I Hear You Calling

Back in the nineties when the credit offers flowed like wine, I was a lowly college student. I had a part-time retail job and a dorm room and an eight year old car with only a small amount of rust on the trunk. But, to lenders I was an irresistible target. Like the rest of my classmates, I would fill out a credit card application for a free 2 liter of Diet Coke, a pizza coupon, a water bottle, or a beach towel. At eighteen, having plastic all my own seemed like the next step to adulthood, where money would rain down from heaven. I got a nice collection going. Then I promptly bought the nicest Christmas gifts anyone would ever receive from me – maxed them all out.

It turns out, as I later learned the hard way, credit card companies like when you pay them back for all those gifts. And if you don’t, they like to stay in touch. Daily. And in the days before cell phones, they liked to leave pseudo-threatening sounding voicemail on college student answering machines.

Today’s 30 days of truth post is “someone who made your life hell.” This dedication goes out to you, credit card collection companies. It’s a late night dedication on my own personal college radio station -USUCK.

Truth- I owed them the money. Truth- if I had zero knowledge about how credit and interest rates worked, I had no business having so many cards. Truth- you knew that. An 18 year old with no established credit was only a good risk because I had parents that you hoped would want to keep me out of trouble by paying the bills. You see, however, later that year my dad got laid off. So those daily calls where you asked if there was someone who could help me out? Just delightful reminders that no, no one could. I had dug myself in deep and I was going to have to dig out on my own.

Also, my roommates adored the phone’s constant ringing in the days before caller i.d. Really. It made me increasingly popular every time an angry sounding collection rep insisted they take down an 800 number and make me call them back. Or asked them about my finances. Or gave a law offices’ name, even though the collections part of the business had nothing to do with the attorney except in name. Explaining that I was a student making minimum wage with a jillion dollars in credit card debt did nothing to slow down the calls. Or letters.

It took me years to dig out from all the pizza charges and new clothes that I bought the year I turned eighteen. I still rarely carry more than $500 debt at a time (with the exception of my student loans… which is another matter entirely).  But you, hostile reps who thought that fear and intimidation was the best way to get blood from a turnip, you made my life hell for years there. You had a job to do. I get it. But even tears on the other end of the phone didn’t end your harsh tactics. You just called back the next day.

So, thank you for your maniacal professionalism. Thank you for making sure I learned my lesson. Thank you for those years of law school where I learned all the right numbers to report harassment from bill collectors and that I had the right to ask to be dealt with by mail. I ran up my own charges and ruined my credit for years. You were just the mean icing on that very expensive cupcake.



Filed under Soul Searching

5 responses to “I Hear You Calling

  1. That totally sucks. I’m definitely going to do with my (someday) kids what my dad did for me: he signed me up for my own card when I was 16 and required that I pay it off in full, or I couldn’t use it. Granted, I nearly had panic attacks every month, worrying whether or not I’d accidentally run up too much, but I somehow paid it off each month, and I’ve only ever had to pay interest on my purchases once.

  2. Now, at least at my state college, they sit us down and tell us horror stories like these during freshman orientation! Of course I still get tons of offers, even from my bank…(hey bank, if you weren’t paying attention, I have about $67 inside of you). Nuts.

  3. jiveturkey

    Man, I get so mad when I see all those free pizza & t-shirt credit card tables set up around Oakland at the beginning of the school year. Stop luring in college students! Everyone knows they are the worst decisionmakers on the planet! (Which, of course, is why they target them. Assholes.)

    I didn’t have a bad experience with credit cards until after college when we moved to NYC & had to front a massive apartment deposits & broker fee. That began a horrendous cycle of debt (hello, buying groceries on credit cards) that we are still paying off 7+ years later. Blergh.

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