One morning I woke up, did some
simple addition and concluded that I was fiftky seven thousand dollars in
credit card debt. I still had six
thousand to go on my car loan, so that made a debt load of sixty three thousand
dollars. How could this happen? I’m legally single and without
dependents. I own no stocks, bonds,
properties or other convertible assets.
I am a man utterly without collateral.
So, my question “how did this happen?” is a rhetorical utterance,
because I know how it happened. I spent
more than I earned. It’s that
simple. If we see this happening on a
larger scale, as an entire society goes bankrupt, the same basic laws
apply. The only difference between me
as an individual and our society is that society, represented by The
Government, can print money. The newly
printed money is really toy money, but it buys a smidgen of time because it’s
backed up by history, prestige, momentum and the memory of immense wealth. It may be a few years before anyone notices
that United States dollars look like little orange, blue and yellow pieces of
paper about three inches long and two inches wide.
I got my first credit card when I
was forty-five years old. I had managed
to live outside the consumer cycle for all that time, by being either a hippie
or a bum. I was a hippie bum when that
envelope arrived in the mail, the one that said, “You have already been
approved.” I thought it was a joke, I laughed.
Who would give me a credit card?
I like being approved. I thrive on approval. This Visa Card provided me with a credit
limit of two hundred dollars, at an interest rate of twenty three point nine
nine percent. Of course, a credit card
is not really about its interest rate.
Credit cards are a barge full of tricky charges, most of which are
confined to the small print. The two
most lethal words in the English language, “Adjustable Rate,” are stated or
implied somewhere in that print. There
are annual fees, late fees, cash advance fees, all around Desperate Ignorance
fees. You’re dumb, and you’re desperate,
so we’ll charge you a fee.
I didn’t know any of this at the
time. I was living in an in-law unit
behind a house in San Geronimo Valley.
The area is an enclave of hippies, new age healers, artists,
crafts-people and bums hiding out.
I was excited about having two
hundred dollars credit. My therapist
approved. Having a credit card was a
mark of responsibility; it meant I was turning into a mature adult, integrating
myself into mainstream society.
Provided, of course, that I kept up my payments. How much trouble could I get into, with a
two hundred dollar limit?
I didn’t know, at the time, that
paying minimum on a credit card means that any amount, no matter how trivial,
will take your next ten incarnations to pay off, or about six hundred
years. Fortunately, credit companies don’t
track future incarnations. Instead, they
sue debtor’s spouses or any relative available for the unpaid sum. Eventually, our corporate-controlled
government will pass laws allowing credit banks to force you to work off your
debt. You will pass your days working
in a cubicle in South Dakota, making collection calls for the bank and living
in dorms with twenty-four beds to a room.
Lunch will be a choice between bologna or peanut butter and jelly
sandwich. Spam or Macaroni and cheese
are the menu for dinner. There WILL be
movies every night, hell, we got plenty of movies. Disney will have the exclusive contract to provide Credit Default
Camps with DVDs.
I racked up my two hundred dollar
debt in one day. I bought a car. That was the kind of car I got in those
days. I used a courtesy check from the
card company (special interest rate of 29.9 percent) and bought an’82 Honda
Civic. It turned out to be a good
car. The starter was broken, so the car
had to be hot-wired every time I wanted to drive. The gas tank had a crack
halfway down its side. Anything over
six gallons sent a flammable trickle of gasoline through this crack. I could never put more than five gallons in
the tank. I had to be very careful
about that. I got full disclosure from
the seller about the vehicle’s problems.
“Watch out how much gas you put in,” he told me. “Five gallons tops and keep track of what
you got left in the tank when you fill.
Best thing is to just get three and half. I had a friend with the same problem, and he blew himself up.”
I got great mileage from that little
beige go-cart. Five gallons was a
hundred twenty miles, easy. It was a
bargain, it was a reliable vehicle.
I paid my monthly minimum on time,
every month. In about six months, the
card company notified me that my limit had been raised to five hundred
dollars. Fantastic! I bought a set of tires for the car.
I was living as a free-lance
anything: janitor, painter, carpet cleaner.
I worked as a flower delivery driver.
I survived by the seat of my pants.
