Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thrilled to Pay the Piper

Courtesy of LOLCats
I love paying bills. I get particular pleasure mid-month when I clean out the household bills. There have been too many times when I haven't been able to pay when I've been out of work or out of sorts or simply having a bad run of it all at the same time. I know what it's like to dread the phone ringing and stare at the ceiling worrying throughout the night. Finally, there came a time when I had to make a conscious decision not to be afraid of any of it anymore but to answer the phone and open the mail and deal with it. It was tough and it was challenging but damn if a piece of paper was going to make me quake. 
It makes being able to pay things off now all the sweeter. For the first time, and I knock hardily on wood praying I don't jinx myself with this statement, there's more than only a flicker of dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday, I paid off an outstanding medical bill that vexed me on several points (do not get me started on the abysmal changes to our health insurance options that my company implemented for the year). The sheer joy of knowing that it's off my ample chest is almost indescribable. It's a real feeling of accomplishment, on a slightly smaller level than when I paid off my first car. Earlier this year, I finished paying off the bed I'd bought in 2009. Those were two debt goals I had this year and they've been reached earlier than I had originally planned. Whee!

As with other flawed decisions his administration has made (cough healthcare cough), the changes Obama has made to how credit cards determine payments has caused more day-to-day harm than good, certainly it did in my situation. I have two outstanding bank credit cards (which I have long since closed) that have large balances due to being out of work for an extended period of time in the early 00s, a time when my mother's physical disability kicked in full throttle. There was a lot of charging going on for nearly three years mostly on extracurricular things like food and gas and medication. I never once missed a payment or was delinquent in any way and I'm pretty damn proud of that. I am absolutely pathological about my credit rating and bust my butt to keep it pristine, even in the worst of times. This is why I've avoided using a consumer credit company all these years. While it can be incredibly helpful and beneficial, I wanted to wait until it was absolutely necessary so as not to ding my credit rating. 

This year, with the Obama changes, minimum due amounts are now being determined by taking 1% of the overall balance and adding the finance charge to it. The goal here is good: help consumers pay down more of the principal balance faster rather than have finance charges eat up nearly all of their monthly payments. Unfortunately, this "new math" increases the monthly amount due considerably and, for someone like me with a healthy balance on not one but two cards (they were really bad years), well, let's just say that the shriek I let out when I saw the amounts was matched only by the speed at which my hands began to shake.

I made a frantic phone call to the credit card company, (it took several tries – see shaking hands), and here's where the sun began to shine. After only one telephone transfer and a lengthy discussion with an extremely helpful advisor, I was able to lock in a plan on both cards that will see them paid off completely in five years (now four and a half. Yes I am counting, wouldn't you?). My finance rate and minimum due will never, ever change again. Pristine credit rate, baby. It pays off in spades.

Five years!! That's nothing compared with the 90 I was looking at instead. And while my minimum due did increase on one card, the other was reduced so that the overall increase was only $20/month. Now, I look forward to making those mid-month payments, and I won't lie to you, there's a little zing when I do it too. Sisyphus can keep his damn rock; I've got an end date.

Don't mistake me, it ain't all roses and champagne – I've got more. As of this moment, there's a pesky retail card in my targeted sights that should be paid off by March 2011 and another outstanding medical bill that I plan to subjugate beneath the heel of my check card within the next year. But anyone who's ever struggled with debt and money management, which I suspect would be most of the known world, knows how satisfying it is to come out on the other side, to diligently chip away at an at times overwhelming balance and finally see that fidelity bear fruit.

Undoubtedly, some new catastrophe will whack me over the head soon (that does seem to be the pattern) but today I'm going to revel in one less payment to make and look forward to the next time I'll get that thrill again. The beat does go on, but these days, it's marching to my tune and that tune is cracking.

Postscript: It's been said before, but let me reiterate that they are several solutions for debt relief. I strongly encourage anyone in a similar situation to mine to contact your credit card companies and discuss your options. You never know what they might be able to do for you. Be honest, stay true to whatever arrangement you make, and good things can happen. Really.


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