I was at the bottom of my life

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 Catherine's personal debt story.

When I finally made myself contact MMI I was at the bottom of my life. I had been treated for depression, diabetes, and my dad had just died but I thought I was doing better because I went out occasionally and shopped. My job that I loved had recently changed from a job where I was on furlough for 6 weeks out of the year – (4 in August and 2 at the end of December when I drew unemployment) to a job that was only giving me 6 months of work. I was still covered by their medical plan and the benefits were generous but I was on unemployment for that time. This was horrible for me.

One of the symptoms of my depression was shopping. Luckily my shopping was usually confined to thrift stores and I bought books. After my job changed I had more time to shop with less money. I had 4 credit cards and whatever came due I used one of them. It was not long before I had maxed out all 4 cards and was in debt for over $25,000. But it was so easy! As soon as I neared my limit on one card that credit card company would raise my limit. One card held $10,000 of unsecured debt on it and I had 4! I finally reached the end of my endurance and borrowed $5,000 to pay the most pressing bills. This was only a temporary fix at best because the debt just piled up again.

I felt like I had a crushing load on my shoulders. Bill collectors were calling and writing it seemed like daily. I was to the point where I would not answer the phone and let all my calls go to voice mail. This, of course, just added to my depression and it deepened to the point that I never left my house except when absolutely necessary.

Then, one day I heard Clark Howard recommending MMI to someone on his show and I immediately called them. They explained the process to me and it sounded hard but I knew that I had no choice if I wanted to live. I signed up with MMI a few days later and began making a dent in my bills. I checked the website monthly to be sure my bills were being paid but other than that I did not have to think about my bills at all. Best of all any creditors who called were referred to MMI. That was such a relief! All I had to do was make sure that the money was in my checking account on the day the funds were to be sent and I always made sure of that. It seemed like a short time until my MMI statement came with a $0 balance. I couldn’t believe it and called the people on the phone to have them double check. IT WAS TRUE!!! I was free.

The hardest thing for me was the agreement not to incur any new debt while I was paying off the old debt. Once I became used to using my debit card for everything my old way of spending seemed like such a bad idea. I also had another position by this time with the same company which was permanent and that steady paycheck really helped. I’m not saying that this was easy by any means and I had to learn to deny myself things that I really wanted. But none of those things gave me the feeling that being DEBT FREE gives me daily.

I know many people out there are asking themselves why I was so worried about this debt. Why didn’t I file bankruptcy? Because I created this debt by myself and I felt that I should pay for it. No one forced me to spend that amount of money and I was solely responsible for it. It was for my own self esteem and feeling of self worth that urged me to work out a plan to pay those bills and not just walk away from them. I felt like it would have been wrong to say “Oh, well, I can’t pay this money back so I’ll just walk away now and leave it.” I don’t think that is the American way or at least not the American way my parents taught me daily. My parents spent their whole lives working and paying their way. What would it teach my children if I just walked away and turned my back on my responsibility? My family is really proud of me.

MMI also sent me a monthly newsletter which had hints and tips on getting debt free and staying that way. There were articles that really made me stop and re-examine my way of handling money and the articles offered little ways to improve my money management skills.

-Catherine

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
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