My monthly card payments were
fifteen dollars. Not a problem, I
always put a check in the mail at the last possible minute. I was always on time.
The card company raised my limit to
a thousand dollars. It felt good, it meant that Visa trusted me.
I wanted to become a professional photographer. I bought my first digital camera. The payments went up to about twenty eight
dollars a month.
Then I got another envelope in the
mail. This one was from MasterCharge.
“You have already been approved!”
Nice! They were offering me twenty five hundred dollars credit at a
rate of sixteen point four percent. It
was a Gold Card. I wondered about these
metallic cards. Gold, Silver,
Platinum. I wondered if there were
cards for people on different economic rungs.
Cards with metals both common and uncommon. A Uranium Card for nuclear physicists, with radioactive interest
rates and loan half-lives that take millions of years to pay off. An Iron Card for weight lifters. The rates just go up and down, up and
down. Heavy Metal Cards, shaped like
guitars, for rock and rollers. Lithium
cards for manic-depressives, with rates that plunge and soar and plunge again.
I believe that credit banks operate
with a fundamental yet covert philosophy.
It’s called the We Don’t Give A Shit If You Pay Us Back Principle. By the time you have gone through the
agonies of ballooning credit balances, of paying monthly minimums on seven
different cards, of borrowing from one card to pay another, of paying late
fees, overcharge fees, balance transfer fees and been suckered into “credit
insurance” programs that protect you from being unable to pay your credit card
bills, you have put so much money into the pockets of Citibank and Chase that
even if you default, they’ve made a profit of twelve thousand percent, which
more than offsets your default, when it comes.
In U.S. Dependencies like Guam,
Saipan and Puerto Rico, Congress will enact loopholes in anti-usury laws,
allowing Citibank to be what it really is: a loan shark. Rates of a hundred percent, payable next week
or they send a goon to break your finger.
What’s the “vig”, Louie?
Since I was unable to get credit,
that is, low interest bank credit for a legitimate business loan, I used my
cards to start my digital photography business. The problem was that my business
took ten years to get going, and after five years I was paying almost six
hundred dollars a month just to maintain the minimum payments on all those
This was like taking six crisp one
hundred dollar bills out of my wallet and setting a match to them. That money was gone, it would not reduce my
debt, it would not purchase anything.
It was gone. Wasted. At this point my repayment would take twenty
six thousand years, or nine hundred future incarnations.
I was having a good spell in my business. I was enjoying some cash flow. I was always rescued by a last minute thing,
a portrait session, a wedding, a house to paint, sale of a print or two. Somehow, I was able to keep up with these
incredible payments. I made some large
payments, bringing my balance down.
That’s when the next round of offers came in: “You Have Already Been Approved!”
Wow. Capital One allowed me five thousand dollars in credit at a rate
of eleven point nine percent. I took
it! I needed a more sophisticated
camera and some portrait lights.
Pretty soon I was running five
credit cards and I lost track of my total debt. I guess I lost track on purpose, so that I could live in denial.
I was the ideal customer for credit
card banks. I racked up a lot of credit
yet made minimum payments, on time.
There is no better earner for a bank than a consumer like me. They don’t want me to pay off my loan,
heavens no! They want to gradually load
me up on debt, drag me down into the depths of high interest compound rates and
keep me there for the rest of my life.
The thrill began to wear off. For a while, I actually defined wealth as
the amount of one’s credit. If I had a
few hundred grand in credit, I was in pretty good shape, wasn’t I? Aren’t we defined by our debt? I saw my world as a kind of spending
party. Need a new printer? Cool, I‘ve got credit. I’ll keep making the minimum payments. I always do.
I’ll admit it was fun. I had a great time. I am a compulsive person. I will always be a compulsive person. In this, I am not much different from the
average American. We are all
compulsive. We are made compulsive by
the continual stimulus of commercial images of glamorous exciting products.
I never considered bankruptcy. I held the almighty Credit Rating in such
awe that I would do nothing to besmirch it.
