Credit Card Debt is for Losers

Jemstep.com

credit card debt is for losers

The other day, while researching an article about whether to pay off student loans or credit card debt first, Carrie asked our Facebook group what we thought.

Most people gave really great responses, and she included those responses in the article.

I gave my knee jerk response, which was that credit card debt is for losers, and student loan debt is normal and for everyone.

There was a bit of back and forth, especially since it looked like I was name calling, so here’s my controversial stance.

Credit Card Debt is for Losers

For years, I had a huge pile of credit card debt, and I felt like a loser because of it. My credit limit was $25,000 and I was so close to maxing it out that I had stress dreams about lacking money.

It was bad, you guys. I had no job and a $600 minimum payment on my credit card. Plus rent. You can see how I was starting to lose my hair. Even writing about it now, years later, I can feel the tightness in my chest.

I finally broke my silence and told my mom what was going on. Instantly, (bless her heart) she signed up for a credit card in her name: A Discover card with 0% interest for the first 24 months. All I’d have to do is pay the balance transfer fee (which I believe was somewhere near $750, which is small potatoes since I’d been paying more than 20% interest on the credit card each and every month) and of course make payments. She was lending me her sparkling credit, knowing that I wouldn’t get a deal like this with my own. I could already see the light. My only regret was not telling my parents sooner how close to the edge I’d gotten.

The Stigma of Credit Card Debt

If you read enough personal finance blogs, they will let you know that it is not cool to have credit card debt. I’d read so many different versions of the same thing: there is only one kind of person who allows themselves to get into credit card debt, and you don’t want to be that kind.

I didn’t even think I had anything to give to the personal finance world until the end of credit card debt was in sight. In retrospect, I wish I’d started earlier simply to read my thoughts from that era. Because even though I was one of the “losers” in credit card debt, I had valuable insights to contribute. But I couldn’t shake the stigma. I felt like it followed me around. Like my credit card debt was sitting on my shoulders, weighing me down. I am a loser, I would think.

So, when my mom came swooping in to help, I knew that math didn’t matter. Zero percent schmero percent. Who cared? That credit card debt was going to be paid in full well before sunset on the 24th month.

Paying Off Debt Helps Build Self Esteem

After some futzing with my spreadsheets, I had a plan. I couldn’t be stopped. Okay, so I went to a concert or three when I really should have put that $$ toward this monstrosity, but I wanted to keep my sanity (and my friends).

I took on extra jobs, some of which were highly unusual. I stopped using the credit card as a way to pay my bills. I might have missed out on some opportunities for rewards, but I saw it like a bucket of water. If I’m going to the effort to take a cup of water out of the bucket each month, I’m surely not going to add anything back, even a tablespoon. So, debit cards kept me goal-oriented during this marathon.

I couldn’t think about my car loan or my student loan. When you’re in deep water, you just have to start swimming. I paid off the last of the credit card less than 18 months after my mom opened it for me. I was so excited to tell her to close the account! Since I paid it off before my 0% interest expired, I am sure that mathematically I missed out. But psychologically, I was a winner, not a loser anymore.

I don’t think you’re a loser.

Even if you are in credit card debt, I’m certain that you’re a good person. Trust me. You’re probably an even better person than you let yourself think!

Is it stupid to pay a giant bank any amount of interest on your consumption? You bet your britches it is. Financing shoes is not a good plan. But your story is probably different from mine.

Maybe you’ve never carried a balance on your credit card, and you’re thinking about using one of those 0% offers to finance an addition in your house. Who am I to say you shouldn’t do that?

Or, let’s say you’re a young whippersnapper, and your student loan interest rate is ridiculous. Higher, even, than the interest on your credit card. Then, yes, for sure, you do what feels right to you!

But if you start to feel bad. If you are floundering and desperate and can conjure up tears with any amount of thinking of your financial situation, please, join me, and get rid of the one thing that is causing you the most pain.

Even if the math doesn’t make sense.

Comments

  1. says

    I remember credit card debt pretty well, and more so that feeling in your chest that you know you can't pay your bills. I've been debt free for a couple years now, and it is pretty amazing. It's crazy that I'm able to take advantage of credit card offers now and not worry about debt accumulating. Probably has something to do with growing up?

