Debt should have an ICD-10 code

Debt is destroying the lives of doctors everywhere. The cost of getting an education has moved into the ridiculous range. Many doctors are now starting their practice so far in the hole, that they do not see the way out.

I would not have been able to start on my debt-free journey (I peaked at more than $600,000) if I had not developed a new attitude toward debt. Putting debt into this new light may help you establish the debt-free attitude that took hold of me. Maybe understanding debt as a disease, and realizing there is a cure, would make you feel differently about tolerating its effect on your life. Debt should have its own ICD-10 code.

Health care providers are trained to think about disease using a reproducible and standardized method. It has a cause, distinctive characteristics, ways to prevent it, methods of treatment, possible recurrence, and many other disease-like aspects. When you look at debt in the same manner as you look at other diseases, you gain a different perspective.

The truth is, debt is not your friend — it is a disease. When someone is offering you credit, they are not giving you anything. They are setting you up to begin a wealth transfusion from your wallet to theirs, while making it look like they are doing you a favor. If you look closely at the effects of debt on your family, you can begin to see the effects of the disease characteristics. It causes depression, anxiety, fighting, divorce, and even death from suicide when no other alternative presents itself.

Put on your white coats and take a new look at debt through the eyes of a clinician. Let’s start by giving the new disease a name:

Malignant credit carcinoma.

Prevalence: Has been increasing during the last century. A small percentage of the population had a home mortgage in the 1920s, and a small percentage don’t have one today. No one had credit card debt in the 1940s, and today among the households carrying a balance, the average exceeds $15,000. Almost never found in the pediatric population. Seen more often in developed countries.

Symptoms: Irritability, sleeplessness, fear, need to shop, stress, burnout, and suicidal ideations.

Signs: Unpaid credit card balance, car payments, arguments over finances, calls from collection agencies, past due notices, robbing Peter to pay Paul, needing to borrow money from friends and family, juggling payments, second mortgages.

Etiology: Greed, major health problems, keeping up with the Dr. Joneses, frequently buying new cars, student loans, misuse of credit cards, easy monthly payments, unpaid taxes, impulse buying, and many more.

Genetics: Incomplete penetrance. Often passed on through multiple generations. If the parents have it, high probability of the children having it also.

Infectious: Probably airborne and quite contagious, often transferred friend to friend, especially at the mall or in the driveway while looking at a friend’s new car, boat, or motor home.

Tumor characteristics: Usually found on the back or shoulders and feels like a heavy weight. Will not stop growing until its propagating element — borrowing money — is stopped. Not noticed by the patient in its early stages.

Treatment: Early plastic surgery on credit cards: cut them up. Stop borrowing money. Accelerated payments on loans. Search out lower interest rates. Participate in loan forgiveness programs. Usually takes five to seven years to treat.

Prognosis: Good if permanent lifestyle changes are made.

Complications: Fighting with spouse, divorce, bankruptcy, loss of sleep, depression, suicide, irritability, malaise, aches and pains, migraines, and burnout.

As you can see, it is easy to look at debt in the typical disease template, and when doing so, it is harder to tolerate it in your life. The good news is the disease is very responsive to therapy. Fortunately, we already know the cure for malignant credit carcinoma, and it produces miraculous results. The biggest step in treating this disease is a keen awareness of the problem and a change in attitude about tolerating its presence. Debt is a bad disease and one we should strive to avoid or at least cure it in its early stages.

I spent many years with the belief that debt was a normal part of life. I no longer live by that philosophy. Now I think of debt as a disease. Let’s embark on a journey to eradicate malignant credit carcinoma in this generation.

Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett.  He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right and The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt.

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