Meanwhile, I became more and more miserable, as my anxieties focused on
making the monthly minimum payments and seeing my income going into the fire. Get out the matches, dude, time to burn some
more hundred-dollar bills. I began to
feel as though I were carrying a mountain on my back. I knew that I would never get rid of this mountain, that the rest
of my life would be spent holding up this Sisyphian mass as it grew larger and
This wasn’t fun any more. My outlook
changed in a single week. One day, I simply looked at my situation. Within another few days I was there; I was
prepared to file for bankruptcy.
It occurred to me that the almighty
Credit Rating is a hoax. People go in fear
of losing points on their credit rating.
People obsess on the difference between six fifty and seven
hundred. The terror of losing points on
one’s credit rating is a ubiquitous American terror. It rides invisibly on people’s shoulders like a pair of wooden
stocks, like a medieval torture device.
Companies thrive on milking people’s obsession with their credit score.
Go to freecreditreport dot com and find out your score. You’ll learn that your
free credit report isn’t free. It’s a
lure to sell credit monitoring services.
For a monthly fee a consumer can track his or her credit rating and get
even more obsessive.
Every American can get a free credit
report once a year. That’s the
law. You won’t get it at
freecreditreport dot com. You’ll just
get more crazy.
Radio stations are flooded with
commercials for get rich quick instructional CDs, books and videos. Every time
I hear the word “free” on the radio I laugh and I visualize gullible wannabe
entrepreneurs panting to exploit this amazing opportunity. I’ve always had a maxim regarding American
marketing techniques. It’s simple:
contempt sells. Marketers view the
American consumer as a stupid, gullible and very hungry five year old child
with a fist full of money that it would rather spend on toys than on
necessities. This toddler justifies
spending money on toys because it believes that at some point in the future
it’ll somehow make a lot of money, and THEN it will pay for the necessities. Meanwhile it’s having too much fun. Don’t worry. It’ll figure out a scheme to get rich without working very hard.
Thousands of commercials promise the
consumer an income of five to ten thousand dollars a month by investing in the
stock market. Best of all, the CD is
free! Or how about this? Make money using the internet! You don’t
have to buy inventory, you don’t have to store inventory, all you have to do is
sell stuff on Ebay that you don’t even have! Let your computer do your work for
you. Earn money while you sleep! And best of all, the CD explaining how to
pull off this miracle is FREE! Wow,
(the radio voice says) now I can quit my day job, and pretty soon I’ll own two
Hey, wait, what about Real
Estate?! There’s a book telling me how
to earn a fortune buying up foreclosed properties. The introductory CD is Free! The word free should be spelled eff
arr dollar sign dollar sign. FR$$.
The people making money on these
programs are the people selling the book or CD. If the program worked so well, why would these entrepreneurs
spawn thousands of competitors?
Let me admit that, initially, my new
philosophy, my ‘credit score is a hoax’ pose was a bit of bravado. I was still scared. What if one of us got sick? What if I wanted a new car? What if Fox and I decide to upgrade to a
better motorhome? What if what if what
I’ll relieve you of the suspense
right now. My bankruptcy was a complete
success. The first thing that happened
was that car dealers showered me with offers.
It’s the standard procedure after a bankruptcy. There are business entities whose most
lucrative product is helping bankrupts re-establish their credit. Car dealers are foremost among these
entities. All kinds of people wanted to
help me re-establish my credit. Offers
poured in. The first few months, the
offers were terrible. The credit cards
were loaded with sign-up fees and yearly fees, and the interest rates would
shame any loan shark. I got those “You
have already been approved” deals all the time. After a few months the offers settled down, became more like the
offers I got before I went bankrupt. I
accepted one card: no sign up fee, no yearly fee, interest at eleven
percent. I keep that one credit card,
and I stay below two thousand dollars in total debt. I make large monthly
payments when my balance gets too high.
Every offer that comes along goes into the wastebasket. I have one credit card. Two thousand dollar limit. Period.
Wait a minute, wait a minute! I have to confess something. I wrote that
last paragraph before gas prices hit the roof.
It’s getting tougher to function and make ends meet. I sort of broke my rule. I haven’t exceeded my limit. I did, however,
take on another credit card. That card
is sitting in my wallet like a radioactive pellet, just waiting to leak through
and contaminate my world. It scares the
hell out of me, while at the same time it comforts me. Its purpose is to backdrop serious
emergencies. I haven’t used it. I don’t want to use it. I pray that nothing happens to force me to
use it. I just pray and pray.
