THE BLOG
09/03/2014 05:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Do I Feel Guilty Using My Credit Cards to Survive?

Huffington Post Reader Question

Dear Steve,

In 2008 I was a building contractor in Florida and had all my money invested in Real Estate. With the money I had I keep paying until I just ran out of money. I now live in South America and depend on my credit cards to survive. I rent out my house but is not enough to keep it up. I have a lot I own which I paid $35,000 for and cant sell it for $5000.

My income is $845 per month from social security which I can barely live on. I am on Medicare and also need both knees replaced plus maybe my right hip. I am in a bind and don't know what to do. I have a credit score over 800 because I always paid my bills but now I am just at the end of my rope.

What should I do and feel guilty using my credit cards to survive. I have always worked and never even accepted unemployment payments ever. Also going through a divorce over this.

Wayne

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Dear Wayne,

Sorry to hear about how this has infected your life so much that it is splitting apart your marriage.

Your situation is a classic example of how debt problems are never about the debt. The debt is just the symptom of the underlying under-earning issue.

The ultimate problem here is the imbalance between what you must pay and what you earn. Debt problems are so easy when you look at them as detached word problems but it's damn near impossible to do that when it is your debt and your life.

The income problem has obviously been going on for some time and it has moved you closer to really dealing with the issue out of necessity. The more you used credit to pretend to make-ends-meet, the higher the balances became and the more unlikely it became, month-by-month, that you'd ever emerge unscathed.

If there was one thing I wish I could fix for you it would be this marital division over the debt. As I said, this is really just a math problem wrapped in your life. And the issues surrounding your relationship and those surrounding your debt are two different situations with some overlap. It's the overlap that is killing your relationship.

I think at this stage in my life of helping people with debt problems for decades I've seen a lot of situations and outcomes. One universal issue is the tension over money and the car crusher pressure it puts on relationships. Divorce is not an unexpected outcome for many not strong enough to deal with the issue and not distracted by the pressure.

I even wrote a book that dealt with many of these issues. The Washington Post called it the personal finance book of the month back then. What were they thinking? But I'm happy for you and everyone else to download the book for free. Click here to download "The Path to Happiness and Wealth."

The book will help you to put all of these issues into perspective and see the situation for what it is.

I don't think there is any absolute way to answer your question of guilt. I don't judge you and doing so would be a waste of time because the only person who can judge you is you. The situation just is what it is and unless we find a time machine to use to go back and do things differently, what is worrying about the morality of your situation today going to accomplish?

As an academic exercise it would be an interesting thing to banter about over a cold beer but right now all that jabber-jawing does nothing to change the fundamental reality of your situation today.

In a perfect world would I have preferred you not to face this problem or situation, you bet. But in a perfect world I'd also be thinner and have more hair. It's just not a perfect world.

Rather than continue to use the cards when you now realize there is no way to pay them off it's a great opportunity to think about what Plan B is going to be for you. If we take the credit cards out of the equation, how are you going to live month to month in South America? Can you? That's the more important question right now. And if the answer is you can't, then what?

Ultimately that's the real question that needs to answered before we even worry about how to deal with the credit card debt.

You sound like a great guy who is finally ready to hear the truth. Well someone once told me "when the student is ready the teacher appears." Maybe it's time for you to read "How to Get Out of Debt. The Honest and Unvarnished Truth" and really come to terms with the situation.

You might just find the most likely solution here if you are going to stay in South America is just do nothing and let the debt go. I'm not suggesting a moral free pass but seriously, if you don't have the money or resources, how can you make a promise to pay?



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