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Paying Off Debt: If There's a Will, There's a Way

Updated on September 27, 2009

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.

It didn't.

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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    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks, Joe! I appreciate the comment.

      Becoming self employed is a goal for me, but the prospect of losing a steady paycheck is daunting. Am working on gathering the knowledge I need, as well as some experience, before I pull the trigger.

    • rockinjoe profile image

      Joseph Addams 

      10 years ago from Standing right behind you!

      Great story. It's a personal triumph to be out from under, isn't it? We're extremely careful (especially today) when we use plastic, but realize how easy it is to get out of hand. Becoming self employed had a big impact on our way of spending.

      I'm glad everything worked out for you.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks for reading, and for your comments, Pam.

      Working as a collector was really eye opening. I felt a little hypocritical sometimes, especially when I followed the script advising people how to get the money, when many of the things on that list were things that I was not myself willing to do.

      I actually worked for a major name in lending, and their collection practices were pretty clean. Or, at least, what they trained us to do was clean. The problem was that we earned not only an hourly wage, but also bonuses based upon our collection successes, particularly the payment by telephone. I saw a lot of my coworkers taking checks by phone knowing that there was a high probability that the payment would not clear. I guess they figured that the more checks they put into the system, the more chance that at least a few of them would be good. It made me angry knowing that they were basically encouraging people to incur overdraft fees just for the sake of getting a collector off their back. Also, it was a popular job for college students. So many of them had never had to worry about paying their own bills, and they were so openly judgemental. It was definitely a personal choice to treat people like s**t. I think the private collection agencies, the ones that buy bad debts from bigger companies, tend to use shadier tactics. Whether they're taught or merely condoned, I'm not sure. Either way, it's unethical, IMO.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      Em, thank you for sharing this, and I'm truly sorry you had to go through that. I was feeling your pain over the collector's phone call. :( I'm so glad you overcame that entire financial nightmare.

      I have to ask, because it is so did it make you feel after you got that second job as a collector? And I'm curious, do these collection companies train people to be that mean to others on the phone or is that some kind of personal choice they take upon themselves to be so hateful and threatening?

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      I agree, RGraf! Admittedly, with a degree in Accounting I had no excuse for the situation I got myself into, but I do believe that a class in basic personal finance should be required for high school graduation.

      I'm sorry you had to endure such treatment at the hands of collectors. Most are paid an hourly wage plus commission on what they collect. That commission makes many of them a little too bloodthirsty, IMO, so they pass judgment in hopes that by breaking you down they can guilt you into coughing up money that you don't have. It's a crappy industry.

      Thanks so much for reading.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      Bravo! We had similar circumstances. We were not the best stewards of our money and then I had a C-section with no health insurance. Like you, we received abuse from our creditors with one even stating bluntly that we didn't have to have that child. We were told that they wanted it all now or get nothing through bankruptcy. They refused to work out payment plans since my second job could pay that. But they wanted everything immediately and refused to accept anything else. They began legal action. We had to declare bankruptcy. We learned a hard lesson. I honestly don't think we teach kids well enough on how to handle their money.

      Thank you for this great piece!

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks for reading, mhei! It's difficult and time consuming to dig yourself out of a hole, but you'll be better off for it. Sounds like you're on your way!

    • mhei profile image


      10 years ago from Philippines

      I could mirror myself in you Em...that's precisely what i've gone through (just omit the having a second job part)... I'm still paying off some of my credit card debts...well, if you were able to surpass it, I believe I can too, and so do the rest... :) thanks for sharing....

    • Dottie1 profile image


      10 years ago from MA, USA

      From sharing the lessons will benefit all. Thanks for sharing yours. Nice hub.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks, Bill!

    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 

      10 years ago from sourcewall

      welcome to the hub.


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