This Just In: Credit Card Debt is the Most Embarrassing Kind of Debt There Is

I know what you’re thinking right now,

“Credit card debt??? I had no idea! I thought medical debt – or at least student loans – would be the most embarrassing? I mean, who likes telling people they went to college??”

I’m sorry to say though, friends, it’s true… A whole poll was commissioned on it and everything, and we now know for certain that people are most embarrassed by their credit card debt than any other kinds.

Glad we got that solved! ;)

In other non-shocking news: did you know we landed on the moon?? I swear, sometimes I feel like companies would do just about anything to get in the press… I’m going to put out a report after this that most people would like to have a free million dollars in cash, and if at possible, also lose an extra 10 pounds while they’re at it. We’ll hit the NY Times in no time!

(You need to get on this,

In all seriousness though, yes – of course it sucks having credit card debt and you don’t want anyone knowing about it. But if you ask me, what’s more embarrassing is actually NOT DOING ANYTHING about it. It’s one thing to have some debts, but a whole other if you pretend they don’t exist. I don’t care if the average American has $15,355 in credit cards or not – you don’t want to be “normal” here.

So if you’re new to this stuff, or just need a quick kick in the pants to get jump started again, here are your 6-step marching orders. No research required…

(And this applies to any areas of finance, for that matter)

  1. Absolve yourself of all past wrong-doings. The big ones, the small ones – the ones you really hope don’t ever get out into the world – all of them.
  2. Commit to a fresh start TODAY!
  3. Put all your finances into one single spreadsheet. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to see everything in ONE spot so you know exactly what you’re working with. (No cheating)
  4. Do 1 thing this weekend that improves your situation.
  5. Do 1 thing, and only 1 thing, every week going forward. Keep them achievable.
  6. Continue living your life as-is :)

You do all that and not only will your finances start improving like mad, but you’ll stop feeling sorry for yourself, build your confidence back, feel like you’re finally doing something about it, and eventually change your ways naturally as you realize just how easy it is to get the ball rolling over time.

And that’s really the key to it at the end of the day: harnessing *time* to your advantage.

You add up all those dozens of actions/payments/investments directed towards a single goal, and the gift you give to your future self will be downright amazing. It’s all about using time to accelerate things.

So yes – credit card debt is lame. We all know that. But as an unknown astronaut once said, “one small step for man, one giant leap for your wallet.” The time to commit is TODAY!

PS: A recommended action item to try? Listening to the best new podcast out there: M.O.N.E.Y. … Word on the street is that it’ll give you a total “fingasm.” (True testimonial)

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  1. Ryan Hitchcock February 5, 2016 at 5:49 AM

    I need advice please!
    I am 37 and live with mom bec of my poor choices with money and credit cards.
    I need to move out this year before i go crazy.
    I can afford my own place if i stop paying my credit cards.
    $450 a month with a balance of $19k (incl school loan)
    Can you help?

    1. Kelly February 5, 2016 at 9:38 AM

      1 Absolve yourself of all past wrong-doings. The big ones, the small ones – the ones you really hope don’t ever get out into the world – all of them.
      2 Commit to a fresh start TODAY!
      3 Put all your finances into one single spreadsheet. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to see everything in ONE spot so you know exactly what you’re working with. (No cheating)
      4 Do 1 thing this weekend that improves your situation.
      5 Do 1 thing, and only 1 thing, every week going forward. Keep them achievable.
      6 Continue living your life as-is :)

      I’d say you have the info, you just need to apply it. For more specific game plans, maybe swing by Dave Ramsey’s site and read about his plan.

      1. Mauij February 24, 2016 at 12:59 PM

        Just make sure that you are still paying off your credit cards as fast as you can because those interest rates are ridiculous and they are going to catch you if you don’t tackle them first.

    2. Kelly February 5, 2016 at 9:42 AM

      Also, read the side hustle page – you should be able to find SOMETHING you can do to bring in some more cash to get you rolling!

      1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:33 PM

        Agreed! hit up Dave Ramsey for sure (and don’t stop paying credit cards just to live on your own! get yourself straight first)

  2. Brian @DebtDiscipline February 5, 2016 at 6:39 AM

    I was embarrassed when we racking up $109K of credit card debt, some was due to consolidating over and over. The embarrassment wasn’t due to the type of debt but they fact that we let it get that far. So glad we change our behaviors and the debt is now gone!

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:34 PM

      Oh wow – I didn’t realize you had so much back in the day. That’s a helluva come back!

