Like a drug: Suze Orman on credit cards

I recently participated in a conference call with Suze Orman, who is working to promote Best Life Week. This series runs on The Oprah Winfrey Show all this week, and is intended to help viewers “jumpstart 2009 and make it the best year ever!”

Hyperbole aside, it was great to have a chance to speak with Suze Orman, who will be sharing money tips with Oprah viewers this Thursday. I tried to ask her about maintaining motivation and sticking to goals. She answered with how to avoid credit cards. Not exactly what I was after, but the information was still good.

J.D. Roth
Having once been over $35,000 in debt myself, I know that it's one thing to say you're ready to get out of debt and to stop using credit cards, but it's another thing to actually maintain the dedication for the days and the years that are needed to pay that debt off. I'm wondering if you have any favorite behavioral tips or tools for maintaining motivation with new goals for a New Year's resolution.

Suze Orman
You know, J.D., what's very fascinating is that the desire to want to use the drug known as credit cards is a very, very strong pull on people. It's almost as strong — I'm very serious about this when I say this — as a narcotic, as tobacco, as well as alcohol.

And in the same way that if you happen to be a drug addict or you happen to be an alcoholic, that normally what keeps you on the road of the straight and narrow is that you don't hang out with people who drink. You don't go into bars. You don't keep alcohol around your house. You make it so that it's easy for you to not get yourself in trouble because it's right there.

Saying “No” to Credit

The same, I have to say, is true when it comes to credit cards. You have to, even though you don't want to close down your credit cards because that will hurt your FICO score, that doesn't mean that you can't rip them up. Doesn't mean that you can't cut them up as soon as you're out of credit card debt where you just don't see them.

So my advice to people who were once in credit card debt and now they've gotten themselves out of credit card debt is I would literally cut up all of my credit cards. I would not be carrying them, I would not even have them in the refrigerator. Some people say they put them in the freezer — oh, give me a break. Anything can come out of a freezer. I would cut them up 100%.

And if, in fact, I knew that I might seriously be tempted to call the credit card company and say, you know what, send it to me again — I would not care about my FICO score and I would literally call up the credit card company, close down the account and not give me any temptation whatsoever to get myself into credit card trouble. As soon as I got offers in the mail, they would immediately go into the trash.

Keeping Good Company

The key is keeping good company, and when it comes to your money, you usually are keeping good company with other people who aren't in credit card debt, other people who don't entice you to spend money, other people who don't say, “Let's go on this vacation. Oh, just put it on your credit card debt.” Other people that say, “Oh, please, let's just go out to dinner.”

Good company are people that say:

  • “I understand that you have credit card debt and you don't have the money.”
  • “Let's go to your house and I'll bring food.”
  • “We don't need to go on a vacation, let's just go for a walk on the beach.”

Again, when you leave your house, leave your house without any credit cards. You can go to the mall, you can go window-shop, you can enjoy the mall just like everybody else, but do not take your credit cards with you whenever you go out.

If you see something that you want and you don't have the credit cards, fine — you can't buy it. If you're still thinking about it one month later, maybe you really wanted it. Who knew? But that keeps people in check. So:

  • Don't leave your house with credit cards.
  • Cut up your credit cards once they're paid off.
  • If you need to go further than that, close them down and who cares about your FICO score.
  • And keep good company.

That would be my advice.

You can read more of Orman's responses at participating personal finance blogs. Jeremy from Gen-X Finance asked about the current economy, and Will from Wise Bread asked about the easiest things people can do to improve their financial situation.

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Frank
Frank
11 years ago

Suze said: “And in the same way that if you happen to be a drug addict or you happen to be an alcoholic, that normally what keeps you on the road of the straight and narrow is that you don’t hang out with people who drink. You don’t go into bars. You don’t keep alcohol around your house. You make it so that it’s easy for you to not get yourself in trouble because it’s right there.” I guess Suze has never “happened to be” a drug addict or alcoholic, because an effective solution to those problems is quite different… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

Thanks for the mention, J.D. It was an interesting call and was fun to talk to Suze. But I too was a little disappointed in some of the answers that more or less turned into discussion about credit cards. Of course, that is probably the biggest problem facing most people in financial trouble, so I guess it is important to keep going over.

jolyn
jolyn
11 years ago

I actually thought she did answer the question by addressing very practical ways to avoid temptation and situations where we have the tendency to use debt (or credit). But then, I’ve never been a drug addict to understand where her analogy was lacking.

I’ve followed you for a month or so but this is my first comment? Thanks for the site and the great information. May I ask if sometime you might address the pros and cons of purchasing/keeping a home warranty? Just in case, you know, you’re looking for new topics.

