An 'accountability team' can support your debt payoff efforts

Creating an accountability team to support your debt pay-off efforts
Creating an accountability team to support your debt pay-off efforts

Tackling a big goal such as running a marathon or losing a lot of weight is easier if you've got a team in place to cheer you on. That same concept works if you're trying to pay off debt.

Research shows that an "accountability team" can help you reach all types of goals. A study done at Dominican University of California found you are 33 percent more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it out, review it weekly and share it with a friend.

Your debt accountability team may be a trusted partner or a group of people who are committed to helping you reach your goals. The team may include a financial professional who provides you with a regular check-in schedule and formal progress reports, and an informal group of friends or relatives who share your common interests.

Keeping your team small -- four people or fewer -- will maintain intimacy and save you coordination headaches.

Thomas Nitzsche, a credit counselor for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, points out that an accountability team can be a great source of motivation in times of financial fatigue. Knowing there is someone else expecting you to reach your goals "can go a long way toward getting you to take action," he says. "Being able to then turn to that person when you are feeling down or when you hit a roadblock can help you stay the course and not give up."

Talking about your debt
The first hurdle in creating your accountability team may be finding people with whom you feel comfortable discussing your finances. A 2013 poll (Poll: Card debt the No. 1 taboo subject) conducted by found that 85 percent of respondents were either somewhat or very unlikely to discuss their credit card debt with someone they just met.

Money is often viewed as a sign of accomplishment. According to Ginger Dean, a licensed psychotherapist and creator of the Girls Just Wanna Have Funds blog, people may have trouble sharing the details of their situation because of the stigma associated with debt. Often, people just shut down and avoid the subject altogether.

To overcome the stigma and warm up to the idea of using an accountability team, remember that you are not alone. Many others have experienced difficulties with money in the past. Opening up about and confronting past mistakes with money allows your team to better help you navigate those struggles moving forward.

Overcoming the tendency to closely guard your financial challenges is also helpful in other ways. Nitzsche stresses that two heads are often better than one. "If you are facing a financial concern, it is a great benefit to be able to talk to someone who can come at the issue with a fresh set of eyes and an objective point of view."

5 questions to ask
For an accountability team to work, you'll need to surround yourself with people who will respect your privacy, offer wise counsel, and commit to having the hard conversations. Before inviting someone to join your accountability team, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do they have loose lips? Reach out to people who won't repeat sensitive information. Dean notes that discussing how the trouble with credit cards started is essential. Developing and sticking to a plan to avoid repeating the same habits is a very personal experience. Those who refuse to respect your privacy should not be trusted as an accountability partner.

2. Do they share your goals? Connect with friends, family or financial professionals who share your desire to reduce credit card debt or develop better financial habits. They will commit to your goals, find ways to help you succeed and speak up when your actions are off base. The team will be less productive if they do not actively support your desire to improve financially.

3. How often can you meet? Set a regular check-in time that works for everyone's schedule. Free tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts eliminate geographic limitations. Your team members can be anywhere, as long as they have an Internet connection.

4. Are they supportive and encouraging? One of the biggest benefits of an accountability team is "having someone to talk through those rough moments with," says Dean. Avoid friends and relatives with negative personalities. Surround yourself instead with people who can offer positive reinforcement.

Annette Ramsey, a grandmother in North Carolina, values the support provided by the Personal Financial Change support group at her church. It offers a sense of community and input that's been critical in helping her build healthier financial habits. She's learned to use the envelope budgeting method correctly and now budgets for clothing and pocket money -- two categories she used to forget, leaving her short at the end of the month.

She credits other group members for her progress. "They not only encourage you, but I look forward to going to see what other nuggets I can glean from the group."

5. Have they demonstrated success with money in the past? Ramsey's group was started by Rachel Gause, a master sergeant with the U.S. Marines and single mother of three who recently paid off $180,000 of consumer debt. Gause uses her experience to motivate those in her community to attack debt while learning how to better manage their money.

A professional service can also be a healthy accountability option. A good place to start is with a nonprofit credit counseling agency that is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA; formerly the Association of Independent Credit Counseling Agencies). ClearPoint is a member of the NFCC, and Nitzsche says its counselors have on average 10 years of experience working with clients. They offer free initial consultations. 

Accountability works best when all parties are committed to the group's success. Be transparent with your accountability partners and allow them to speak openly and honestly, holding you responsible for your actions. Recognize that financial struggles are common so the shame doesn't prevent you from seeking help. Then let your team help you weigh the pros and cons of financial decisions and make better choices that support your future goals.

See related: Fixing damaged credit? First, create a budget, The facts behind debt reduction methods, You did WHAT to pay off your debt?

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Updated: 01-16-2018