  2. bluecollarworkman says

    Generally I think people should stick away from credit cards, obviously. But your mom really helped you out of this mess with the very thing that got you in, credit cards. So I think if people can be smart about it and get help from someone else (someone holding them accountable), then credit cards really can help get you out of debt; and in fact sometimes the credit card debt is better to have than the student loan debt. Although I wouldn't fully know since I didn't go to college!

    • says

      Yeah, clearly credit cards are not the problem, or if they are, they can be the solution as well. It's not like the credit card itself grew legs and walked over to the money pit!

  3. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says

    Wow that is a heavy burden to carry. But whatever the amount and how big of a mountain it may seem, you can get rid of your debt and that's the good part. Yes it will take time and won't be fun every day but if you tackle it you'll get there. And you are living proof!

  4. moneybeagle says

    A lot of people I know have had or still have credit card debt, and at some point all of them have had some regret about having that debt. On the other hand, I've never met anyone with no credit card debt who regrets that decision.

    • says

      I agree with you — those without credit card debt don't seem to be missing out on much. Unless they don't use credit cards at all, then they have a lower credit score than they should!

    • says

      Well, young whippersnapper, I didn't have any until I was just slightly older than you, so you're not out of the woods yet! However, I never earned nearly the amount you're earning, so I'm guessing our stories won't be the same.

  5. says

    I once owed $38K in CC’s. It was awful but thankfully only took a few years to pay down plus I had locked in fairly low interest rates. I now have a CC sitting at almost $8K but it’s interest free for 12-18 mo and I have no issues with it as I will pay it off before then. I do think this will be the last time I allow myself to get a CC up that high again. I definitely don’t like the weight on my shoulders.

    digging-my-way-out

  6. says

    "When you’re in deep water, you just have to start swimming". Never a more accurate phrase. I've had credit card debts and it's horrible. You do feel like a loser and worthless. I lost my job and had nowhere to turn. When I calculated up all the interest it the debt had been repaid but I still owed £30K.

  7. says

    Bravo!
    I've never had credit card debt, besides maxing out my $500 limit credit card in university, but I definitely think that the people who've managed to pay theirs off have a unique level of bad-assery that I'll never achieve.

    • says

      It's not worth it, kid. You can sit on your money, even if it's earning a measly .5% interest and know, without a doubt, that you're better off than someone who's making payments on something that costs 23% interest.

  8. FrugalRules says

    Wow, that is awesome your Mom did that! That said, I remember all too well that feeling you describe so well. It was like a piano was sitting on my chest and it was all I could do to take short breaths. I felt so much like a loser because I was the one who created the debt by making silly choices to finance things that had no real value. It wasn't until I cam face to face with the problem and recognized what I was doing that I finally was able to come up with a plan to knock that sucker out. It was not easy, but I am so much better off now because of the experience.

    • says

      My mom is pretty awesome! YES, the piano on the chest, just sitting there. Not malicious, but heavy. You have to grow strong and just keep chipping away at it, but the feeling of no longer being a loser, and instead being a bona fide grown up? WORTH IT.

  9. says

    Good luck, I am glad you are doing something about it. The credit card is not the problem! It was the out of control spending. I hope you are doing something about that.

    • says

      Actually, my story is a bit different. I wrote a check from a credit card to invest in someone's business. It wasn't shoes and takeout for me. Spending hasn't ever been my problem, but I do know now that I'll never invest money that doesn't belong to me!

  10. says

    You came a long way since then. Luckily, we never had credit card debt. I guess we were always frugal and we had good income. Your mom is a saint. :)

    • says

      Yes, my mom rocks! I remember telling my friend who worked at Intel about the pickle I'd gotten myself into, but she couldn't understand. We were the same level of frugal, but her income far outpaced mine (especially when mine was zero!).

  11. alwayshungry4 says

    That's awesome of your mom to do that, and more awesome of you to lay the debt down to rest within 18 months. I wish I found the PF community sooner since its effects have been motivating in getting rid of my debt, but better late than never and I have every intention of keeping it off. Great post!

    • says

      I'm glad you're here! I agree, this community really does help keep you on the straight and narrow. Especially when you have your own blog with readers that you don't want to disappoint.

  12. says

    The sermon I preach to students in my home buying class is that debt is not a necessity. People do manage to live debt free or to get out of debt.

    I'll definitely share this post with my students.

    As for what works–I hate debt. But I'm not a strong saver. So when I need to make a large repair on the house, a roof or furnace, I borrow the money and pay it back quickly. If I could save the money in a few short months the way I pay off the debt, I'd be better off. But I'm not wired that way.

