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Understand the Debt Cycle and the Reasons People Go into Debt

To understand the nature of debt, it is important to understand the debt cycle. The debt cycle starts when you begin to outspend your income for one of many different reasons—ignorance, carelessness, compulsiveness, pride, or necessity. You know it's wrong, but you do it anyway, telling yourself “It's just this once.”

When you are not living within your means, you must borrow to maintain your lifestyle—your standard of living. At first, you may put just a little more debt on your existing credit card because this debt is easily accessible. You plan to pay this debt off soon, but you keep spending more than you earn. After all, you do need to support your lifestyle. Soon, you have borrowed to the available limit on your first credit card. So now, instead of one credit card, you get two, and your spending continues. You dig yourself deeper and deeper into debt each month.

The situation gets worse over time. You obtain more credit cards, and soon you have five cards—all used to their maximum limit. You may be able to get another card, but the interest rate is now over 20 percent. Interest costs on other cards are larger too, and you are paying only the minimum balances on everything. In fact, most of your spending is for interest costs. With so much of your income going towards interest costs, there is no money left for other important items, such as tithing, fast offerings, or other charitable donations.

This debt cycle can continue for only so long. Soon, you can't get any more credit, and just the interest becomes more than you can pay each month. You have lost your money, your sense of self-worth, and your good credit history.

Some people get so deep in debt by doing what I've described that it takes a very long time for them to find their way out; others are just beginning the cycle. When I talk to people who have been in debt, they tell me that the phrase “chains of hell” (Alma 5:7) is an apt description of the debt cycle and its results. It starts ever so slowly, but over time the chains become as unbreakable as steel, causing you to do things you never would have thought possible.

There are many reasons why people accumulate debt. As I have worked with individuals, five key trends are apparent.

  • Ignorance: Some people don't understand interest and its costs. Some may even avoid learning about these things because they know they would have to change their spending habits. Change is difficult, both temporally and spiritually.
  • Carelessness: Some people do understand interest and its costs; they just get a little lazy. They think, “If I spend a little more this one time, its okay—it won't hurt this once.” But it does—even this once. The cost of careless spending is not just a temporal cost, but a spiritual cost as well.
  • Compulsiveness: Some people lack the self-control to discipline their purchases. Others may not want to control their spending—after all, discipline does not sound like nearly as much fun as spending. But the time will come when we will all be held accountable for our spending—and our actions as well.
  • Pride: Some people worry more about how they look to their neighbors than about how they look to God. Excessive debt can sometimes be a sign that Heavenly Father is not the first priority in someone's life. He should be.
  • Necessity: Finally, some people go into debt in order to feed their families and provide for other basic needs. However, instead of going into debt to deal with a difficult situation, members of the Church should counsel with their bishop to seek other solutions. Necessity should rarely be the reason people go into debt.

Just as there are reasons people accumulate debt, there are characteristics you can develop that will help you eliminate debt. The following are a few ideas:

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