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.