    2. Bobby February 8, 2016 at 4:35 PM

      J.Money & Brian,

      I racked up over 60,000 in credit card debt. Our small business(bricks and mortar) was slow and I was constantly consolidating over and over too.Presently, I’m on track to pay it all off by the end of 2016.Blogs like this one and contributions by readers like yourself have helped guide and inspire me that I can do this and that I’m not alone. I’ll admit there were times when I felt like giving up on life….felt so depressed and defeated.

      Fortunately, we paid off our house ( I know this is backwards) in 2013. As soon as this CC debt is paid off we can start saving/investing the bulk of our business income for FI. Better late than never(we are in our 50’s).

  3. Roy Largo @ Band of Savers February 5, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    I’m grateful that I grew up with parents that were credit card adverse because it taught me how to be responsible with them when I first left home and started my own financial endeavors. I’m the youngest of 7 kids and I can remember when my parents got their first (and probably only) credit card. When you are first staring out so much of our money actions come from what we were taught in the home. So now that I have little kids of my own I’m always thinking about the lessons that my boys are learning about money from me, and continuing to stay out of credit card debt is one of the things that I want to be able to teach them.

    Loved the figasm reference :)

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:35 PM

      My new favorite word of the year :)

  4. Alex February 5, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    I sadly have several friends and family members with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. They complain about their debt, express frustration that they owe hundreds/thousands a month and genuinely appear concerned that this debt will be with them forever or will prevent them from buying a home or retiring. All of them have college degrees and have been steadily employed with no major issues causing this debt (ie no big uninsured medical expense or period of job loss).

    Yet what frustrates me the most, they still spend absurd amount of money on frivilous things. Visiting a cousin over New Years we all went to the mall and I watched her drop $60 at Bath and Body Works, $80 on a new purse and $50 on movies for my son (nice gift but why buy a dvd at the Disney store when its a third of the price on amazon). She has a nice stash of $30-50 bottles of wine and orders take out most nights.

    She then makes the minimum payment on her credit cards but still spends more each month than she earns. Credit card companies are happy to give her higher limits since she’s always paid something on time and has a decent job.

    It pained me to here her complain since she could easily shave a few hundred dollars a month off of her expenses. Yes, it would take years of sensible living to pay down all of her debt but i’m sure that beats the alternative of working until you’re 80 or declaring bankruptcy.

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:43 PM

      And what’s even more said is that this is “normal” and every other person in our country does it! Maybe we need to print out “Budgets Are Sexy” stickers and litter everyone’s neighborhoods with them ;)

  5. Linda February 5, 2016 at 7:47 AM

    I racked up about $8,000 of credit card debt back in my twenties (I’m now 35). My parents borrowed me money to pay it all off. I can proudly say that I haven’t been in credit card debt since, and I’ve paid my parents back. While it wasn’t exactly embarrasing debt, I definitely wasn’t proud of it.

  6. Millennial Money Man February 5, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    Makes sense, credit card debt is pretty taboo for my people. I wonder where massive student loan debt (over $100k would fall on the list)?

    1. Yetisaurus February 5, 2016 at 12:39 PM

      I think massive student debt is going to be the new most embarrassing thing, once people stop thinking of it as “good debt” no matter how absurd the balance owed is. There still seems to be such a cultural attitude behind seeing it as okay, even if it runs into the multiple six figures. It’s nuts.

      1. Lisa O February 5, 2016 at 2:47 PM

        I think you have a point there! I would think anyone that is in debt for student loans when they don’t have a career to pay for it would be embarrassed because they are suppose to be educated. It isn’t good debt when it stops you from living :) It also isn’t any ones fault but your own for the decision….

      2. Millennial Money man February 5, 2016 at 4:40 PM

        In my case it was unavoidable. I wanted to be a band director and didn’t have the cash to pay for the education. I was never embarrassed about it, but I only (sounds crazy) had $40k in debt and paid it off quickly. I still think manageable student loan debt is a solid investment in your future, but I get plenty of people that email me with stories of $100k – $250k!!! Crazy.

        1. John Mitchell February 5, 2016 at 5:11 PM

          Millenial Money man, you’re the exception when it comes to being able to pay the debt off quickly. Most will not be that fortunate and yes taking out 5-6 figure debt seems crazy to me as well. The problem lies in educating people about how to cash flow college. There’s a great book entitled Debt-Free U that gives great advice about paying for college. I teach Personal Finance in high school and my recurring mantra is avoid debt at all costs.

