses to NOT pay off debt above resonate with you? You might not be ready to change. That’s okay. No judgment here.
- Are you waiting? A lot of times, people tell me they are waiting for a raise, to move in with their loved one, or for some other outside condition. If that event never happened, what would be the next step you would take to pay off debt? Now go do it.
If you’re still struggling to get past the shame of debt, I encourage you to not go it alone. Although no one can literally wave a wand and change how you feel, you approach the situation from a place of facts instead of emotions and move past those unhelpful feelings towards a positive plan of action.