There is a national organization, Debtor’s Anonymous, which is based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and uses AA’s 12 Steps to address the problem of unmanageable debt. This program is not a substitute for bankruptcy by any means, being primarily aimed at helping people avoid incurring additional debt, but it is potentially a very useful tool for anyone with debt problems. 

As with all 12-step programs, getting involved is easy and requires minimal commitment.  The Debtor’s Anonymous Website has links for local contacts and schedules of meetings.  If you live in an urban area, there is probably a regularly-scheduled meeting nearby.  If you think you have a problem with debt, you are welcome to attend, listen, and decide whether you might benefit from exploring the program further.  A typical meeting will involve some study of literature and some sharing among members about how they deal with budget problems.  There are no dues or fees involved – the low costs of maintaining a program that runs almost entirely on volunteer labor are met through small voluntary contributions from members.  Buying some inexpensive literature may also be recommended.

Working the program involves attending meetings, getting a sponsor, and putting together a “Pressure Relief Group” consisting of two program members who have gotten their finances under control, with who work with the debtor on a spending plan (to manage a budget without incurring additional unsecured debt) and an action plan (to retire existing debt).

The first aim of Debtor’s Anonymous is to change people’s behavior so that they stop incurring additional unsecured debt.  Philosophically, Debtor’s Anonymous encourages people to take responsibility for their prior debts, which could include steering people away from filing bankruptcy when they were eligible to do so. If you are truly overwhelmed by debt that you cannot possibly repay, especially if it involves large obligations such as medical debt that are not the result of improvident spending, you need a bankruptcy attorney, not Debtor’s Anonymous. The same is true of a home foreclosure or other crisis situation that can’t wait until a budget is repaired.

Debtor’s Anonymous is not a debt relief agency. It cannot help you file bankruptcy, provide required credit counseling certificates or negotiate with lenders to settle debts.  It does not offer legal advice.  A sponsor or Pressure Relief Group can probably suggest financial management strategies that reduce the burden in small ways.  

Debtor’s Anonymous can be very useful if you are not now facing bankruptcy, but see your debts mounting and will soon be facing bankruptcy if you cannot rein in your spending.  Having a neutral and knowledgeable third party to talk to about financial matters is invaluable.  When working through a Chapter 13 plan, participation a a DA support group can help you adhere to its terms.  After discharge, continuing with the program may help to prevent slipping back into old spending habits.  It is the nature of 12-step programs that people who have some time in them volunteer their services to help newcomers – a great way to reinforce one’s own continued solvency or sobriety, and a source of general satisfaction.