The Emotional Cost of Bad Credit

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to save more money? Yeah. It ranks up there with

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise more
  • Improve life

It’s hard, though, isn’t it?

You know what? You’re not alone. When I started sharing about my bad credit experiences, I was overwhelmed with supportive and encouraging comments. So many of you were or are in the same boat, and didn’t know it.

We think we’re alone and headed for a comedy of errors like Gilligan’s Island.

To Sea in a Storm by Yourself? It ain't so.

To Sea in a Storm by Yourself? It ain’t so.

But the truth is, while our individual situations are unique, we have the opportunity to throw life rafts to each other just with words of encouragement and “been there, done that” talk.

There’s a lot in life that can make us feel bad about ourselves. Keeping up with the Joneses is, in my opinion, one of the worst. Which Jones are we talking about? The one who’s a family friend or the one who lives on the other side of town, you know, the right side of the tracks?

When I have money troubles, everything else is amplified. I can’t buy medicine because I can’t afford the doctor visit in order to get the prescription. Or I feel guilty for munching at McDonald’s but in reality I was hungry and didn’t have time to get to the store on my lunch hour. The phone rings constantly, but it’s almost always “Call from Unavailable.”

It wears a person down, doesn’t it? And when you’re worn down, you can’t always see the solution, if there is one.

Cloud of Negativity

Cloud of Negativity

Recently, I made a self-discovery. I told myself, “I’m tired of worrying.” Sure, easier said than done, and yes I do still have those moments.

But I started smiling more and stressing less. I gave myself permission to not feel guilty over the occasional fast food. It was okay if I bought one song on iTunes for $1.29. But then I stop. Then I’ve reached my limit and treat myself to an emotional allowance rather than a financial one.

Spending time with friends, watching a favorite DVD or even just reading a good book is often all it takes to regenerate my broken spirit.

Money isn’t everything.

And then there was the realization of several truths.

  • You are not alone. I know, I’ve hit on this before. But it’s worth hammering again and again. I am not alone. You are not alone. Believe it or not, people will understand when you say, “I just can’t go out this weekend.” It’s okay to say no to some extras. It’s also okay to say yes.
  • Patience really is a virtue. Debt collectors are often willing to work around your payment schedule as long as you communicate with them. You can’t expect them to stop calling if you don’t explain your situation. For all they think, you’re a deadbeat. But you’re not. You hear me?

YOU ARE NOT A DEADBEAT.

  • There are so many things to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head. I have transportation. I’ve never gone a day without food. If you’re reading this, you have internet access. Whether it’s a public library, school, or at home, that’s a blessing.
  • Being frugal can allow for creativity. It can be simple home decor, clothing options, or cooking a meal. Saving pennies can mean celebrating the lean times. Sure, it’s corny like a country song, but trust me. It works. It’s what led me to write and publish The Unemployment Cookbook. That’s a sweet success in my book!

One of the first things you can do when the money situation gets you down, is tell yourself it’s okay. It’s okay to know it’s there, but it’s also okay to say “I won’t let my lack of money define me.” It’s okay to choose to breathe.

Have dialogue with yourself and your family. Ask the hard questions:

  • Is this necessary, or a just a social “requirement”?
  • Is there a cheaper alternative?
  • If not, what else can we do to afford this?

Then it’s time to be honest with the creditors:

  • Explain your situation and be honest about how you got there.
  • Ask for repayment options. If you can’t pay their “minimum” do they have an extended payment plan?
  • Can they give you a reduced pay-off balance?
  • If you absolutely can’t pay, be honest. Don’t commit to a payment you can’t make. And don’t get angry at them about it. Those calls you’re getting? They’re just doing their job.

Then stop. Take another breath. And tell yourself, “It’s going to be okay.” Even if you don’t know how. Trust that it will work out. You can be strict without being overbearing. You can be in a financial struggle and still enjoy your day-to-day life.

Choose Your Direction: Stress or Relax

Choose Your Direction: Stress or Relax

It’s okay to drink of cup of hot (or sweet) tea. It’s okay to buy clothes at the thrift store and make them your own. It’s okay to walk somewhere, or buy a $0.99 box of mac-n-cheese instead of a $7.00 combo meal.

You have a choice. Even when the money situation isn’t getting any better, you have the choice to not let it define you.

Remember, it’s just a situation. It’s not a lifestyle.

Embrace the happy and you’ll see how rich you truly are.

And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!

Overcoming Bad Credit: Communication is Key.

At the beginning of the month, I posted about my experience with bad credit. I expected mixed results but the response was overwhelmingly favorable, and many of you thanked me for my transparency.