    • says

      Thanks, Pamela! You know what? MOST people aren't wired to save. We're so comfortable with paying x amount here, y amount there, and whatever, that we just don't end up putting x and y into savings when we can!

  13. says

    Credit card debt is the devil! I felt inadequate when I was under such a mountain of cc debt. I felt better each and every month that I made a bigger payment to cut down that debt. I know what you mean about feeling like a loser.

  14. says

    I feel very similar to you. I think it's because we look at credit card debt as frivilous spending (consumer debt = bad) but whereas student debt is good because at least you achieved something out of it, and in most cases, it's unavoidable. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be where I am today if my college degree hadn't opened up doors for me. My parents couldn't afford to pay for school, so it was all up to me. How much money can an 18-year-old make?

  15. Canadianbudgetbinder says

    I've never had credit card debt that I haven't paid off in full at the end of the month. In do know lots of people that do have credit card debt and it can be a struggle to pay off. The reason is the revolving door because of the dependency of the credit card as an income source when it's not. I believe anything is possible so anyone with debt with determination can get rid of it.

    • says

      I believe that, too! Although I also believe that the person digging their way out of debt absolutely MUST believe it's possible to get out, cross that line, and start building wealth.

  16. Budget & the Beach says

    ha ha I've so been a loser before, but that's OK, I wasn't happy with myself either. Glad you paid it off before the interest!

  17. plantingourpennies says

    It's kindof a long story, but when I graduated college I was kindof "gifted" about $5K in credit card debt. It freaked me out so much that I paid it off instantly – so I definitely understand where you're coming from.

  18. says

    Oh yes, I couldn't agree with you more Kathleen! I've been there too, with credit card debt hanging over me and all the other experts saying "just pay it off every month and earn the rewards". That's a bunch of BS! At least when you're trying to get out of debt. Like you mentioned, there's no point taking two steps forward and one step back, while you're trying to make progress. When and if you're finally out of credit card and can manage it properly, that's totally up to you, but until then I say stick to debit cards!

  19. says

    Excellent post–love the bit about how terrible it is to finance shoes; that's certainly a way to kick some people in the butt! I was a CC loser for far too long, and I'm so happy those days are behind me!

  20. says

    The only controversial thing I saw in this post was the title! Everything else was just awesomeness. I especially liked your analogy for taking teaspoons out of a bucket. I might have to use that one on my site, if that’s okay?

    I’m actually one of those weirdos who doesn’t really care that I have a little bit of credit card debt. I’ve paid it off before and I’ll pay it off again. The only difference being that I have a plan this time.

  21. FinancialBlackSheep says

    I completely wiped out all of my debt, because any thought of it made me want to cry. It was like I was chained to someone else and they got to call my life shots. Now, I get to say what I will and won't do even if some credit was good and some was bad. Nothing, not even credit card promises of rewards can ever take away this feeling of being completely and utterly free from all debt. I might just start traveling once a month, because I can. :D

    You aren't a loser, your credit card debt was the loser and it was bringing you down. :)

  22. iheartbudgets says

    I was in CC debt once. It sucked. I had a 0% card, but still, it was pretty lame that I didn't have the money to pay it off. Before that, I had only let me balance revolve once and paid CC interest, and NEVER AGAIN. Screw CC interest! Thanks for telling it like it is. CC debt is usually a symptom of a deeper issue, but like you said, it's doesn't mean you ARE a loser, just that CC debt IS for losers :)

  23. says

    What a fabulous mother you have – although I suspect you already knew that. I've been blessed to not experience what you went through, but every day I talk to people who carry that same weight on their shoulders and it shows in how they physically carry and refer to themselves. I'm glad your mother was there to support you. It makes a huge difference to not only have someone in your corner but also know you're actively eliminating debt.

  24. says

    We've all made bad decisions with money at one point or another, or perhaps many. What's important is realizing when we have a problem that we need to fix and giving it our all to turn things around. Sounds like you have a sweet mom. I'm glad she was able to help you!

  25. says

    Credit card debt can definitely be scary, and it's an experience that I hope most people don't have to go through. It certainly does teach a valuable lesson along the way, though. You're not a loser for having it, you're a better person for it after it's all over.

  26. says

    It's really a pain knowing that you owe that much, not to mention scary. I can imagine those sleepless nights. But way to go for your mom. They are our life-savers. When you have no debt, the peace of mind it gives is just so liberating.

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