01 July 2009

I can no longer pay my stupid tax

Once in Indianapolis, my dog Pixie flew out of the Jeep and dashed across five lanes of traffic. She made it across four of them, then was rolled by a van and tossed onto a strip of grass by the road.

I could do absolutely nothing but scream and grab my head. I thought my little girl was going to be squashed on the road right in front of my eyes. My vision went completely away for a moment, and I could not get my breath. My knees buckled. I thought I was going to faint.

Fortunately, Pixie was only stunned, and her confusion kept her sitting there on the grass until I got across the road and picked her up. Miraculously, nothing at all was wrong with her. I was in worse shape than she was.

I had a worse shock than that yesterday when I opened my mail.

My vision grew blurry. I had trouble catching my breath, as if I had run a long way. Cold needles flew into my scalp, and my head tightened up until it was the size of a coconut. My heart pounded, and I started to sway and grope for the back of a chair to steady myself. I felt as though I might feel a little better if I took a two-by-four and hit myself repeatedly over the head.

The interest rate on two of my credit cards had risen from 4.99 percent to 22 and 27 percent. If I didn't like that, the small print informed me, I could pay the total balance and go on my merry way.

Oh, right. If I could write a check for the balance, why would I be carrying it at all?

I recently read an article, in Newsweek I think, that warned that credit card companies were poised to raise rates across the board on people who were faithfully paying their bills. These loyal customers would have to bear the burden of all those who have defaulted on their accounts.

I just never thought that it would happen to me. Because if it did, it would be terribly unfair. I follow the rules. I pay my bills. I intend to pay everything I owe. And I hate unfairness.

Okay. Like a lot of other idiots, I charged while the charging was good. While changing jobs, being out of work, freelancing when I could, getting a divorce, and moving residences, I took credit where I could get it. I got offers in the mail every week. The fear of grand mal failure made me vow not to think of it until later. When I had a steady income again. When I could afford to live within my means again.

If I could just keep all the bills in the air, juggling, juggling, secretly juggling and throwing up when the queasy stomach got to be too much. I couldn't talk to anyone else about it. It was my dirty little secret, as if I had run up a big bill for internet porn or bought five hundred pairs of shoes I didn't need.

I was raised to save money until I could afford what I want. To pay cash or not buy. I didn't forget that lesson, but I pushed it far into the back of my mind. Charging items such as hospital bills, groceries, medications, and other essentials left me a heftly little bundle to repay.

I got through the rough patch and got a decent job and took stock. The picture was not rosy. Handling money has always made me queasy. Growing up poor made me leary of running short. Not having what I need. Now I was going to have to learn how to manage because l was not going to be saved by lottery or white knight.

I made a strict budget and followed it for three years, paying off thousands of the dollars I owed. The total amount wasn't equal to my student loans, and I had payed them off easily in ten years. I set a goal of five years to pay off my stupidity.

I never once thought that I wouldn't have to pay the bills I incurred, but I was naive enough to think that transferring a balance was an honest business deal. I really thought that some regulatory or government agency forced companies to behave ethically. I did not have a clue about the slow-mailing, due-date-changing tricks credit card companies can use to trip you up. And sure, I read the fine print about how they can bend you over and screw you real slowly at their own convenience. I just couldn't believe they would do something that unfair.

They act as though they don't really want me to be able to pay my bills. Do they actually prefer to see me default on my obligations? They have pushed me right up to the brink of bankruptcy, and at my age that would ruin my finances for the rest of my life.

I've already lost investments - who knows how much; I'm not even looking at that. I don't own a house because I have been trying like hell to live within my means. I have not received a raise for two years because the university I work for is as strapped as I am. I drive a car that doesn't even belong to me, and if I didn't, I'd ride a bike because I can't afford to own a car and probably couldn't get a loan if I asked for one.

My mom used to say: Who ever said life was fair? No one promised it; I just hate being forced into a situation where I'm being hurt and I have no choice but to bear it.

It's been 24 hours since I opened that mail, and I haven't stopped shaking yet. I think my heart is beating irregularly. I have thrown up and sweated and yelled while I was telling the story to my boyfriend. And I can't see my way out of this fog.