My attitudes have changed. I don’t spend money just to have something I
want, like a new printer. My camera
gear is getting old. That’s the way it
will have to be. I can’t afford the
latest, neatest gear.
What I’m saying is that it’s almost
impossible to escape the world of credit cards. They keep coming back like the Terminator’s metal arm.
Have I mentioned that I feel like
I’m really getting screwed? Have I just
come out and said it in so many words?
I feel choked with anger. I am so frustrated that I need a pitcher of
margaritas or a bottle of Vicodin. (I
am, of course, exaggerating dramatically for effect here. I’m not an alkie or a dope fiend, no no no.) There are a hundred rip offs dipping into my
pocket every day. There are dozens of
virtually undetectable drains on my income.
This isn’t a free country! It’s
a very expensive country.
In the last decade I have found
myself trapped by invincible shackles.
I have hit the wall of middle age.
I have just enough medical and chronic pain conditions to place me at
the very center of the health insurance vortex. I have no choice but to be a consumer. I am now the victim of medical blackmail. Insurance and drugs are so expensive; they
dominate every aspect of my life.
Why? How can one blood pressure
pill cost four dollars? It costs
pennies to make. We all know that. The Big Pharm companies scream “Research and
Development! Marketing! How can we invent those orphan drugs that
will help a few thousand people and conspicuously demonstrate our
compassion? Our expenses are
There there, Big Pharm, don’t
cry. Poor Pfizer, you’ve worked so hard
to ensure that our aging males can have erections. Don’t sulk in a corner, Glaxo.
We know how much you love us.
Your efforts have controlled our cholesterol, have saved our lives time
and again! Your executives deserve
those boats and planes, they’ve earned those vacations at hotels in Dubai that
look like flying saucers and cost four thousand dollars a night. They deserve the call girls and the Bugati
sports cars, the Rolex watches and the gated estates overlooking the beach at
St. Moritz. They’ve worked hard for our
I often fantasize about what I could
do if I didn’t spend half my income every year on health insurance and
prescription co-payments. I wouldn’t be
living in constant anxiety. I might be
able to save enough money to have another RV journey and have some fun. I might be able to get my car fixed. I could repair that weird flub flub sound it
makes in the right front wheel. I could
afford my dog’s dental work, the removal of those extra teeth that are going to
become a nightmare in three or four years.
I’m old enough to remember a time
when health care wasn’t everyone’s ball and chain. I remember when a factory worker could support a family and mom
could stay home and pay some attention to the kids. I remember when people didn’t endure sour stomachs and panic
attacks thinking about their credit card debt.
I remember when my dad made enough money from his small business to
provide a decent middle class standard of living for his family. I’m old enough to remember the way things
shifted so suddenly in the late seventies and early eighties. No one had ever heard of HMOs. Then, suddenly, they were everywhere. Our big industries, like steel and auto
manufacture were under assault by the Japanese.
De-regulate everything! We have to compete with a free hand!
I’m not an
economist or a political scientist, I don’t understand how our society was
co-opted and undermined by an inferno of greed. I only know that a corrupt and devious corporate cruelty has
turned middle class people into paupers and terrified debtors.
Dammit, I’m angry!
To further amplify my vulnerability,
I have taken yet another credit card. I
spent up to the limit on the last one after my car broke down. I needed brakes, a catalytic converter and a
My debt has climbed to about three
thousand dollars, and I’m paying about a hundred dollars a month. I can live with that. The debt stopped climbing a year ago. I’ve kept pace with my payments; I
occasionally pay the bill down by a few dollars. This is familiar territory to me.
I understand the game, and the futile squirming that I must suffer to
keep afloat because I’m not much of a money person. I’m an artist-person, woe is me.
I am aware that more millions of people are now living the same
way. The economy has gotten bad and
there are many new recruits to the kind of life I’ve always lived. I have a certain amount of psychological
armor against this insecurity. It
doesn’t bother me so much. I know that
a lot of people, new to poverty and crushing debt, are quaking with anxiety and
dread. I’m sad about those people.
