We are honored to give voice to consumers who have overcome financial challenges. Through their own words, these consumers will tell you about what it was like to be in and repay unmanageable debt. They will also share inspiring words about the many ways their lives have changed as a result of their debt repayment efforts.
Following is Ann's story.
I was 25 years old: Living the dream in Los Angeles, working in the entertainment industry... And in nearly $28,000 in debt. How did I let it get THAT out of control?!? I’m smarter than this!!!
I was mortified, embarrassed and—honestly—scared. The incessant letters and constant voicemails asking me to please call so-and-so back regarding “a personal financial matter” were waiting for me daily. And then? One of them called me at work. I remember sobbing into the phone, “What do you want me to do?!? I’m here trying to work so that I can pay you!”
You’d think that I would have SOMETHING to show for $28,000, right? School debt? No, my parents paid for my education. Car loan? Sorry, no again, my car was a college graduation present.
The truth is that it boiled down to the plain and simple fact that I? Was a shopaholic. I loved looking cute, having the coolest new trends stocked in my closet and enjoyed going all out for my friends and family birthdays/anniversaries/etc picking up the entire tab and lavishing them with the best gifts.
It all started with that first credit card that I signed up for on campus. (Oh, you know the one… The one with the “free” university tee shirt when you apply?) I took that to the mall and then they asked if I would like to open a store account… I can save 10, 15, 20% today if I do… “Yes! Sure! I like deals, why not!”
At my worst, I had twelve credit cards and had no idea that this wasn’t the norm. TWELVE! At first, it was actually what I deemed manageable: Earning enough at my part-time job to make the minimum payments and maintaining a When-I-Graduate-and-Start-Making-Real-Money-I-Can-Pay-This-All-Off attitude.
What people failed to predict for me is that my first job straight out of college in LA would pay minimum wage! And living in Los Angeles? Is not cheap. (The rent on the studio apartment that I found in the “hood” was nearly double what I spent on a two-bedroom, two-story condo in my hometown.) Uhhhhh… Can you say, “Trouble”? It wasn’t too long before I was sinking, and fast. Skipping monthly payments on some bills to make the bare minimum payments on others... Using the cash advances to pad my checking account so that the rent check would clear… I even had a department store credit card carrying something like a $5000 balance, but the funny part was that this store didn’t even exist in California!
I felt utterly trapped and couldn’t tell anyone, ESPECIALLY my family. In hindsight I would like to believe that if—in a perfect world—I had told them, they would have been empathetic to my situation and that they might have even help me out financially, but… My stupid pride prevailed, I continued to flounder and I began to think about claiming bankruptcy.
One night while having dinner with my best friend and her mom, I finally cracked: Blubbering my sob story into my glass of Merlot. It was my LA Mom that suggested looking into credit counseling instead of considering bankruptcy, “Do it, Honey.”
After a few more weeks of sitting on my self-pity butt I finally called. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. When I rounded up all the bill statements to discuss with a credit counselor, I was just so embarrassed. Sitting on floor surrounded by all the papers literally made me feel sick to my stomach. I fought dry heaves as I dialed and I even started crying as I explained my situation to the woman on the other end. She soothed my frayed nerves and explained that this happened to thousands of other people too, but the difference was that I had chosen to not be a helpless any more and that with hard work? I WOULD prevail. But that it also wouldn’t be easy. She wasn’t kidding, it wasn’t!
What credit I had left was immediately cut off and I was put on a budget. It was exactly the reality check that I needed. The company interceded as a third party: I sent them minimum payments—sometimes more if it had been a “good” month--and they distributed it amongst the eager creditors.
I won’t lie: It. Was. Not. Fun.
I couldn’t go out like I used to.
I couldn’t shop like I used to.
I couldn’t say, “My treat!” while reaching for the bill.
But for the first time in years I COULD sleep through the night.
I COULD check the mailbox without dreading what was inside.
And I COULD leave the phone on.
It was a long process and I had to be on my best behavior for years, but eventually it did pay off and I became debt free. It felt amazing and empowering.
Eventually, I got to the point where I started off small with an American Express card. (I liked the concept of having to pay it off in-full every month because it kept me in check and accountable for not going off the deep end again.)
Having proved myself a reformed shopaholic with new-found money management skills, I was approved for an auto loan and purchased a new car that still makes me smile every time I get in. A year after that, I continued the positive momentum and moved into larger—obviously more expensive—apartment on an adorable street where I can safely walk to great restaurants, coffee houses and yoga. Taking it even a step further, I was approved for a medical/health loan so that I could finance Lasik surgery with one of the best surgeons in town!
I quite literally have a new outlook on life and it’s beautiful.
Ann C.- Los Angeles, CA