    2. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 4:12 PM

      I’m always in the camp that student loans is well worth the trade off, but hard for me to talk much since I was fortunate enough to have my parents cover my education -(just like how I’ll be doing for my kids too). It’s hard to deny a degree is more valuable than random junk people slap on their credit cards, but I agree the tuition these days are freakin’ astronomical… $100k vs $10k of debt is a pretty serious difference no matter how it was racked up.

      1. Mortimer February 10, 2016 at 1:53 AM

        As someone with (now finally!!) just under $200k of student loan debt, I go back and forth on its value trade off. On the one hand, it catapulted my income to something like five times more than I was earning from my paid for English degree, but after paying for the debt, I’m not sure if I will end up better financially or not because I will have given up something like ten years of full 401k contributions… But when I pay off the debt and start saving 85%+ of my high salary will it matter? Maybe not. And my graduate degree will give me a lot of opportunities for consulting / super part time work transitioning into FIRE.

  7. Free to Pursue February 5, 2016 at 8:05 AM

    Ha! Normal is NOT good. Weird is definitely better. BTW: I was just thinking this post sounded like it was ready for the air…as a podcast discussion. Then, BAM! the P.S. at the bottom. Pure gold.

    P.S.S. – Did you know there’s something called gravity too? Yeah, no joke. I looked it up.

  8. Michelle February 5, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    So I did one big thing this week. Well maybe a few…I had a budget but changed it to The Budgetnistas One Week Budget Plan. I think this one may help me actually stick to a budget. I also opened a new savings account t for long term emergencies (Had a short term one only). Lastly I consolidated all my cc debt to my one low interest card. Cutting up the others but not closing the, since they have a long history

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:47 PM

      Rock on!!! Way to try out different things and see what sticks!

  9. Elise@ Uphill To Easy Street February 5, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    What? No way! Medical debt to remove a Ghostbuster doll that was classified as a “foreign object” in your nether regions classifies as the most embarrassing kind of debt…not that I would know.

    Great advice. It is hard to not beat yourself up when you are struggling with debt. When my husband and I first got married we were terrible with our finances and racked up some credit card debt. It felt so good when we paid it off, but until we did we didn’t tell a soul.

  10. Catina Marie February 5, 2016 at 8:31 AM

    This is Catina in credit card debt.
    Catina reads Budgets Are Sexy every day.
    Catina gets out of credit card debt.
    Be like Catina.

    (Hoping this is my year. I am almost there! Keep the good stuff coming…keeps me motivated!)

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:49 PM

      Yeah girl!!! Getting so close! :)

  11. Josh @MoneyBuffalo February 5, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    I suppose medical debt & student loans are more sociably acceptable. People get sick all the time (medical debt) & certain financial books (Rich Dad Poor Dad comes to mind) says student loans is considered good debt if it increases your earning potential.

    Both stink and, to a certain extent, are unavoidable due to life circumstances.

  12. Fervent Finance February 5, 2016 at 9:16 AM

    Luckily I’ve never been in credit card debt, but I can see how it can be embarrassing. To an extent (barring emergencies) stacking up credit card debt is basically saying “YOLO IDGAF that I’m spending more than I make, even though it’ll hurt real bad down the road.”

  13. Lisa O February 5, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    I love that I have never had credit card debt that I couldn’t handle. I pay mine off every month and make about $300-$500 a year on cash back bonus. I use my card for everything. I also plan … daughters wedding … need a few thousand more … 0% interest for a year on my existing card. Took that $4K balance and worked it into my budget to pay off before any interest due. I am thankful to my parents who taught us that credit cards are dangerous if they get out of hand. I am thankful that my first boss taught me how to make money off them while letting them be your bookkeeper :)


    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:54 PM

      Hah! I like that way of thinking :)

  14. Saving My Dime February 5, 2016 at 9:35 AM

    Credit card debt definitely drags around a sack filled with shame. Somehow (as if I wasn’t the one swiping my card) I racked up $2,500. I’ll be able to pay it off this month, but it’s disappointing knowing the money could have went elsewhere!

  15. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe February 5, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    I don’t know. I buy that credit card debt is embarrassing, but it seems less so than
    1) Pay Day Loans
    2) Financed Rim Wheels
    3) Owing the Pawn Shop
    4) Owing for rent to own furniture/electronics

    But maybe I only think those are worse because I can afford a credit card. It may just show my socio-economic biases. But as bad as credit card debt is (and I try not to carry any) the rates are better than the rates of the credit available to those who can’t get credit cards.