I have read that you can sometimes negotiate with the credit card companies, but I can't call them until I know I'm not going to break down in tears or open my toolbox full of creative and ridiculously pointed curses and talk like a jerk. After all, the person I get on the phone will just be some poor peon who had nothing to do with setting their company's policy.

I'm completely fucked.


KitCameo said...

The horror! The very same thing is about to happen to me. I got one of those messages in the mail too, but it was about a card that was empty, luckily. I wish you the best of luck, and I'll be praying for you.

Lydia said...

No, you're not. Let's just start there. My heart hurts reading this. I feel your fear. I've missed you the last few days and now I know why. I got all the same letters.

I will help you if I can. I know not many tricks, but a few.

Don't cry, don't let your heart beat irregularly. Focus on all the things that were the same as they were yesterday until some calm comes in.

Even though you wouldn't like it, I would hug you right now if you were here and I would try to make you laugh.



The Mother Tongue said...

Breathe. Breathe.

Is there a rule I don't know about that says you can't transfer the balance again to a lower interest card? It's not ideal, but that could at least hold off things for a while.

Also, and hand to Jesus, I am not a spammer, but if you look into a balance transfer, give the BB&T Platinum a look. A few years ago I was in a similar situation: broke and with a suddenly bumped up interest rate.

The BB&T card came up as the top ranked card on creditcards.com (card comparison site) when I searched for a card that would be good for transferring a balance.

I mean, run your own search and all, because there very well might be a better one available in your state. But the BB&T card has been great to me, and I put some poor CSR through hell before I signed up, asked her literally three pages of questions I had written down in an effort to not get tripped up with fine-print crap, lol.

Anyhow, I hope that helps. In the meantime though, just take a deep breath.

Evil Twin's Wife said...

If things look really bleak, look in the yellow pages for Consumer Credit Counseling Services. (don't fall for any of those who advertise on TV: SCAMS). CCCS is a federally funded program and it can help you! We did it years ago, paid off $$$$ of dollars in a short time period and have moved on - lived and learned. Feel free to email me if you want more information or just need an ear.

Jayne said...

you absolutely can call the credit card companies and give them hell- my boyfriend did and was able to negotiate them back down. They figure most people don't even read the fine print and just pay bills automatically. These companies are not doing this because they are strapped for cash from all the people who default. Their whole system is set up so that they prefer customers who are not responsible. Yes, you will get someone on the phone who did not make this rule- but you can't let your pity for them stop you from standing up for yourself against the credit card companies. You can say something like "this is not about you, but I am extremely upset/angry about xyz." that way you can express your anger with separation from the person who has that crappy job. Laws are currently being passed against this bs.
Sorry- this kind of stuff gets me very riled. I am so sorry you are suffering right now...and when you are able to- pick up the phone. I completely understand, as I just had to fight with an investment company that messed up an account & tried to pin it back on me- it sucked, I was shaking and trying to keep from crying ( I do this when I get angry)... and I spent a whole week obsessing and fighting with them to get my money back. Was it worth all of the energy expenditure for money? don't know, but it was my son's college money. which hit a major trigger.

Squeaky wheel. They don't like you, but you get what you need. And sometimes it has to be done.

You can do it!

Jayne said...

oh, and I am sending you the warmest of wishes and luck!

Nicola said...

OMG - That stinks! I truly hope that you can sort it out. Keep calm.
Nicola x

powdergirl said...

Oh no, Jesus, that sounds brutally unfair.
I don't do credit cards so I can't say that I can relate but I'm feeling your fear over here and it's bad.
You gotta keep breathing though, and ETW's advice sounds real good, I'd look into it if I were you.
Good luck my friend, and don't forget the calming power of a good brisk walk.

SugarCain said...

Okay. So I'm not completely fucked.

Deep breath.

I've passed whiny and moved on to mad. I think that will stand me in better stead than fear.


So I have a plan.

Deep breath.

I thank every one of you for shoring me up when I needed it.

More on this later.