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What Is Debtors Anonymous?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Debtors Anonymous (DA) is an organization that sponsors support groups for people trying to break the habit of uncontrolled debt accumulation and financial irresponsibility. These support groups operate on a self-help model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). People participate in group meetings voluntarily and anonymously. The organization operates in all 50 states in the US and nine countries around the world.

The functional apparatus of Debtors Anonymous is the support group meeting. Meetings can be held by anyone with a desire to promote the organization's message. Typically, meetings are organized by prior DA participants who recruit new support group members when they relocate to an area without a local meeting or simply want to hold meetings in a different context. The organizer registers the meeting with the main organization, which lists the meeting in its directory so people who are looking for a local group can find it. Meetings can take place in person, over the phone, or through the Internet.

Topically, Debtors Anonymous has adopted the self-help framework of Alcoholics Anonymous. It treats compulsive debt acquisition as a disease or progressive illness that cannot be cured, just like alcoholism. The organization replaces the label “alcoholic” with “compulsive debtor” in the adapted philosophy. Like AA, the core of the Debtors Anonymous theory of change is the 12-step program.

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The 12-step program assumes the compulsive debtor must navigate through stages of self-motivated change to control his habit. First in the series of steps is to admit to the problem. Additional steps include deciding to do something about the problem, self-evaluating, developing humility, and making amends. The program forms the basis for group participation, ongoing goal setting, and the eventual evaluation of success as measured by the participant being considered “financially sober.”

Debtors Anonymous also plays a significant role in getting people to realize they have a problem in the first place. The organization developed a self-help barometer of 12 signs of compulsive debt practices, including financial obliviousness, poor saving habits, and compulsive shopping. More specific signs include borrowing small amounts of money and failing to return it as well as chronic under-earning. The DA website allows visitors to take a 15 item questionnaire based on the 12 signs. If a person answers “yes” to 8 of 15, he likely has a problem with debt.

It is important to note that Debtors Anonymous is a facilitator, not a problem solver or a debt counselor. It doesn't give out money or provide loans. The organization's goal is to create self-awareness and to motivate people to change their lives. It educates and promotes healthy financial habits so its members can live a reasonable lifestyle within their means and without the stress of uncontrolled debt limiting their life options.

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