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:55 PM

      Agreed. Those weren’t options in the poll though :) I reckon it would have made their article even MORE obvious than it was, haha…

  16. Abigail @ipickuppennies February 5, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    Honestly, I’m surprised that people are embarrassed at all by debt these days. I know the recession changed thinking a little, but it seems like debt is still the norm.

    Still, that gives me hope.

    I was lucky to be raised by parents who were clear about paying off what you owe, living within your means, etc. So I was baffled when a friend in college stayed nearly maxed out on her credit card but, as she told me proudly, she paid double the minimum payment so it was okay.


  17. Alyssa February 5, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    Hahaha yes, thank you for the Friday morning laugh. I love that you say “harnessing *time* to your advantage”. One of the greatest lessons my brother ever taught me growing up was that “timing is everything”. Although he was referring to a situation where I asked my mom if we could have Wendys at the wrong time of the evening, it still sticks true to most everything I do. Money especially. Time is of so much importance, and it’s nice to see someone highlighting in this light. Have a good weekend! :)

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:56 PM

      haha… your brother and I would get along great :)

  18. SavvyFinancialLatina February 5, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    I use credit cards for rewards. I pay off the full amount every month when it’s due. So far I have been able to buy a fridge and new couch for the house.

  19. Chris Durheim February 5, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    As much as I’m not surprised by the outcome, I do think articles like this are important in that they encourage more openness about our individual finances. One of the biggest barriers to self-improvement is feeling isolated and “different”, which can make you feel unable to take steps to fix the issue.

    The more we get people talking, the more they can see that there are others who were in their situation and got out of it. Building connections and networks of people who are in rough financial situations and working on fixing them is the first step to making financial health a reality for everyone :)

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 3:59 PM

      True true.. I’ll give you one there ;:)

  20. Ken February 5, 2016 at 1:03 PM

    … unless you’re Bernie Sanders who has $35k-$65k in credit card debt and has a very high salary close to $200,00/year. How does someone who owns a 100k condo outright have that much CC debt with such a high income? I make roughly $35k/year and I have no CC debt, and no debt in general except for some student loans. How can I be more responsible with money than someone who makes over 5X more than me?

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 4:00 PM

      Because your lifestyle is in check!

      And you respect your money.

  21. Harmony @ CreatingMyKaleidoscope February 5, 2016 at 1:48 PM

    “But if you ask me, what’s more embarrassing is actually NOT DOING ANYTHING about it.”
    Agreed! I haven’t been as embarrassed to tell people that we have a significant amount of credit card debt, because now I can also tell them what we’re doing to fix it.

  22. COD February 5, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    It’s weird, because borrowing $200K to get a sociology degree is way, way dumber than running up $10K on a credit card. Yet most people will look at the credit card debt as worse.

    Not picking on liberal arts majors here – we need sociologists, but the reality is you aren’t going to make enough to ever pay off that kind of student loan. It’ll be an anchor around your life forever.

  23. Syed February 5, 2016 at 5:19 PM

    Ha. Not a shocking finding but it’s true now that I think about it. People will talk about their student loan debt almost as a badge of honor, but rarely mention credit card debt. A good (dare I say, great) first step is to get a consolidation loan from a reputable company. I’m talking about companies like SoFi, Earnest or Lending Club. They can get you rates that are so much lower than what the banks are charging.

    More importantly than that is to stop the behavior. Hide your credit cards or limit yourself to just one. Once you can wean yourself off the addiction, you will be in a much better place.

  24. Amy @ DebtGal February 5, 2016 at 6:02 PM

    I found my credit card debt so embarrassing, my blog about it is anonymous! (It’s actually been consolidated into a home equity loan, which I find only slightly less embarrassing.)

  25. Kristi @ Femme Frugality February 5, 2016 at 7:36 PM

    I’m not exactly proud of our credit card debt, but I’m not actively embarrassed by it either. We’re working our way out of debt, so as long as we keep hustling I see no reason to be embarrassed.

  26. Michael @ February 6, 2016 at 3:54 AM

    People have always had the excuse that student loans are a “good debt” and are more likely to disclose the amount of their student loans. With credit cards, people don’t like admitting how much debt they have racked up because it is evidence that they are living above their means. They like keeping the illusion that they can afford that new iPhone, SUV, TV, etc.