A few days ago I was getting into my
car in a large parking lot. I was
approached by a well dressed woman.
“Excuse, me, sir,” she asked with apparent reluctance. “I’ve had a bit of trouble and I…”
I didn’t force her to end her
pitch. She was begging. I held up my hand and said, “Sure, no
problem, I have a couple bucks worth of change. I’ve been through hard times myself.”
She relaxed, her shoulders came down
from around her ears. She wasn’t a
funky street person holding a sign at a busy intersection. She looked like a soccer mom with two kids. This was my first encounter with a more
upscale type of beggar. Looks can
deceive. She might be the forerunner of a new type of beggar, the
housewife-Oxycontin scammer. I don’t
care. If she needs money for drugs, let
her buy drugs. I’d prefer that she find
treatment but if she’s willing to beg drug money in a Safeway parking lot that
means she’s NOT willing to be a hooker, not yet.
Some stop-light panhandlers have a
dog. Some sit in wheelchairs. There are busy intersections claimed as
territory by beggars. Their signs are
variations of the same message.
“Anything will help.” If the
person is able-bodied the sign might say “Will work for food.” I hold no animus towards them. They stand for hours in a noisy place
clogged with car fumes and endure a thousand humiliations. I could tell that the well-dressed woman in
her early thirties was not used to this kind of activity. The look on her face was shattering. She was humiliated but she tried to appear
as if this was just a momentary blip, like she had left her wallet at home and
had run out of gas. She was going to
beg just this once, it wasn’t a thing she would do tomorrow and the day after
that. I saw her move on to the next
person and the next. They recoiled,
they refused. She kept on, walking
gently up to people with an “Excuse me, sir, I’m in a bit of trouble…Excuse me
ma’am ”. I don’t care if she spent the money for booze or drugs. I never care about that. Begging is a profession that has always been
with the human community. I’ve begged
and panhandled. I lived at the bottom
tier of society for years. I know how
difficult is the work of begging.
Yesterday I was in another parking
lot, just coming from Raley’s with two plastic bags of food. It was five-ish, getting dark. A woman approached me wearing a white down
jacket and slacks. Her hair was well
kept, her makeup was in place.
“Excuse me, sir” she began and again
I held up my hand. “No problem,”
I said, “I have a couple bucks worth of change.”
As I dug through my bag, I asked her
“How many hours a day do you do
“All day. I’ve been here since eight this morning. My feet are killing me. I’m done in an hour. Eight to six,” she laughed bitterly, “it’s a
full time job.”
“What are people like?” I wondered.
“Do they help you?”
She leaned back against a car,
taking the weight off her feet. The
bright blue light of the mercury vapor lamps made it easy to see her face. She didn’t look like an addict. She looked like a thirty five year old woman
trapped in the grip of circumstances beyond her control. She’s divorced. Her ex-husband’s vanished, not paying child support. She’s three months behind on the rent. Laid off from her job after twelve years of
loyal service to the firm. Unemployment
benefits are running out. Can’t find a
job anywhere. She’s desperate and she
wants her kids to have the things they’ve always had. Karate lessons. A music
teacher. Little by little she’s lost
the ability to provide, and must make some hard choices.
So…panhandling in supermarket
parking lots becomes an option, a desperate option that she takes with greatest
“About one person in ten is nice.”
she replied. “You can’t believe the
abuse I get out here. ‘What’s the
matter with you?’” she imitated a shrill pitiless voice, “‘Go get a job like a
decent person. Shame on you!’ Women are the worst, especially the ones of
a certain age, over forty five, fifty.
I don’t bother with the twenty-somethings. They’re just overgrown high school kids, they tell me to go fuck
myself. Excuse my language. And you know what? I stand up for myself. I
tell them they don’t know what’s going on in my life, they’re not qualified to
She paused as some unpleasant image
washed across her mind.
“Some of the men,” she said, “some
of the men, are…you know…they think I’m a hooker. They say the most disgusting things. I’ve got a radar for that type now, it works pretty well…what
would you call that, ‘Jerk-dar?’”