Steph
Steph
11 years ago

Maybe I’m reading too much into her response, but I think she did answer your question (at least in the print version, I didn’t watch the video clip). In her first paragraph she compares the difficulty of maintaining motivation to that of kicking an addiction. I understood her to mean that no amount of good intentions will be enough to keep one on the straight and narrow, and that you’ll have to take specific actions in order to keep to your goals. How to stay motivated to getting out/staying out of debt? 1. Don’t go places where you’ll be tempted… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Aha. Well then perhaps the problem was with the way I framed the question. I wasn’t really asking about credit cards, so by giving a bit about my own history, maybe I clouded the issue. I was just looking for ways people could stay motivated to maintain their New Year’s resolutions. 🙂

JimmyDaGeek
JimmyDaGeek
11 years ago

Unfortunately, Orman has to give short, pat answers. Her pooh-poohing of the freezer trick shows she has never, ever had to deal with it personally or professionally. Her suggestion about keeping good company is very important. People hang out with those who enjoy similar activities. And if shopping and spending is one of them, you had better be able to afford it, or you get dropped. Unfortunately, people use credit to maintain the lifestyle to which they want to become accustomed to, whether they can afford it or not.

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
11 years ago

Since she’d used to TV interviews, she was probably forming her response during your question. I think she missed your topic question at the end because she was formulating her response.

I personally don’t like Orman, but for people like my mother, they need someone with the same sort of crazy to talk some sense into them.

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

I’ll say it up front, I am not a fan of Orman. I think too often she is wrong and it seems just about every article I’ve read, she always says what she wants rather than actually answering the question asked of her. I think suggesting spending on credit is like a drug addiction is a little much; but I’ve never had that bad of a spending problem… I may just be biased b/c of my pre-disposition to Orman. I will give her credit on the association part b/c sometimes people don’t realize how their friends and family can play… Read more »

KC
KC
11 years ago

If you have a serious problem with credit cards or with self-control then by all means cut up the credit cards. I’ve never had a problem with debt or cc that it was so serious I considered cutting them up. I was always able to just leave them at home or refuse to use them eventhough they were in my wallet. For those with this self-control using your credit cards can be beneficial as long as you can pay them off monthly. Having a good FICO score is important as long as you’ll be using credit in some manner. My… Read more »

Kim Kinrade
Kim Kinrade
11 years ago

The booming economy of the New Millennium was fueled by credit cards. People bought cars, took vacations and bought endless piles of junk that they could never possibly use, all on cards. As Orman says, they are like drug addicts. However, the ad campaigns of retails stores and card companies were, and are, directed toward the impulse buyer. College kids and high school kids were sent application forms so that they became trapped at a young age. New malls-full of stores opened up to exploit this under-20 market. One of the reasons for the downturn in the retail market is… Read more »

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

JD, I agree that she was trying to answer your question, but I can also see how you meant it and felt it wasn’t answered. This question applies to every goal you set that requires action or a change of behavior. And your question immediately brought back something I remember reading a year or two ago about dieting: you can’t do it by motivation alone. Your motivation is going to wane. You are going to have days when you’re tired and cranky and don’t want to deal with it. That is when a lot of people give up. But you… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

JD, have you read Leo’s new book The Power of Less? I finished it last night, and the last chapter is called “On Motivation.” You’ll find some fantastic ways to stay motivated from reading that.

HIB
HIB
11 years ago

J.D. did ask a personal finance “guru” about sticking with goals, etc after mentioning he was $35K in debt because of credit cards. I don’t think her response was outlandish. She is accustomed to being on t.v. and from what I’ve seen, she is a talker so I thought her reply was within reason. I don’t agree with the analogy of credit cards and drugs being mentioned in the same sentence. I think there is a small group of people that could fit into this category, but I think the majority of people in credit card debt need to simply… Read more »

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
11 years ago

Credit cards are just tools. How you choose to use them determines whether they’re dangerous or not. Drugs have saved countless people from a life of misery and extended or improved the lives of others but, when used in the wrong context, drugs can steal the life out of an abuser. I’ve abused credit in the past. I’ve spent money with those little pieces of plastic like it was going out of style, but I’m a lot more mature now. I’ve developed a great deal more self control and discipline than I had when I was younger. Maybe we need… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

I agree with others that she grabbed hold of the part of the question she had a ready answer for and ran with it. Reminds of the advice I was given on how to answer exam essay questions I didn’t know the answer to. 🙂

I suppose it’s easier to lecture people to stop digging (making the hole deeper) with the CCs than it is to deal with all the variables of income and approaches to paying off debts. But stopping the digging is the first step.

katy
katy
11 years ago

For some people, credit cards are dangerous. Money is a mood changer, and for those people – including me – they are dangerous. I have been in DA for many years because I got in bad trouble with credit and the 12 steps help me.

