5 Signs You Have a Debt Problem

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Think you may have a debt problem, but don't know what to do? Here are 5 signs you have too much debt and how to kill it for good.

While I’m on vacation this week, please enjoy this contribution from Paige at The Dollar Stretcher. 

Maybe you’ve started noticing your paychecks are covering fewer expenses. Maybe you can’t make your full mortgage payment. Or maybe you’re having a hard time choosing which bill to pay late this month.

If you’ve found yourself in any of these situations, chances are good that you’re facing a debt problem. But how do you know for sure? Are you really in serious debt trouble? Or is this just a bad few months? Here’s five tell-tale signs you may have a debt problem. Admitting the problem is half the battle; once you see your debt problem, it’s time to start making some changes and pay off debt.

Warning #1: Your credit card balance is too high

Give your most recent credit card statements a good look – especially how much of your credit limit is being used. As you look at your current credit card debt, see if it totals more than $10,000. If so, this could be a good indicator that you’ve got a debt problem. If your credit card debt is less than $10,000, but you’re more than 50% over your credit limit, that’s also a sign that you’re dealing with debt trouble.

warning #2: There’s No money at month end


When all the bills are paid, and all the living and household expenses are covered, what’s left in your account? If you don’t have enough left to add to an emergency fund or a retirement account, chances are you’ve got a debt problem. While you may not feel the pain of skipping on retirement contributions now, in 10 or 15 years, you could be in a world of hurt.

Warning #3: You hide purchases from your spouse


What’s in all those shopping bags in the closet? Where’s that department store credit card bill?

If this sounds like a conversation you’ve had with your spouse or partner, you might have a debt problem. Breathe deep and don’t beat yourself up. You aren’t alone! According to this CNBC article, 72 million Americans are hiding a credit card or bank account from a spouse. The stats underscores the importance of being on the same page financially with your spouse. If you aren’t and you know it, now’s the time to have the tough conversations and behavior change that will get you in alignment.

Debt problems can become a constant source of disagreement between couples, so if you’re also finding yourself arguing more with your spouse about debt, this could be another sign of trouble.

warning #4: You use one credit card to pay another


If you’re using the available credit or a cash advance on one credit card to pay the minimum balance on another, you’re playing a shell game. In essence, you’re creating more debt on one account to pay your debt payment for another account. But are you ever really paying down your debt? If you’ve found yourself in the credit payment cycle, and you can’t afford credit card payments with just your income alone, chances are, you’ve got a debt problem.

warning #5: Your mortgage payment is too high


A low debt-to-income ratio is a good indicator of financial stability. When you tally up your income and compare it to your monthly mortgage payment, what percentage are you looking at? If your mortgage payment stacks up as more than 30 percent of your take-home pay, this is a sign of possible debt trouble.

If left to worsen, debt trouble can become a serious problem. If you’ve been wondering whether you actually have a debt problem, hopefully these tips can help you identify the problem, and get you focused on attacking your debt.


What are some other signs that you might have a debt problem? What’s your debt-to-income ratio? Do you hide purchases from your partner? What would you give to feel free?


Paige Estigarribia is a writer for The Dollar Stretcher, a financial and frugal living website. For more information on ways to tackle a debt problem, visit our free debt course.

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Charlie @ Mr. Get Rich says:

    I like this article! My problem is number 1 and 2 on this list. It’s mostly number 2 because I don’t have enough money at the end of the month. I have to be very frugal in the beginning of every month.

    Another thing I would like to mention is that people need to admit to themselves that they’re in debt and they have to take control of their finances. I’ve personally had to deal with it. The more I sit on debt like my student loans, the more it will affect me in the future. It’s always in my mind. If they can’t face their debt, that’s a huge warning!

  • Centsai says:

    Debt is a hard task to overcome! It is important to recognize these steps as early as you can! This way you can make a plan to fix it and take steps in the right direction! A lot of times it is hard to do this on your own and that is why people with serious debt problems should confide in their spouse, family, or good friends!

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