  27. BudgetNerd February 6, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    Hey J.! Just subscribed to the podcast and so far I’m diggin it! I’m looking forward to a side hustle episode, or one on creating a blog, etc. By the way… what motivated you to start a podcast in the first place? A friend of mine have been back and forth on starting one on travel hacking/ credit card churning, but we’re not too sure if there’s a market for it. Thoughts?

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 4:05 PM

      Hey, thanks!

      We wanted to start one just for a change of pace and to have fun/grow both our audiences more :) It was a LOT more work than we had thought (like, a LOT), but def. happy we got it out there and now have our systems in place and what not…

      I’m not sure what the market is for credit card hacking specifically (I don’t even listen to podcasts to be honest), but if you span across to the travel world more I reckon you’d have a much bigger reach. And they def. go hand in hand of course, so I’d prob focus on the “travel for cheap” type show for branding and what not – and then infuse the credit card hacking inside it.

      That stuff is HUGE online too of course, if you’re not already doing that :)

      1. BudgetNerd February 7, 2016 at 8:16 AM

        Thanks dude! We ended up feeling the same way; i.e., travel hacking is great to talk about but almost useless for people who only listen to podcasts.

        The best medium for information sharing when it comes to travel hacking, credit card churning and manufacture spending is through individual bloggers and perusing the Reddit/Flyertalk forums!

        Again, great podcast!

  28. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer February 6, 2016 at 8:38 AM

    ” It’s one thing to have some debts, but a whole other if you pretend they don’t exist.”. This is the line that keeps me going every day, J$. Things are moving as fast as we’d like them to, and we’ve had some seriously major setbacks along the way, but we take heart, knowing that we are fully facing up to the problem and doing what we can to get them gone. Great post!!

  29. Steve Miller February 6, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    When I graduated high school my Dad sat me down and told me to stay away from credit cards. He explained how people often get in trouble with them. He said if I ever get one, to pay it off every month.

    I took that to heart and I now own one credit card and I pay it off WEEKLY. It’s easy, simply log into their website and pay it. I get reward points but it never has a balance over a week.

    I can certainly see how some people get into trouble with credit. Outside of irresponsible spending, I’ve seen layoffs and medical bills wreck people’s finances when they start using credit card cash advances to live day-to-day. So I’m certainly sympathetic to those that this kind of thing happens to.

    1. J. Money February 6, 2016 at 4:07 PM

      Interesting that you pay it off weekly! I pay ours off every month too, but never thought to do so more than once a month… you get four times the satisfaction of seeing a $0 balance! :)

  30. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank February 6, 2016 at 9:07 PM

    I agree with you J Money. It is like one of the easiest to remember to pay but I used to fail to pay. That is why I got myself in a great amount of debt to pay. It took me months to pay it, and it was like one of the darkest moment of my life because I wasn’t able to pay my student loan and to save for my emergency fund. That said, I am finally done with it and I learned a valuable lesson. Pay it on time and use cards occasionally.

  31. George February 7, 2016 at 12:59 PM

    I was once owing over $8000 to a credit card company. I chose to live very cheap for half a year to pay it off. But that was a difficult experience.

    1. J. Money February 8, 2016 at 3:12 PM

      BOOM. Sometimes you gotta sacrifice a little to get to that end goal. Glad you reached it, and caught yourself before you were at 18 Thousand in debt!

  32. Tracy @ financial nirvana mama February 8, 2016 at 6:15 PM

    I never had credit card debt thanks to my parents upbringing but I had student loan at 7 percent and that sucked! Took two years to pay it off hustling in two other jobs on top of a day job as an engineer…it worked out, those two side hustles paid for it all…I wished I lived ‘cheaper’ as a student instead…I had scholarship money and still managed to rack up a loan. That was a hard lesson. On a good note, I had a lot of fun in school.

    1. J. Money February 10, 2016 at 6:56 AM

      Haha… that latter part counts for a lot! :)

  33. Chad @ Our Dime Our Time February 8, 2016 at 11:00 PM

    Credit cards got a hold of us for a while…but 40% of our monthly take home pay is going towards wiping those suckers out for good. We should be debt free (except our house) by the end of summer!

    1. J. Money February 10, 2016 at 7:01 AM

      Oh wow! You guys aren’t joking around – 40% is massive! Imagine what that’ll mean for all your future goals too once it’s paid off?? Whew…. way to own it.