Paying Off Debt: If There's a Will, There's a Way
Even though I currently have very little debt, there was a time when I had a mountain of it and thought the situation was hopeless. I foolishly burned through the contents of my savings account in college (clothes, food, and beer - oh my!), then moved to Florida and let my credit cards finance my shopping habit. It wasn't long at all before I couldn't pay my bills and the creditors began to call. Like an ostrich, I buried my head in the sand and hoped it would all go away.
Suze Orman on Debt Settlement Companies vs. Do-It-Yourself Debt Settlement
After a couple of years of not paying ANYTHING and using my income to continue my shopping, I decided things needed to change. I was in constant danger of losing everything, and every small unexpected expense put me into crisis mode. I was also terrified of losing the man who who would later become my husband (though we were just living in sin at the time), as he was severely wary of further commitment to someone as fiscally irresponsible as me.
I did some reading online, and decided that a credit counselor was the way to go. A little research rewarded me with the name and number of an agency that sounded reputable. Their ad said that they would negotiate with my creditors on my behalf and consolidate all of the reduced payments into one monthly payment that I would make directly to the counseling agency (check out personal finance guru Suze Orman's take on debt settlement agencies in the video at right). That sounded reasonable, so I sent them an e-mail and received a telephone call that evening from a representative to do the inital consultation. Twenty humiliating, soul baring minutes later, Mr. Representative informed me that my income would never meet my obligations, and that I should just file for bankruptcy.
After hanging up, I cried. A LOT. How could I have been so stupid as to dig myself into this hole?
The next day I searched the Yellow Pages and found an ad for a legal service that advertised cheap bankruptcy filings. I called, and was told that I would need to plunk down $500 up front. Sheesh. If I HAD $500, I would have used it to pay a bill!
I stuck my head back in the sand for a couple of months more. Then, one night I accidentally answered the telephone and found a bill collector on the other end. I decided to be honest, explain my situation and ask for a little time and understanding. Rather than understanding, I received verbal abuse. She called me pathetic, a deadbeat, and lazy. Now, I probably should have gotten her name and reported her to the Federal Trade Commission, but I was too tired to fight. Instead, I cried, told her she was absolutely right about me, and asked what she would do in my situation. There was a moment of silence, after which she said, "Get another job."
Outraged, I immediately hung up on her. Who the heck did she think she was to say that to me? There was no way I could work a second job. I had a life!
But I really didn't. My boyfriend loved to take weekend trips but I never had the money, so either he paid for everything or we stayed home. I felt like I was holding him back. I made as much money as he did, but piddled it all away on nothing, never using it to dig myself out of the hole I was in.
That bill collector's words haunted me for a couple of weeks. One day at work, I decided to look online at the classifieds, just to see what was out there in the way of part time work. I saw an ad for call center work as a collector (oh, the irony!) for a large, well known consumer lender, and called. I started work a week later, and worked 20 hours or so per week, in addition to my regular full time job, for two years.
I made a huge dent in my debt in that time. I only stopped working the second job because we moved to Maryland, where I got a much more demanding full time job. The money was good, so I was able to keep up with the debt repayment. My parents also helped to pay off some of it, as did my boyfriend. By the time we married in 2005, the only debts I had left were my car loan and my student loan. Now I'm down to just the student loan, and it is nearly paid, as well.
I'm not going to say that working a second job and finally paying my debt was a cake walk. Nor am I going to whine about how hard it was and how much I missed by working so many hours. It was hard, but it was also one of the best things I've ever done for myself. Writing the checks to my creditors to pay those bills was enormously liberating.
On the off chance that anyone who reads this is going through something similar to my experience, please, do not bury your head in the sand. The problem will not go away on its own; it requires effort. Getting another job may not be the right solution for you, but there IS a solution. Where there's a will, there's a way. Always.
For more on getting out of debt, here's an article posted at one of my favorite blogs titled "Get Out of Debt: But I Spend More than I Make."
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