“Symptom – A characteristic sign or indication of the existence of something else” Source
Picture yourself driving down a familiar street. Out of the corner of your eye you see a huge nail in the road. You swerve, but only enough to drive directly over the nail with your tire. Arghhhh! You don’t hear a pop or a hissing, so you continue on. Everything seems fine until two weeks later when you go to leave for work and your tire is flat. It has been long enough that you forget about the nail, so you borrow an air compressor from a friend and fill up the tire. Everything is fine for four weeks, until you notice the flat tire again. You fill it and go on your way. The tire seems to stay inflated long enough that you just keep filling the tire, rather than actually getting the tire fixed. The flat tire is the symptom of a bigger problem that needs to be fixed.
Debt is just like the flat tire. Debt is almost always just the sypmtom of a larger behavior or planning problem. Although the symptom is usually what attracts our attention and keeps of from creating behaviors that will allow us to be financially successful. People all kind of things to get rid of debt: hire a consolidation company, transfer to a HELOC or a 0% credit card, sell houses, sell cars, ask for more loans, marry, and even declare bankruptcy. All of those methods never really address the huge nail in the tire that is causing the leak. If you don’t fix the source of the problem, you most likely won’t stay out of debt long.
It is often tricky to identify the cause of the problem, but it can be a wide range of things. Depression, no budgeting, no planning, lack of self control, retail therapy, coveting, lack of knowledge, and lack of caring can all lead us into debt. The tried and true debt snowball or similar debt reduction methods that require hard work and discipline usually help change our behavior along the way. That is why they work, and that is why playing games to get out of debt usually fails.
Debt is not your problem. You must address your behaviors that got you there.