That said, if you can’t manage credit cards- know yourself and don’t use them.

Andrew Tobias has a great 3 step budget. Paraphrasing badly, cut up your credit cards, save 20% income and live on the other 80%

Let’s all do the best we can.

The Personal Finance Playbook
The Personal Finance Playbook
11 years ago

I like Suze Orman. She gets a lot of press for saying things that most people know, and I know she has some deals in place (such as always calling a credit score a fico score, td ameritrade, etc.), but I think her advice is typically on target. She has a big personality, but that’s what tv wants, and that’s what gurus do. Thanks for sharing the clip. Todd

Bill M
Bill M
11 years ago

Credit Cards can be the best thing that anyone carried with them. The biggest problem is that people try to live over the means either, by trying to maintain with the Joneses or for their own fulfillment because there is an empty inside them and they can feed that empty by spending as a way to escape from reality.

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
11 years ago

lol, just reading this article and the comments make you don’t want to touch credit cards to begin with.

Only about 30% or less cc users actally pay off their credit cards in full, so the rest live beyond their means.

Moral of the story if you are not good with borrowing money, don’t do it.

Krystal
Krystal
11 years ago

I need to be reminded how crippling credit cards can be all the time. This helps me keep on my goals, which is why I am constantly hearing opinions of experts, reading blogs, etc. I like Orman tons, but she may be easier to read, than to listen to. My boyfriend can’t stand watching her on TV, but we both loved her 9 steps book. I was never taught about money, but went to college and got a credit card. 8 years later, still paying off my debt–but really making progress! For me, she was right on about the freezer,… Read more »

thomas
thomas
11 years ago

I left my house today without any credit cards. Of course, I forgot my wallet but hey, I won’t charge anything today!

Doctor S
Doctor S
11 years ago

Leaving my credit cards out of my wallet have been the single most important move I have made to get out of credit card debt. You can not buy if you do not have the means to make the purchase. Suz Orman does offer good information but she def is captain obvious sometimes. However, sometimes, its the obvious stuff that people neglect that get them into trouble, I guess she is a double edged sword!!

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

I don’t understand how someone can just say ‘don’t leave your house with plastic.’ Credit cards can be great things if used wisely, so perhaps instead of just saying ‘DON’T USE THEM EVER,’ it would be better to educate people on how to use them properly.

Michigan Lady
Michigan Lady
11 years ago

Krystal! I am RIGHT WITH YOU!!! It’s been 2 years since I have graduated college and I will be paying off my cc debt for … 3 more years. But yes- am making progress. My parents taught me NOTHING about $$$ – in fact my father made it a point to NOT TALK about money EVER. I would ask him questions about his finances and he would say “non of your business”…my kids will be doing bills with me every month…they will know everything there is to know about money! Yes- the key for me was to LEAVE the CCs… Read more »

Sancy
Sancy
11 years ago

I am a Baby Boomer who has live through two “greed-is-good” decades: the 1980s and our current “New Millenium” shopping and obtaining obssesion. I’ve never owned a new car, and I still have and use the first furniture from my parents’ home, which, after 50+ years, is currently “in vogue” again. I have been there/done with CC debt (only in the few Ks, as not having a mommy or daddy or government to bail me, I was conscience of being the one always responsible for paying them—there was NO PLACE to hide–and NO ONE to rescue me.) I’ve had horrible… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
11 years ago

J.D., I’m sure you don’t read Oprah’s magazine, but in the January issue, there is a great article about sticking to resolutions: “You don’t need more willpower…Not being able to change doesn’t mean we’re lazy, stubborn, or weak. A pair of Harvard educators argue that our best-laid plans often fall through for smart, self-protective (and ingeniously hidden) reasons.”
I would suggest checking it out.

Jo
Jo
11 years ago

J.D. wrote: “…it’s one thing to say you’re ready to get out of debt and to stop using credit cards, but it’s another thing to actually maintain the dedication for the days and the years that are needed to pay that debt off….” I can see how you would feel like she didn’t provide the answer you expected, but what she said really is key to maintaining dedication. Maintaining motivation is more than just finding ways to keep yourself “jazzed” about what you’re doing; it’s also about preparing for the times when your motivation flags and you’re likely to do… Read more »

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

@Michigan Lady

My parents didnt teach me anything either. When I asked about the bills, etc, I also “none of my business” and “stay out of grown folk business”. Then they wondered why I made the mistake of putting my medical bills with credit cards! I was 18 and had NO idea what I was getting myself into.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

chickybeth wrote: J.D., I’m sure you don’t read Oprah’s magazine, but in the January issue, there is a great article about sticking to resolutions.

You’re right. However, I did buy this issue (much to Kris’ consternation) specifically because another reader had recommended the same article.

