Case of the Careless Credit Counseling Customer

Credit-CounselingI was out in the rough part of town. By rough, I mean I was hanging around the check cashing and payday loan places. When you’re fighting the debt machine, sometimes you have to go into enemy territory, baby. All I needed was something to blow the lid off of.

Things had been quiet the whole day, but that was about to change. I saw some dame coming out of a credit counseling building; she was smiling. She saw me from 20 feet away. I headed toward her and tipped my hat.

“How do, honey.”

“Uh … hello. Who are you?” she asked.

DEBTective, at your service. And believe me, you need my services.”

“Excuse me?”

“You looking for trouble, sweetheart? Because these payday places are good ways to find it.”

“Uh, I’m not looking for trouble. Are you?” she asked.

“I don’t look for trouble, babe. It just knows where to find me. What’s a girl like you doing in
a place like this?”

“I had some credit card debt that I need some help with. I saw a commercial last night for this
debt counseling place, UniDEBT States of America. I just got done talking with them. They’ve got a foolproof plan for getting this debt wiped out,” she said, oozing with know-it-all.

“Is that a fact, Jane? What’s the deal?” I asked.

“I talked with some guy there, and he said all I have to do is stop paying on the credit cards.
Pretty soon, the creditors will start calling and griping to me. All I have to do is not pay and
pretty soon, they’ll get desperate. They’ll take any settlement I give them. They’ll be begging
me for money. I’ll get them to agree to a percentage of what I owe and I’ll send it to them.
Easy as 1-2-3.”

I shook my head. Just looking at this dame I could tell that, for a wiseguy, she was all stupid.

“Babe, that plan sounds about as good as buying a plane for the peanuts. You’ll get into a lot of
trouble over a little thing. You’re going to destroy yourself with this bright idea of yours. You
ever heard of Dave Ramsey?”

“Yeah, I have. He’s got some good ideas, but they’re just not right for me.”

“You got it backwards, babe. They’re exactly what you need. Dave would say not to use one of these counseling places. If you back out on paying up, you’re going to make a mess.”

“Oh, really,” she said, full of sass. “How’s that?”

“You’re going to get behind on your bills and mess up your credit. The credit card companies are going to drive you nuts, calling you 18 times a day. After a couple of weeks of that, you’re going to be begging them to quit. Besides all that, there’s a little moral thing going on here.”

“What are you talking about?” she snapped.

“If you bought all that stuff on credit cards, why don’t you pony up the dough that you owe? Why
are you trying to shaft someone on the bill?”

I figured she’d come back with some attitude. Instead, she was quiet for a minute, looking at the ground. I got tired of waiting.

“Is the answer written on that piece of chewing gum on the sidewalk, sport? Why don’t you pay?”

It took another minute, but she finally broke it. She spoke soft and quiet, like she was about to
cry. “I’m in too deep. I’ve got too much debt; this is the only way to get me out of it.”

“How much are you in the hole?” I asked her.

About $12,000.”

I was floored.

“What in the name of Bugs Moran makes you think you can’t pay off $12,000? How much do you make?”

She was still scratching the ground with her shoe; tipping her head from side to side.

“I…I make $32,000 a year. Money’s kind of tight with me,” she said.

“So loosen it up. If you don’t start paying this thing off soon, you’ll be putting a rope around
your financial neck. How far behind are you on the payments?”

“Almost a month.”

“Then you’ve still got time. The way I see it, you’re clearing about $2,100 a month. How much do you need to live?”

“I suppose I could live off of $1,900.”

That set me off like a firecracker, baby. “Nothing doing, Jane! What are you spending that costs
you $1,900 a month?”

“Well, I gotta have a life!”

“You had a life. It cost you 12,000 smackers. If you want your life back, it’s gonna cost you a
lot more. What’s the ballpark number for your basics; your rent, food, utilities, gas and clothes?”

She stared at the ground, thinking. It was probably the first time she’d ever done that.

“All that costs about $1,200,” she said.

“Then that’s what you live off of. No cable, no Internet, no social life. You get serious, and
this debt will be sleeping with the fishes in a year and a half.”

She started to whine. Everyone knows how I feel about whining.

“That’s not fair! I shouldn’t have to do all that!” she said.

“You’re breaking my heart, princess. You dug this hole for yourself; now you gotta get out of it.
You want those collectors to stop calling and get out of this with your credit in one piece? Just
like Dave says, you gotta bust it.”

She turned around and started to walk, then stopped and looked back. “Wait a minute, Mr. Dave
Ramsey follower. I’ve heard Dave say on those early morning shows that you don’t need a credit score to get a house. If you don’t need that score, why are you so high and mighty about not trashing your credit in the first place?”

“Genius, you don’t need the score for a house, but what if you want to qualify for insurance? What if you want to get a job? Those people look at stuff like that. If it’s trashed, so are your chances, wiseguy.”

Finally, she stopped flapping her jaw. She thought for a minute.

“Maybe I’ll look at cutting my lifestyle,” she said.

“Then you’ll blow it. You gotta sell out. Do that for a little while, and you’ll set yourself up for
a long time. You man enough to do it?”

She stared at me. Would she step up to the challenge?

“Yeah, I’m man enough.”

I liked the look in her eye. She was ready. “That’s the first step. I’m proud of you. Once you get
used to living bare bones, it won’t feel so bad. Once you get rid of this debt and those creditors
stop bugging you, you’ll feel like a million bucks. Now get going.”

She turned around and headed down the street. She stopped again and turned around. I thought she was going to make another excuse. But she didn’t. She smiled. “Thank you sir.”

Any time babe; any time at all.

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