You know what happens when you stop paying your credit card bills? You start getting mean phone calls from the credit card company. This was before Caller ID, so my only option was to let the calls go to my answering machine. I got very adept at listening to a message just long enough to figure out if it was about my credit card debt before deleting it. Hey, at the time I was young and single, so I was making sure I didn't miss calls from anyone I deemed important.
The credit card bills had become overwhelming. I took the only course of action that made sense to me. I stopped going to my mailbox.
Ambushed by the Mailman
I lived in an apartment at the time so it was easy to avoid that area of the building. But then one day I'd gone home during lunch and ran into my mailman in the parking lot. He said he'd thought I'd moved because he could no longer stuff any more mail into my box.
I shamelessly told him that I'd lost my mailbox key. (It's a little known fact that being in debt can turn you into an extraordinary liar.) I even started to embellish my story with how I'd also been out of the country for an extended period of time, but he interrupted me to hand me my mail. Then he suggested I walk with him to the mailbox so he could unlock it for me and give me all the mail currently stuffed in my box. Unable to make myself invisible, I had to take possession of my mail.
That night, I got a glass of Chardonnay for courage and spread the envelopes out on my dining room table. I paid the utilities and other necessities. When I started looking at the credit card statements, I looked only at the minimum payments and started writing checks for half the amount. Amazingly, I still didn't stop using my credit cards.
Instead, I decided I had to make more money. So I studied for and passed the CPA exam with the plan of getting a higher paying job. Only now do I see the "Becky Bloomwood" irony in all this. I had a head for numbers but was clueless when it came to my own financial affairs. My solution was to make more money to maintain my spending habits instead of focusing on paying off the debt. The Day I Hit Rock Bottom
I went to work for BellSouth Mobility and got a higher salary. I got this job just in the nick of time because to my horror, I could no longer get approved for a credit card. I could no longer get credit limits raised. The banks no longer loved me.
Then one day I tried to make a purchase and my Rich's Department Store card was declined. Rich's had canceled my credit card account. Refusing to give up my card without a fight, I called the Rich's credit office and asked to have my card reinstated. A service rep was quite rude to me and told me my last check had bounced. And even when I did pay with a check that didn't bounce, it was always late.
Do you know how big a mess your credit life has to be to lose a retail credit card? A really, really big mess. This was the turning point for me. My credit ride had come to a merciful end.
[Article: Jean Chatzky's Debt Diet: A Behind the Scenes Look]
My Wacky Approach to Debt Reduction
I didn't know exactly how much debt I had and I didn't want to know. I wasn't in denial, this was my strategy. And not one I'd recommend. It's like trying to work your way out of the eye of a hurricane when you don't know where the edge of the storm is.