I still haven’t read it thought. 🙁

Gholmes
Gholmes
11 years ago

Here’s a motivation tip from Nike marketing. “Just do it”. Good post and discussion JD.

Tim
Tim
11 years ago

I think some people are missing the point. Drug addiction and alcoholism analogies are spot on. Although Suze may not have answered directly on how you keep motivated to stay out of debt, what she did state was you have to control your environment by reducing temptations. This is sort of a circuitousness way of keeping motivated. Just like if you are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction, you want remove yourself from the scene and surround yourself with a support structure of people who do not engage in those activities. If you want to change your behavior, then start… Read more »

.m
.m
11 years ago

thanks for the posting.
Im in the process of bailing myself out of debt.
Credit card is a big help when I am out of cash in the middle of nowhere for some gas and food.

But beyond that, its just making my impulsive spending habits so harmful and addictive like a cigarette.

Ryan
Ryan
11 years ago

Incidentally I saw on TV an interview with an author that was launching a book about resolutions and also had this website:

http://www.first30days.com/

I have not checked it but it seemed that the lady had extensive experience with interviewing people about goals and motivation (more than 10000).

Jenna
Jenna
11 years ago

I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now based on a recommendation from a wesabe member…great posts, thank you! Orman didn’t really answer your question, but one thing that really helps me when motivation is lacking is looking back to see where I’ve come from. I don’t have a fancy system, but I track budgeting and spending on an Excel spreadsheet. I also have an area on there w/ total debt owed, to who, etc. Looking back and seeing that I paid off over $5000 towards my debts since June 2008 helps refocus my intentions and “remember” why… Read more »

Jim @ Change Jar Savings
Jim @ Change Jar Savings
11 years ago

I tend to disagree about freezing your credit cards. I have done it and wrote about it on my blog. Yes you can thaw it out and use the card anyway but it gives you time to question whether you really want to make that purchase.

Cutting them up does not work all the time either, some stores ask if you want to use your “XXXXXX’s card” and the offers to look up the number if you do not have the card with you. So you don’t even need to carry the card.

Glenn Carver
Glenn Carver
11 years ago

It’s all about discipline and responsibility. I agree with Suze that credit can be like a drug because I have a family member who cannot leave the house without shopping on credit.
I use my debit card because I can “feel the pain” immediately. It’s a mild form of built in discipline. As Kiyosaki says, buying “Doo Dads” with high interest credit cards is a cash flow habit of the poor and middle class.

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

Sure, Suze Orman has done a lot of good for a lot of people. But she annoys me. Especially when you ask a question and get a random response. This type of stuff happens with TV celebs, they eventually lose touch with their audience and get too full of themselves.

Eliminate Debt Blog
Eliminate Debt Blog
11 years ago

I must be an idiot to put my credit cards in the freezer. I thought it was a cool idea, probably because it was different, but like Suze Orman says.. it can come out.

Cutting credit cards up with scissors is the only way to go.

Caleb Spicer
Caleb Spicer
11 years ago

cut it up and leave it behind. I’m with Dave Ramsey on this matter…DONT BORROW MONEY. Borrowing in most all forms turns out to be a costly financial killer. The point of his theories is that if you don’t owe anyone money, YOU can choose to put the money where it should go, and where it can grow.

I cut mine up over 6 months ago, and I’m one month away from me AND my fiances credit card debt being gone FOREVER.

Nimbette2
Nimbette2
10 years ago

I guess I am lucky I never had an issue with credit cards. I have about 4-5 of them because I use them all the time for everything I do. I never, ever use cash and/or take money out of my checking account unless I have to do it. Credit cards offer protections in that money is not taken directly out of your own cash – they work on “borrowed” money you pay a month later. The key is the way you view these cards – it’s money you are spending out of your checking account – just delayed. You… Read more »

E.F.
E.F.
10 years ago

I agree with Suze Orman that credit cards can become an addiction and are for many people who then end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. On TV, Suze does come across as overbearing sometimes, but if you tweet with her (as I do), you will find that she is friendly, not in the least arrogant, and always direct in her answers if you ask her a question. Like Nimbette2, I use cards deliberately and effectively and never carry a balance. Even though I adore Dave Ramsey for making the debt-free lifestyle (MY lifestyle) cool, I disagree with… Read more »

LRoy
LRoy
6 years ago

Obviously, Suse has never been in an environment where the risk of being mugged for $20 (which has happened at least twice in Massachusetts recently) is extremely probable.

I don’t care if I owe $200,000 instead of $35,000 I am not risking my life carrying cash. That’s it.

And shopping online-for anything? You need a credit card. You going to drive three states away to get that book for one dollar available on Amazon?

Major purchase almost ALWAYS require a credit card as well as staying in a hotel.

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