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How to Break a Credit Card Addiction

Follow the 'Life & Debt' 6-step program to help secure your financial future

By Leslie Tayne

(This article is adapted from Life & Debt by Leslie Tayne.)
Addiction to credit cards is a very real problem. Often clients come into my office with wallets filled with 20 or more credit cards. Fortunately, my Life & Debt system has a Six-Step program to help.
Like many addictions, credit card addiction is tough to beat. However, once you take that first step, you will be on your way to relieving the burden of “bad” debt and securing a better financial future.

(MORE: Time for a Financial Cleanse?)

The 6-Step Program to Break the Addiction

Step 1: Recognize the Problem. When you are deeply in credit card debt and truly desperate due to your financial troubles, it is time to face hard realities. Using too many credit cards is the problem and “withdrawal” is necessary.

There are many reasons why people fall into debt — stress, fear, economic disaster — but you can break the credit card addiction and you will be happier for it.
The following are clear indicators you have a problem:

  • You have no available credit on your credit cards so you can’t purchase anything with them.
  • You are afraid to look at your bills.
  • There is no money in your bank accounts at the end of the month.

Step 2: Just Say No. The credit card companies want your business and once you get on their lists, you will be flooded with incentives for more cards offering short-term benefits like low interest rates on balance transfers. It’s very enticing, but for those with credit addiction it is dangerous.
An easy way to just say no to more cards is to immediately place unsolicited mail from potential creditors in the trash and accept no more “on the spot” offers of store credit cards, no matter how attractive the discounts are.


(MORE: Nearing Retirement? Time to Tackle Your Debt)

Step 3: Downsize Your Credit Cards. Many people are so attached to their cards (particularly retail store cards) they can’t dream of parting with them. Trust me, you can, and life will go on.
Step 4: Put Your Credit Cards in a Drawer for One Week. Then, see how you do. Keep your debit card handy, but check how many times you would reach for a credit card in the course of a week. If you don’t have the credit card in your wallet, then you have the ability to determine if the purchase is an impulse buy or something really necessary.

After one week, sort through the cards in the drawer and choose one to keep in your wallet for emergencies for one month. If, after a month, those other cards don’t leave the drawer, you’ve learned you don’t need them. Choose one or two to put in your wallet and get rid of the rest.
Step 5. Start Relying on Cash or Debit Cards. In general, whatever you can do with a credit card, like renting a car or booking a hotel room, you can do with a debit card. Start relying more on using cash and debit cards to pay monthly expenses instead of charging yourself deeper into debt.
Step 6: Maintain a Healthy Balance of Credit and Debt. Relying solely on credit is a thing of the past. Today, it is more important to have cash in the bank for emergencies and the security that comes with knowing you have money to fall back on.

Ideally your cash reserves should cover at least six months’ worth of regular expenses and you should maintain one or two credit cards with low balances or no balances.
Breaking addictions is not easy, but after using the 6-step program you will have taken control. And that’s a great feeling. Enjoy it.
One final tip: If you believe you have an addiction to spending or acquiring too many credit cards, contact Debtors Anonymous. They’re there to help.

Leslie Tayne is a consumer and business debt-related attorney and adviser and founder of Tayne Law Group, which concentrates solely in debt resolution and alternatives to filing bankruptcy. She is the author of Life & Debt; a portion of the proceeds from its sale will go to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y. Read More
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