“Maybe ‘ass-illoscope’” I quipped,
not sure she would get the pun, if she knew the term ‘Oscilloscope’.
“Perfect!” She got the pun. “What
even better!” I affirmed. “There you
Her eyes shifted. A woman carrying groceries was loading her
car just down the row. She needed to
get back to work.
“Thank you,” she said with
sincerity. “I have to make every minute
“Go on,” I said, “Go back to work.”
She had to push herself away from
the car. She was bone tired. She didn’t know whether her next approach
would end in kindness or invective. Her
eyes thanked me for treating her like a human being.
With each passing week I expect to
see more of these parking lot beggars.
Begging is one of the hardest jobs
in the world.
This has everything to do with the
move of Fox and me from house to motor home. We were not forced to move out of
the house. True, It got too
expensive. We saw our resources
diminishing and a future where our age was going up as our income was going
down. We saw an economy edging towards
bankruptcy and we wanted OUT as quickly as possible, we wanted a way to reduce
our earthly footprint.
We WANTED to live in a motor
home! After the trip in Yertle, the
epic voyage to Arches National Park, the idea became more and more appealing.
We didn’t know whether or not it would work out. It was a tremendous risk.
Declaring bankruptcy was also a
tremendous risk. What if “they” came and took away our motor home? It was half in my name and half in
Fox’s. What if “they” took my camera,
my computer, my car? I didn’t know they
wouldn’t. I asked several lawyer
friends of mine, and they assured me that such things would not happen. I had no real assets. My possessions were exempt. I would be fine.
In spite of these reassurances, Fox
and I spent a nervous couple of months.
In 2005 there was a major change in
the laws regarding bankruptcy. These
changes tended to favor the card companies.
A bill was passed called The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer
Protection Act of 2005. I love that:
Consumer Protection Act. The ostensible
purpose of this act was to prevent people from racking up a lot of debt with
the intention of going bankrupt after spending oodles of the bank’s money. How is this protecting consumers? Give me a break. How many people do you know that are exploiting credit card
companies with the intention of defaulting?
One, two, a hundred? How many
have you heard about? Is it so common that an act of congress is required to
protect us from these unscrupulous spenders?
The real motive behind this Act is that the banks foresee a flood of
bankruptcies looming in the near future.
They want to be ready for this tsunami of debt, they want to get their
rich butts to higher ground so that when the bankruptcies mount into the
millions, they will be safe and capable of forcing debtors into losing the
pants they wear, the shoes they walk in.
I can see it now, America.
People walking around in blankets.
I hired a good lawyer. She was a little hobbit of a woman who wore
thick glasses and neat business suits.
I had the feeling that in court she was a cyclone, that her antagonists
quaked in terror when she opened her briefcase. She charged one fee, two thousand dollars, in advance. She always let me know what was happening,
she communicated with me regularly, instructed me in what to do and what not to
One of the stipulations of the new
law is that debtors must pass two courses in money management and credit
awareness. To this effect, a host of
companies have arisen to cater to the expanding market of bankruptcy
cases. The whole shebang is done
online, and it costs about three hundred dollars. The debtor must first pass a credit counseling course. The material in this course is not
difficult. The test is a
multiple-choice quiz with some pretty silly questions.
The questions go like this: “What is the correct way to use credit
Answer One: To buy cool things like cell phones, shoes
and car accessories.
Answer Two: To finance trips to Hawaii and Disneyland.
Answer Three: To be used as an occasional aid to pay
emergency expenses when cash is short.
Question: What is the best way to manage one’s credit
Answer One: Put off paying to the last minute.
Answer Two: Build up a lot of debt and make minimum
Answer Three: Pay off debt as it arises, maintaining the
lowest possible balance.
These courses are designed for the
average American genius. It’s a case of having questions reveal more than the
answers. What kind of people find these
questions challenging? My god, are we
in trouble, here in America? Is this what we’ve become? Consumer morons?
I am the American economy in
microcosm. I was encouraged, no, I was
seduced, into borrowing beyond my means.
