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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My neighbor's alarm went off in the middle of the night

Guest post from: Natalie Walter

There is really nothing more alarming than being suddenly jarred awake in the middle of the night by a screeching siren outside your house. I was talking to my neighbor recently and she was telling me about the ADT Security packages that she was looking into but I didn’t know that they had recently gotten a system installed on their home. Evidently their son who was away at college was unaware of that fact as well. He had a hard weekat school and decided to drive home in the middle of the night and let himself in the house as usual only this time he set off the alarm and woke up half the neighborhood in the process. I found out the next morning that he scared his parents half to death because they thought he was an intruder. I think it scared him half to death too because he was trying to sneak in all quietly to keep from waking up the dog and his parents and instead he woke up them and everyone within a ten mile radius of the house.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Collection Harassment and the Single Parent

During that period of time when I was raising my three youngest children alone, going to school full time, and working three part time jobs, I still couldn't afford to pay my bills. Every month I played the "what bill shall I pay this month?" game. And what that meant was taking a look at my checkbook, finding out who got paid most recently, and then paying the one(s) who hadn't recently received payment. More than a few creditors lost out on getting paid each month.

Calling my creditors to get some relief in lowering my payments helped in some cases, but most creditors were not so understanding. I frequently received harassing phone calls, and it got to the point that I was afraid to answer my phone. They were relentless. "When do you think you'll be able to make a payment?" Never.

What I wanted to say was, "Well, you are number 34, so maybe next month." While that was the truth, I actually said something like, "I'm really sorry. When my refrigerator broke, I had to get a new one and when my car broke down three times, because the dealership sold me a lemon, I had to pay for repairs. When my furnace broke, I had to get a new one of those too, and I just don't make that much money." 

With everything breaking (cars numerous times), I felt as if I had a bad luck cloud following me wherever I went, and creditors were steering it. Keeping up with the bills was impossible, and for some reason, I couldn't get my kids to stop growing. My expenses outweighed my income by about $500 a month. By the time I divided my income into easily payable amounts, some creditors received only about $10 a month. I apologized – again and again. But it was all I could afford to pay. I really tried to pay for everything, but the harassing phone calls continued – until I claimed bankruptcy, and believe me, I was not happy about claiming bankruptcy.

Over the years, one car after another broke down. The problems were never simple fixes – they were engines and transmissions. One time one of the cars literally blew up. Fortunately nobody was in it at the time.

That was in the 1980s and 1990s. Recently I had to get my roof fixed. The vent caps were leaking and it was causing mold to form on my ceiling. It was not something I could afford, but I could also not afford to let it go, because I'm highly allergic to mold. 

When I asked the contractors if they could work out a deal with me, because I had a limited income, they said yes. I should have been more specific. They had no idea I could afford so little, but by the time we worked it out, the ceiling and roof were already fixed. Fortunately, though I'm sending them only $25 a month until the $1,000 deductible is paid, they are not complaining. 

However, the State of Illinois IS complaining. When I got cancer in 2009, I was providing daycare and making very little money. I also provided daycare in 2008 and made even less. However, I somehow managed to rack up a $1,000 bill (half of which was attorney fees) to the state of Illinois and they want their money – NOW – for 2008 and 2009. 

I know why. The financial state of Illinois is dismal and Illinois is desperate. They won't go after the big corporations. They come after the little people who make nearly nothing – people like me. That's the kind of sense Illinois makes. But actually, the State of Illinois isn't coming after me anymore. When I forgot to make one payment during those months when chemo wiped me out, without notice, I was turned over to collections. 

Without notice, an attorney for the State of Illinois suddenly started forcing me to pay more than I could afford to pay. Though I pay the state (through this attorney who doubled what I owed the state) $10 a month – consistently – and though I can't afford $10 a month, I pay them $10 a month anyway – consistently. I want to scream, "STOP HARASSING ME!"  But it's pointless to argue or to complain. I honestly cannot pay more than $10 a month. Sorry, Illinois, that's all you're getting. End of story.

I continue to pay all of my bills, despite the fact that things break on me all the time still. Yesterday, for instance, as I was filling my daughter's air mattress (my daughter and two of her sons moved in with me), the electric pump broke. After the pump broke, two portable closets broke, and in the midst of trying to get the horrid things together, before we realized they were worthless, my washing machine broke. For several months to come, we will be washing clothes by hand and using my battery operated pump to fill the air mattresses. Without enough closets to hang things, clothes will have to remain folded on the floor.

Despite my piling bills, those creditors WILL be paid. Maybe not quickly, maybe not in amounts creditors want me to pay, but I AM paying my bills. I am also still getting harassed by the attorney who was hired by the State of Illinois to harass me. Even though he knew my financial circumstances when he contacted me, because I shared with him my income and my expenses, even though he initially accepted $10 a month, he now wants me to pay hundreds of dollars more. 

I know that people everywhere are suffering from these kinds of calls. Stop collection harassment California! Stop collection harassment Maine! Stop collection harassment Illinois! STOP collection harassment everywhere! Like so many people who have to deal with harassing phone calls, I just want to stop collection harassment for good. I know what I should do, because I've learned that the only way to stop creditors from making harassing phone calls is to get an attorney; however it appears I will have to stay away from those who also work in collections.

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