Be disorganized when it comes to debt
Ohio State's Hanna has taught a course since 1998 where he requires his students to find a family and build that family a comprehensive financial plan. Among the most common complaints his students relay to him: Their "clients" don't even know their own balances on credit cards or student loans.
"Even trying to figure out where they stand is very difficult," Hanna says. He says disorganization and a lack of understanding about interest on debt make it "hard to understand what's been happening with this debt."
Attorney Lassner says that "no one decides to be financially irresponsible," but that sometimes people don't take the time to do the math and figure out their debt levels and what they're paying in interest.
"My clients tend to understand what the interest rate means," she says. "Just because they understand it doesn't mean they are going through and doing the math in their head. They don't sit down and think, 'OK, if I don't pay this off in the first month, it costs me X amount extra.'"
Mount suggests people sit down and organize their finances, whether on their own or with a program like Mint.com.
"People make a hundred financial decisions a day," she says. "Some are insignificant. Some are very significant."