Are you a credit junkie? Millions of Americans are, including our favorite relative, Uncle Sam. We usually think of junkies as drug addicts or drug peddlers, but a junkie is any person who derives inordinate pleasure from or who is dependent on something. For many people, that’s buying things with credit. In other words, spending money on things they can’t afford. Getting addicted to credit is just as easy as becoming addicted to anything else. At first you give it a try and maybe you buy something on a new credit card. Like magic, you just purchased something yet your bank account didn’t go down. What a wonderful feeling! So you buy something else on credit, and then even more stuff gets thrown on the credit card. Hey, it’s like free money, right?
Until the bill comes. Suddenly you get your statement and see just how much you spent, but guess what? You only have to make a minimum payment of $50 for the month. Who can’t afford $50 when you just cleaned up and brought home $2,000 worth of new merchandise? And things usually just get worse from here as the credit card balance increases, the minimum payments go up, and the finance charges take up virtually all of your payment. You’ve now become a credit junkie.
The Credit Junkie Quiz
How can you tell if you’re a credit junkie? Keep track of how many of the following questions you answer with “yes.”
- You have more than two or three credit cards and carry a balance on them.
- You pay the minimum or less on your credit cards.
- You’ve reached the credit limit (or are very close) on your credit cards.
- You juggle other bills in order to pay the minimum monthly payments on credit cards.
- You charge items you used to pay for with cash (food, gas, etc.)
- You incur late fees or over-the-limit fees on credit cards.
- You’ve taken out one or more debt consolidation loans to pay off credit card balances, but then charge to the credit cards again.
- You take out cash advances on your credit card to pay other bills or expenses.
- You use your bank overdraft protection to cover checks you’ve written that you don’t have the money to cover yet.
If you answer yes to any of the questions, you may be a credit junkie. If you answer yes to more than three, you have a confirmed diagnosis. For treatment options, continue reading.
Treatment Plan for Credit Junkies
Now that you know the symptoms of being a credit junkie, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors that can cause this condition or make it worse. The first rule for avoiding any disease is to take precautions to reduce your exposure. For credit junkies, this includes:
- Can the Credit Card Offers – If you were an alcoholic, you wouldn’t keep a bottle of Jim Beam on your kitchen counter where you had to look at it every day, would you? If you’re a credit card junkie, why subject yourself to the temptation to overindulge by allowing yourself to be inundated with credit card solicitations in the mail?Credit card companies send out over three billion credit card solicitations each year, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one of the recipients. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) toll free to request that the credit reporting bureaus stop selling your name and address to lenders. This request is good for two years. You’ll be asked for personal information, including your name, telephone number, and Social Security number.
- Avoid Shopping Malls – For a credit junkie, cruising the malls without a definite plan in mind is like taking a dieter to a giant smorgasbord and telling them not to eat anything. Limit your exposure by planning your shopping trips ahead of time. The fewer trips you make to the mall or other stores, the less impulse buying you’ll do.
- Cancel the Catalogs – The more you order from catalogs, the more your name gets sold to other catalog companies and the more catalogs you receive. These visual reminders of all the things you could buy (whether you need them or not) is extremely difficult for a credit junkie to resist. Know where to go to just say no. Opt-out of junk mail to reduce the number of catalogs and other unsolicited mail you receive for the next five years by writing to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512, and asking to be removed from their marketing lists, or register online at . If you continue to receive catalogs, call each catalog company and ask to be removed from their mailing list.
- Reduce Visits to Online Stores – Like catalogs, online stores stimulate your desire to buy things you don’t need and didn’t even know you wanted. If you shop online, prepare a list of what you need ahead of time and stick to it.
- Be Aware of Advertising – Our addictions to spending start with the hundreds of advertising messages we’re bombarded with each day from multiple media, from television and radio to billboards and email pop-ups. Awareness is the first line of defense. You may also receive a lot of spam that’s actually email you like to receive. Are you getting weekly emails from Pottery Barn because you signed up for email alerts on new sales? While technically not spam, you’re subjecting yourself to unnecessary advertising. Take a few minutes to go through your inbox and cancel all of those subscriptions.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
I think most of us have been here at one point or another. Using credit unwisely leads to seriously problems in the future and curbing the habit while you're young will only serve you better in the future. Our only insurance at one point to (for my wife and I) was to put them in the freezer. I'm happy to say now that we are credit card debt free. It can happen if you work hard at it.
Great article. I tell people to stop buying what you cannot afford with money you do not have. This is step number one. The rest will fall into place.
It's so easy and convenient to be a credit card junkie! This is such a true article because many Americans enjoy having various credit cards- some for certain grocery stores others for retailers like Macy's that offer reward points with use of their credit card.
I also use an AmEx card and they give a small percentage cash back at the end of the year and you can redeem that for cash or a gift which I think is great because it's better to get something back rather than nothing.
I love this blog because it always amazes me how easy it is to save money if people just keep their heads up. It's also ridiculous how people are always trying to trick you and take your money.
I was clicking around the other night and noticed an advertisement for a FREE TV with purchase at their stores. I expected to see something pretty cheap, and was surprised to see it was a name brand. I have needed a TV for a while now so I decided to look at this further.
The fine print is what killed me though:
Please allow eight weeks delivery for merchandise redeemed online.
You DON'T ACTUALLY GET THE TV. You get a voucher for a TV -- that you'll get in 8 weeks and will at that point be a lot less expensive.
So, as I'm want to do, I came up with two options if you need new glasses and would love a new TV.
$350 for 1 pair of eyeglasses.
Your "Free" Camera Arrives in February (if you remember to redeem your voucher)
Total: $350 (Start taking pictures in February -- in overpriced glasses.)
Online Retailer, for example www.eyeglasses.com (You can use the code UPS1DAY for free 1 day shipping.)
$120 for 1 pair of eyeglasses.
Order your Canon A470 from Amazon for $93 + $10 shipping (it arrives the day after tomorrow)
Total: $143 (Save over $200 and get the TV this week).
Don’t let these marketers trick you. We are too smart for them.
No one ever says 'I want to be a junkie when I got up'. Unfortunately it can help. Do they have a 12 step program for this? Admitting you have a problem would be a great start. Good job getting people in the right direction.
Don't forget the double whammy that comes from getting addicted to credit card debt. You don't put enough towards your retirement soon enough and end up trying to catch up in your later years when it may just be too late.
This is a great post. However, like all good plans they take execution. The junkie in this case needs understand it's probably going to be one of the hardest things they will ever embark upon. Also they need it explained that its as painful process to get back in good financial shape.
This is a good post to start with!
I think that the most recent stats that I have been able to find puts the percentage of Americans that carry a balance at 55% - definitely not smart. I try to use my AmEx cash back card for as much as I can and I just have the card set to pay off the balance in full every month from my checking - no hassles and I earn 1% to 3% cash back on everything I buy.
This treatment plan gets you to kick the habit, but what about relapsing? I have a friend who got herself out of huge debt with great financial discipline. She lived debt free for a couple of years, but now she is back in a big hole again.
What a great post! I can remember as a teenager with my 1st credit card...i became a complete addict! I ended up putting myself into debt of over $20k with 15 cards. Live and Learn!