Using Debtors Anonymous to Help You Manage Debt

Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a twelve-step program of recovery for persons who compulsively incur debt. It is a self help support group for those who desire to live free of all forms of unsecured debt. The program is modeled after the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). DA was started in 1968 when a core group of AAs met together to discuss their problems with money. Initially, they felt their problems originated from their inability to save money. Later, they came to believe that their problems did not stem from their inability to save money but from their seemingly constant compulsion to borrow money. They came to think of their condition as a disease, much like a chemical addiction, where the act of incurring debt is the threshold. The primary purpose of the DA program is to stay solvent and help others to achieve solvency.

At the heart of the program are its meetings. DA meetings are conducted autonomously in cities and towns throughout the world. Anyone may attend an open DA meeting. Generally, the meetings feature talks by persons who share their impressions of their past problems with debt and their present recovery in DA. DA conducts beginners’ meetings for anyone who believes that he or she may have a problem with compulsive indebtedness. Other meetings are not open to the public.

What is a twelve-step program?

Copies of twelve-step literature can be obtained at most meetings. Additionally, many bookstores also carry the book Alcoholics Anonymous, referred to as the Big Book. DA uses the AA Big Book as a guide and resource, replacing the word “alcohol” with “compulsive indebtedness” when reading. Debtors Anonymous

The steps encourage a spiritual approach to recovery, which starts with an admission that you are powerless over your addiction. Belief in a power greater than yourself, such as a god or other spiritual being, is suggested. Introspection, self improvement, and a willingness to make amends are also part of the process. The best way to better understand how a twelve-step program works is to attend meetings of DA and speak to DA members.

What must you do to join DA?

The only requirement for membership in DA is a desire to stop incurring unsecured debt. There are no dues or fees for DA membership; DA is self supporting through voluntary member contributions. DA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; and neither endorses nor opposes any causes. DA’s primary purpose is to stay solvent and help other compulsive debtors achieve solvency.

How do you know if you need Debtors Anonymous?

You are probably the only person who can determine whether you have a problem with compulsive indebtedness. However, the following questions are designed to assist you. Ask yourself the following questions and keep track of how many you answer with yes.

  • Are your debts making your home life unhappy?
  • Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?
  • Are your debts affecting your reputation?
  • Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?
  • Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?
  • Have you ever made unrealistic promises to your creditors?
  • Does the pressure of your debts make you careless of the welfare of your family?
  • Do you ever fear that your employer, family, or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?
  • When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?
  • Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  • Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?
  • Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?
  • Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?
  • Do you justify your debts by feeling superior to others and that when you get your break, you will be out of debt overnight?


According to DA, most compulsive debtors will answer yes to at least 8 of the previous 15 questions. If you answered yes to 8 or more of these questions, then chances are you have a problem with compulsive debt or are well on your way to having one.

How can you contact DA?

Generally, you can find DA, and listings for most twelve-step groups, in your phone book. If you can’t find a listing in your local book, call directory assistance and ask for the DA listing for the major city or town that is closest to your home. You may also find DA meetings listed in the community calendar section of your local newspaper or in community events bulletins.

Are there other twelve-step groups that can help a debtor?

There are many types of addictive behaviors and many different adaptations of the original twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many groups focus on money matters specifically. Gamblers Anonymous, Shoppers Anonymous, and Spenders Anonymous have active memberships in many towns and cities. Other twelve-step programs, such as AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine-Users Anonymous (CA), do not focus on money problems specifically, but well understand the devastating effect that addiction has on a person’s financial stability.

If you find that your financial life has become unmanageable and you attribute any part of your problem to a form of addictive behavior, then you need to seek help. Filing for bankruptcy or winning the lottery may solve your problems but only temporarily. If you cannot change the behavior that got you into trouble in the first place, then you will soon find yourself in trouble again. For someone unfamiliar with twelve-step programs, the fundamental differences between many of the groups mentioned above may appear insignificant. Fortunately, there are no dues or fees for membership, and most twelve-step programs have special meetings for newcomers. It will cost you nothing but your time to attend a few meetings to determine whether and where you fit in.