Truth be told, I didn’t share everything. Let’s face it: finances are a really private matter. I mean, it’s not like any of us are going to put our bank books on public display, right?

Open Wallet

Open Wallet

And why would you? Your life dynamics are just as personal as your wallet. Are you hearing me?

Every situation is different.

So why do the credit companies treat us all the same?

The reasons for my bad credit aren’t the same as yours or your mailman’s brother’s cousin’s dog’s groomer. That’s okay. Neither are the solutions.

Let’s recap, shall we?

  • I am not a credit expert. I am not, have never been, and have no plans to be: A professional debt collector, credit counselor, financial adviser, or life coach.
  • I have experienced unemployment, car accidents, medical bills, single parenting, and poverty.
  • I did not crawl into a corner and stay there. Okay. Yes. I did crawl in. It was ugly. But I didn’t ~ repeat, I did not ~ stay there.

I am slowly and surely finding my way out of my debt and bad credit situation, and as vulnerable as that makes me feel, I’m here to share [parts of] my story with you.

Today’s theme is Communicate.

Use your words, people!

Use your words, people!

That’s it. Use your words, people! But here’s the thing: Are you putting emphasis on the right word? If I say, “Use your words, people!” what do you hear? Me telling you just to talk. But if I say, “Use your words, people!” it changes, doesn’t it? Now it’s about you and your words. About expressing your situation.

This gem of advice was given to me a few years ago but it wasn’t until this year that I realized the power behind it. And it happened by mistake. Or grand design. I’m not sure which.

One particular evening I was ignoring the many Caller Unknown phone calls. In a moment of silence, I reached to make a call of my own, but as things happen, I picked up a call just as it came in. You know the feeling. Do you hang up? Stay quiet so they hang up? What? What? WHAT??

Being the conscientious authentic tired person that I was, I took the call. It was one of my credit card companies. I know. I’m late. Again. Still. My favorite part (not!) is when they ask, “What is the reason for the delinquency?” I really want to rant. Rave. Rebel. Instead, on this call, I politely said, “You know, you asked me that last month and the answer hasn’t changed. I simply don’t make enough money any more.”

So you know what they did? They laughed. They turned me over to a debt collector. They offered to work with me on an income-based payment plan.

Tired Girl say what??

That WAS easy!

That WAS easy!

We took a few minutes to review some information. How much do I make? How big is my family? And then, those magic words: We can work with you.

I was so excited, I answered the next call. And the next. Soon, I had arrangements made for several bills. You know what? The phone stopped ringing as much. The nasty-grams slowed down. And the bills are getting paid.

No, it’s not easy. And it’s not simple. I have to make sure I’m on top of my budget and there are times when I can’t make even the minimal payment so I get to swallow my pride, pick up the phone, and ask for more help. But I do it, because it’s worth it.

I don’t want to default or file bankruptcy. I want to pay my own debts. And when I own up to my financial mess, when I let others know the what’s and why’s and how’s of my situation, they’re more willing to work with me.

These posts started the day after I took another call to try to reduce a bill. In my mind, I had created a monster of debt, and I was ashamed and certain that I should just do a George Bailey and jump off the nearest bridge. Instead, I talked to the woman on the other end of the phone.

In the end, I was in tears.

I explained my situation, again. But this was a new company. This debt was transferred to a new collections department. How humiliating.

Except it wasn’t. Because she spoke to me like I was human, an individual. Not like a number or statistic or deadbeat. She valued me.

We all have value.

We all have value.

And then she said something I’ll not forget.

“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But I’ve been in your situation. I have. And I’m going to tell you, hang in there. Okay? It gets better. It does. I promise you. It gets better.”

And that’s why I cried. Because I allowed myself the vulnerability of showing my human-ness to a stranger, and she gave it back to me.

There was no condemnation, no threats, no hardlining. Just a person, talking to a person, working things out.

So I’m here to tell you

It gets better. It does. I promise you. It gets better.

Here’s a few simple tips to help you recover your finances:

  • Answer the phone.
  • Talk to people.
  • Be honest about your situation, what you can (and can’t) afford.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Try. Try again.
  • If the person isn’t willing to work with you, talk to a supervisor. It won’t always help, but most of the time, it will.
  • Follow up. If you make a promise to pay, pay. If you say you’ll call back, call back. They like it when you’re truthful.

What else can I tell you? You have value. I believe in you. And you know what?

It gets better. It does. I promise you. It gets better.

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And Frankly, My Dear . . . that’s all she wrote!