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.

More about...Credit, Debt

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