BY MARISSA LEE, Straits Times

While his colleagues were grabbing drinks together after hours, Mr Lim would find an excuse to plod on home.

It was 2010 and the accountant had no money to spare for leisure. He had racked up gambling debts of $96,948 in just six months.

An addiction to baccarat and Texas hold’em poker had Mr Lim hopping from credit card to credit card maxing out his limits.

Mr Lim – who did not want to use his full name – had more than 10 cards, so he was soon paying a monthly instalment of more than $2,000 just to meet the $200 or so minimum sum for each card.

“The problem with credit cards is that if everything is overboard, you can’t feel it,” Mr Lim, 37, told The Sunday Times.

With a salary of $3,000 a month, Mr Lim had to borrow from relatives simply to pay the minimum sums.

Eventually, his wife found out about his awful spiral of debt.

It almost destroyed his family, recalled Mr Lim, who at the time was father to a baby girl just over a year old.

Shaken out of his initial fear of seeking help, Mr Lim sat down to talk with his wife, siblings and parents, and on the recommendation of his older brother, he decided to seek counselling.

“At that time, there wasn’t any way out but to get help,” he said. “I started to look up counselling services online, and signed up for all their talks.”

He showed up at the office of Credit Counselling Singapore, where he signed up for a Debt Management Plan (DMP) and worked out a monthly instalment plan with his creditors.

He cut back on daily expenses, shopping and holidays. He dined out less often, if at all. He let go of his car.

“It hurts a guy’s ego, to drive a car, and then not to drive,” said Mr Lim. “But in the long run, it helps cut down expenses.”

Five years later, in June this year, Mr Lim finally paid off all $96,948 of his debt.

But the milestone brought him only a “slight sense of relief”.

“Even though DMP has been removed from my portfolio, banks may not feel this way,” explained Mr Lim. “In a way, they see me as ‘condemned’.”

He has not tried to take a loan on a car, but Mr Lim is certain that he will be rejected if he does.

He has long since given up gambling and will not be spending on credit for a long time.

“When there isn’t a start, you need not find a way to end it,” he said.

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