I’ll never forget the day that I gripped that phone and said, “Oh yeah? Well, then you’re never gonna see another dime from me again. Ever.”
Imaginary TV camera zooms in on my mouth, “Evvveeeerrrrr.”
That, dear friends, was the day I ruined my credit purely out of spite.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that spite isn’t an addictive and dangerous drug. When I think back on the things I’ve done purely out of spite over the years, I get a noticeable rush of dopamine in my brain. It’s like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time, but it’s me remembering that time I rubbed rotten mango all over that skank’s car windows under the dark cover of Florida night after she called me a “drunk trailer trash slut”. I didn’t even live in a trailer!
I was drunk, though, so that part was probably fair. And also a slut.
It took days to get the smell of rotten mango off my hands.
I grew up in a household that didn’t have access to credit. This meant that any time an unexpected bill, say from an emergency room visit, was overdue and they threatened to turn the account over to a collection agency, the stock answer to them was, “Throw it on the pile!” and then you hung up the phone.
That was how I learned to manage unplanned debt, anyway. Tell them to throw it on the pile.
When I was a kid, all the adults I knew lived without credit cards, drove junkers and didn’t have car loans, and already had mortgages, so what the hell were the bill collectors going to do to them? Nobody checked credit for job applications or anything like that. So screw it. Take that bill that you can’t afford to pay, and tell the collection agency to chuck it onto the pile with all the other bills you can’t pay. What are they going to do? Throw you in debtor’s prison?
This resulted in many attempted deliveries of certified letters to my house when I was growing up, as you may have previously read about in my piece Proof of Deliverance in The New Southern Fugitives earlier this year. That was a fun one to write, and I chuckled my way pretty much through the whole thing when I was writing it.
That being said, it’s a crappy, stressful way to live, dodging bill collectors. When I became an adult and finally managed to get somebody to give me a credit card, I decided that I was going to be really, really good with it.
I was going to break the family cycle of: No Money? No Credit? All problems!
I had a $300 limit and somewhere around 24% interest rate with that first card. A rate that high should be illegal, and it’s basically setting poor people up to fail, by the way. I used my card responsibly and paid my bill every month on-time for years. They raised my little $300 limit a couple times each year, higher and higher, and my credit score was improving every month. My interest rate stayed at 24%.
Then, years later, it happened. The phone call.
I was sitting at work when my phone rang. It was a customer service rep at my credit card company telling me that I had missed that month’s payment. I knew this was impossible, seeing as I paid it well before it was due every month. I made it my personal policy to pay it the day after I received the bill, even though it wasn’t due for weeks after that.
I told her the date I paid it and the check number. I went online to see if the check had cleared through my bank.
It had not.
I told her I had never made a late payment, not in the eight years that I’d had the card at that point, and it must have gotten lost in the mail. I was a solid customer! I begged her to waive the late fee, waive the now over-the-limit fee, and not jack-up my already insane interest rate.
No dice. She wouldn’t budge. Not only would I have to pay a small fortune in penalties, but now my interest rate would be permanently somewhere around one trillion percent.
I was so angry. Angry that I had worked so hard to keep good credit and to pay my bill on time, and that one single lost payment somehow was going to derail everything.
So I…let’s call it…
All the way back to childhood. Like a cornered, dirty possum.
I gripped the phone and said, “Oh yeah? Well, then you’re never gonna see another dime from me again. Ever. Evvveeerrrr.”
And they never did, either.
I spent the next seven years dodging their calls, refusing to sign for their certified letters, and watching the amount that I owed them multiply over and over with interest and penalties every time they sold it off to another collection agency. I had originally owed them a total of just under $1,500 for everything. Now they claimed I owed them more than $13,000. I eventually told them I would be willing to pay the damn $1,500 if they would close the case and leave me alone. Nope! The lowest amount they would settle for was TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.
What did I do? I waited them out. This is not good financial advice, for the record.
As a fully regressed dirtbag kid, I knew my debt was small potatoes compared to a lot of folks at the time. This was peak recession. It would be extremely unlikely that they would spend the money to come after me in court for it. I also knew that in my state if they hadn’t filed a lawsuit against me after five years, then they would forfeit their ability to do so. I celebrated that day when I passed the five-year mark with a can of Miller High Life the size of my head.
I also knew it could only stay on my credit for seven years and so long as I didn’t send them even $10, that BS $13,000 debt was going to expire whether they liked it or not. (If you make even the tiniest little payment on a debt like that, it starts the clock over from that date, and then it’s a brand new five- and seven-year deal. That’s why bill collectors try to get you to even send them $10. It resets the clock. If you want to know everything about debt collection laws in your state, talk to the poorest person you know.)
I was fortunate that, at the time, I already had a car, was renting my house from my mother, and had the same job. What the hell did I need good credit for? You know what they said in my household growing up! Throw it on the pile!
Little did I know that exactly one month after it finally fell off my credit report, at age 35, I would unexpectedly need to rent an apartment for the first time, apply for a new job a month after that, and six months after that, finance a new car. All of which required a credit check. If my life circumstances had changed even a month or two earlier than they did, I would have been completely screwed. I would have been homeless, jobless, and car-less over one stupid credit card.
It would be easy to say that dodging that debt all worked out in the end, but I lived in a house of cards for seven years waiting it out. It was constantly hanging over my head – and lord knows, they called me every single day. They sent letters several times a week. They still call me all these years later and threaten me with legal action at least once a month, even though the debt is legally non-collectable. I figure that even if I live to be 150 years old, my last words will be to some damn collection agency over that damn credit card.
I rebuilt my credit over the last eight years, and now, finally, I have good credit again. I pay off both of my cards every month and make sure my payment clears every time.
The biggest lesson I learned? If one of my credit card companies calls me to tell me that my payment is late, I’ll either fight my way up the chain until I can make someone fix it, or suck it up and pay the initial penalties, even though it’s total bullshit.
But, oh, the spite opportunities. When I think of the spite, I can almost smell the rotten mango on my hands. Capital One’s car windows would be SO jacked up right now.