Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dealing with creditors

I have a lot of creditors. It's not for material things or credit cards. It's medical debt. It's services I had to accept in the moment to survive, and services for which I simply cannot pay on the other side. It's irresponsible. I get that. I don't like that it's this way, but it's the way it's got to be for now. That bill for the additional lab work? Yeah... I'm not paying that. Okay, send it to collections. Okay, put it on my credit report. Okay, lower my credit score. Okay, blow up my phone. I understand these are the consequences. But the answer is very simple: you can't get blood out of a turnip.

I talked to a very nice young man the other day. He was a creditor. He called me up and was all ready to do his spiel: "Now we'd like to arrange a payment plan because otherwise this is going to affect your credit score..." I always have to restrain myself from giggling at this point. If he knew my credit score, he wouldn't even bother with the threat. My credit score had been in the toilet since my three night hospital stay in 2003. I wouldn't be surprised if it's single digits. I am a walking money pit. I'll own that, no problem.

So I let him talk and then very calmly explained: "Look, I'm sorry. I know this is your job, but I can't pay this. Do whatever you need to do. I'm waiting for someone to sue me and take me bankruptcy court, that way I don't incur the court costs for filing for bankruptcy. I'm disabled and have been since 2002. I got nothin'." I've found that the hostility and gruff quickly falls away when I own the situation and acknowledge it's bad.

There's no point in trying to hide or lie or evade. Yes, I owe the money. If I can repay it someday, I will. Now is not that time. If I were to go before a judge, they'd look at my creditors and say, "Sorry, Charlie... there is nothing to take from her. We can't force her to starve. We can't force her to be without life-sustaining medication. We can't force her into hardship. You're going to have to eat this one." And then for my part, I have to wear the stigma of bankruptcy until such time that I can prove I've gotten my life back together and am responsible again. That's fair.

I already have to balance the cost of vital things like medication and food. I have to be very careful to make sure I can afford things like my Neurontin, because skipping a few days means seizures. I will bother other people to afford my prednisone. That keeps me alive. What I try to do is live within my limited means. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes my disease screws me up. I am doing the best I can with what I've got. I'm trying to improve on what I've got so that I'm making progress. No more can be asked of me.

And human beings understand that. When a new unknown number pops up on my caller ID, I know what it's for, usually. Sometimes it's a wrong number. Sometimes it's a computer sweepstakes. Mostly, it's bill collectors. I talk to them the first time and let them know the situation so they can have it on file. Then I add their number to a long list of "Ignore" in my phone with the ringer set to mute. I don't ever need to be upset by this. There's no need to panic. There's no need to run. Mia culpa... let's move on.

As I said, the young man was very nice. He quickly changed his tune when I explained the situation. He did very well to explain his part in the process (which includes putting me in the cue for the computer calls at random times). He too was sorry it had to be this way. I told him that I understood he was just doing his job, and that it was all good. We wished each other happy holidays, and that was that. No big deal.

That's how I've learned to deal with creditors.

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