DEAR ABBY: I am a happily married woman with two wonderful children and a husband I adore (I'll call him Keith). My problem: I have been hiding a secret. I am a chronic spender. I have racked up thousands of dollars on two credit cards that are in my name. Keith has no idea the accounts exist.
Buying things for Keith and the children and things for the house has always made me happy. I once thought I could control my spending. I'm afraid Keith will divorce me if he finds out what I've done. He has always been frugal, and even though I work full-time, he pays the bills and gives me an allowance.
I lie awake at night worrying about the day my husband discovers we're so deep in debt. What can I do? Please print this because I can't take the chance of getting a letter in the mail. -- ADDICTED TO SPENDING
DEAR ADDICTED: Your husband must be told the truth because it is going to take both of you -- working together -- to climb out of this hole.
First, schedule an appointment with your physician to be screened for depression. Many overspenders suffer from an underlying depression.
Next, contact a credit counseling agency. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has more than 1,300 community-based agency offices across the country. They provide consumer counseling and education services on budgeting, credit and debt resolution. Their members can be identified by the NFCC member seal, which signifies high standards for agency accreditation, counselor certification, and policies that ensure free or low-cost, confidential services. Member offices can be reached toll-free at: (800) 388-2227, or online at www.nfcc.org.
Another established group with strict quality standards is the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA). AICCCA has affiliates in all 50 states. To locate the closest AICCCA member office, call (800) 450-1794 or visit www.aiccca.org and click on the "Find a Counseling Agency" link.
And last, but not least, please call Debtors Anonymous for guidance and emotional support. The address is P.O. Box 920888, Needham, MA 02492. The Web site is www.debtorsanonymous.org.
I repeat: You CANNOT do this alone. Because spouses are responsible for each other's debt, you must tell your husband. However, if he knows that you have already begun reaching out for help and support, he may be more forgiving. Now, get going!