Who am I? I am poor! I don’t feel poor, I live a great life, but
on paper, I am poor. Why would banks
lend me money? Yes, I am responsible for my debt. My greed is at fault. No
I was a frustrated man with no money
being treated to the most sophisticated sales technique on the planet. Borrow this money! We’re offering it to you, it’s easy, just apply online and we’ll
have your credit approved in five minutes.
Got it almost paid off? Here, we’ll lend you some more. We approve of you! You’re a good
person! We like you! Here’s five grand. You can pay it off any time you want, just make sure you meet
your minimum and we’ll get along great.
No one will call you, no letters will arrive. Gee, you know what? Our
records show that you have five credit cards, and owe a total of twenty thousand
dollars. That makes you a good credit
risk! You wouldn’t have all these cards
and owe all this money unless banks trusted you. Here, another ten grand in credit. Fine! Pay us back when
The credit counseling companies who
advertise so heavily on radio and television are flourishing. They will help
you pay down your debt! In fact, there
are reputable companies and disreputable companies. The business is predicated on the simple fact that many credit
banks are willing to let you pay off forty percent of your loan at a reduced
monthly rate. This is a fact. Almost all of your card debt can be
drastically reduced. The counseling
agency is there to do the paperwork, run interference for you, comfort you in
your distress. That’s what the honest
companies do. The dishonest ones will
have you send your payments directly to them.
They will take your money and do nothing. They will not pay your creditors. They will reassure you that all these harassing phone calls that
have begun are normal. Wait a couple of
months and they’ll die down. Don’t
worry, sir, the man with the generic foreign accent on the phone says, don’t
worry this is the normal procedure. We
have negotiated your credit to ten percent of what it was. We are paying your creditors, and in
eighteen months you will be free of debt!
Isn’t that wonderful?
I called one of these crooks. He wanted to start the program right away.
“I can sign you up right now, you can stop worrying about the letters and the
“How does it work?” I ask.
“It’s simple, “ he replies, “you
just make one monthly payment to our office and we’ll take care of the rest.”
“That sounds easy enough,” I say.
“Great, then you’re ready to start,”
responds the man.
“Don’t you need my application, some
paperwork?” I question.
“Oh no, that’s not necessary, just
give me your phone number, social security number and address and we’ll get
started on the paperwork right away.”
“Uhhh…I think I’ll wait on
that.” I hung up very quickly. I felt as if I had avoided a rattlesnake
I never got any letters or phone
calls. I made every monthly minimum
payment until my lawyer filed the papers.
Within three months, all my creditors had been notified, and there was
no point in calling me or harassing me.
I took, and passed, the two courses,
via the internet. I filled out a lot of
paperwork. I waited some months while
my lawyer did whatever it was that she did.
Then my hearing date was
scheduled. I was going to walk into a
room where it was possible that representatives of all my creditors would
confront me with my irresponsible behavior, accuse me of being a crook,
question me about purchases I had made three months before I filed for
bankruptcy. Why did you buy this lens
in August? When did you decide you were
going to file for Chapter Eleven? Did you know you were going to file when you
bought this lens? How many assets did
you transfer in the year before you filed?
What are you concealing from us?
Waiting outside the courtroom I was
nervous. My lawyer toddled up, looking
harmlessly fierce, like a rabbit with giant fangs. “Just answer the questions,” she advised. “Don’t add anything, don’t talk too much. It’ll be fine.”
The doors opened and I entered the
hearing room. Five or six other cases
were on the docket, so I sat in a folding chair with my fellow bankrupts, while
three trustees sat behind a semi-circular dais. A tape recorder was turned on.
The trustees didn’t look like
monsters. They looked kind of nice.
My case was first on
the docket. The blonde trustee swore me
in. Then she asked me two questions.
“Do you understand the implications
of your filing Chapter Eleven?”
“Yes, I do, ma’am.”
“Have you been truthful with the
trustee in your documentation?”
“Yes I have, ma’am.”
“Thank you very much, you will be
notified of your bankruptcy within sixty days.”
That was it. I walked out of the courtroom a free
man. It was a very happy day in my
life. I could return to my cozy motor
home and tell Fox that it was over.
Nobody was going to take anything away from us. Except my forty three thousand dollars in
America is, after all, a wonderful
country. The system needs a little
tweaking, but it is a wonderful country.