Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Debtor's Nightmare: It Could Be You

I'm about to humble myself before you like never before. Please reserve judgement while you read, unless you've been in my shoes? Can I ask that, please, as I seek to help you right now?

It's Christmas time and at this time of year, Satan has an easy time stirring up wickedness. He wants you to take your eyes off of Christ and overspend. Overspending is a symptom of ingratitude. A thankful heart is a still heart, a peaceful heart.

Oh, I know. You have a plan to keep yourself from overspending this year. It's a good plan, I'm sure. But Satan also has a plan, and it involves keeping you so busy, you'll get too stressed and overextended to follow your original, good plan. You'll finally say to yourself, "We'll, I've already blown my budget, so I may as well get what's necessary and tighten my budget in January."

Some of the things will seem very necessary, like gifts for the office staff. But remember that Christmas occurs in the heart, not the pocketbook. Can you write them a card instead and share your favorite Scriptures and tell how much you appreciate them? That is enough.

And whatever you do, don't charge anything this Christmas!  If you've already done so, take it back!  I'm about to share a little bit of my personal nightmare with a credit card company, and I hope you take it to heart. There are days now I'm barely holding onto my sanity, and some of that has to do with my credit card company.

When husband lost his full-time job, I kept up with my payments for the first year of underemployment. The second year, I had to stop paying, because food on the table and a roof over our head took precedence. When things get bad financially, you have to make heartbreaking decisions. Food and shelter come first, always. If you get a lump sum of money by some miracle, believe me, you'll need it for home or car repairs. Either that, or you'll need it for medical care.

When a Christian fails to pay a debt, it's very bad. But it all starts when you incur debt in the first place. Don't think for a second that God will provide money for your credit habit. He won't help you at all. He will let you fall, especially if you're a repeat offender. 

In fact, I have a bold opinion on this. You're more likely to have your job protected by God when your financial health is spiritually sound. That's not to say your company won't go under in a bad economy. I only mean your chances for job disaster are higher if you have financial sins.

You might think it's as simple as telling them you can only pay $10 per month right now. They are evil, my friends. They don't care about your sob story, no matter how many hungry mouths it includes. They won't accept partial payments or payment plans, and either will your mortgage company. Their goal is to intimidate you into paying your obligation to them before you feed your children. They are successful often enough, through various scare tactics, so they keep at for months. You can write a letter telling them to stop calling you, and sometimes that is successful, since it's their legal obligation to honor your written request to stop harassment.

After many months of intimidation, including calling your family and even your neighbors if they can manage it, they will send it to a collection agency. This agency will bother you for awhile, eventually trying to collect just a percentage of the original debt (maybe 75%). But it will still be a lump sum, not a payment plan or partial  payments. Lump sum or nothing. Again, if you're really hurting financially, you don't have lump sums.You have serious unmet needs to take care of, like your mortgage or keeping your car going, and your credit rating is the least of your worries.

If the collection agency can't get a lump sum out of you, the credit card company charges off your debt and sells it for pennies on the dollar to a junk debt buyer. The junk debt buyer (a law firm, often) sues you in court to collect the whole amount plus interest and penalties. They say they are representing your credit card company, but they are actually trying to collect for themselves. They may have an agreement to give the credit card issuer a small percentage of the collection, but not always.

90% of consumers think the lawsuit is a scare tactic and they fail to respond to the court summons. Shortly thereafter, the law firm gets a default judgement against you and garnishes your wages or bank account for up to 25% per month. Right now, this is all legal! Don't let someone tell you your credit rating is the only thing at stake when you default on a loan or credit card. This is false.

If you stay on top of the legal nightmare and try not to default entirely, your situation is still the same. They will want a lump sum, not a payment plan or partial payments. If you can't pay, the judge will order a judgement against you for far more than your original debt. Your bank account or wages will be garnished (never give them your bank account number voluntarily, and never send a personal check!). If your income is exempt from garnishment, the judgement stands and when you get back on your feet, they will find you. The nightmare will not stop unless you pay it or file bankruptcy protection, and even then a junk debt buyer may try to collect again in the future, intimidating you into thinking it was not discharged in your bankruptcy. You must save everything and be on top of a system that is inherently evil, run by the evilest in society.

Friends, your original debt can be relatively low, and this nightmare can still be yours. Credit is evil on both sides--the overspending consumer, and the debt collector. We're trying hard to stay on top of it, and thankfully we have help from a community legal aid agency. The small details are killing me, though. I got another legal thing in the mail Friday, asking me to appear for a pre-trial hearing. It's all I can do to avoid a nervous breakdown right now. I ask God for strength every time my heart rate rises.

When you get in trouble it isn't about shirking your responsibility as a debtor. We never tried to get out of paying our debts. They force you to make horrible decisions, because in the long run, they only want what's best for them financially. There is no good faith.

Don't carry a balance, please? Don't fall into Satan's holiday trap, or any other spending trap. Have a thankful heart for what God provides. It is enough. You have enough. Fill up the empty places in your heart and life with Him, not with purchases.

Please don't think it won't happen to you. If you have a credit card balance right now, stop spending and pay it down, even it means only one present under the tree for your children. And if you're already in trouble and using your credit card to live on, research what can and will happen. You must be informed so you can keep food on your table and a roof over your head.

Please don't judge my admissions here? God has taken me a long way in the past three years. I'm not the same person who once incurred debt. My heart knows that whatever God provides, it is enough.


Jennifer @ said...

I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to share your "I've-been-there" story.

Perhaps you will help others avoid the heartache of debt.

Christine said...

Thank you, Jennifer. I sure hope so.