September 13, 2012

Debt, Your Health, and the Rest of Your Life

Posted in debt, Health, Recovery at 8:58 am by otherdeb


First off, I want to thank Turtle for calling to my attention that my comments were not working, and sitting on chat with me while I floundered my way through the instructions, fixed the issue, and checked all my posts so that comments are now functioning properly. The help and company was much appreciated!

I read an interesting post this week.  Melissa Batai of Mom’s Plans did a guest post on Glen Craig’s Free from Broke blog, “Did You Know Your Debt Can Hurt Your Health?”  In it she goes into some of the ways that being in debt saps your energy. I’ve been thinking about this subject on my own, because in addition to taking up my time and energy, I’ve found that being in debt also affects my moods and even my blood pressure.  It is one of the major causes of the comfort/frustration eating I have done over the years. In addition to the money I have spent trying to pay off debts, the stress of dealing with collection agencies and other creditors, and the frustration that all the progress I made a few years ago has eroded, it leaves me feeling hopeless and frightened.  There isn’t a day I spend that I don’t have some debt-related concern, from “Can I afford the groceries?” to “Can I afford to pick up a prescription?” to “Can I afford the bus fare to a free event?”  It often means I must make do with something that should have been replaced long ago because I simply cannot afford to replace it. And one of the things it means in my particular situation is that I am not able to move somewhere else; somewhere that I won’t have to wonder what stupid financial blunder my roommate will make that I will have to bail us out of in order to keep a roof over our heads, which is probably one of the most stressful things I have had to deal with over the last few years. So, the question arises of how I can reduce the impact on my health that my financial situation is causing.

The obvious answer is that I can pay down my debts, but the problem with that is that I am bringing in less money than I was a year ago.  I am throwing a large portion of what I do bring in at my bills, and they are going down, but this is a slow, long-term measure.

I can try to get moving more.  It’s fairly common knowledge that getting moving on a regular basis can improve moods, and general health. I can also start accepting that while I got myself into this hole, I will not be here forever.

And – perhaps most importantly – I can learn to be patient with myself and kind to myself, both of which are likely to go a long way towards helping me make better choices, since choices made while in panic usually turn out badly.

So, my questions for today are: What effects has debt had on your life, energy, and health?  What steps can you take to change this?

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4 Comments »

  1. Janet Wilson said,

    If I think of any steps to take, I’ll be happy to share them, but I’m sort of hoping to pick up some ideas from you. Mostly I’m discouraged by the thought of how long it’s going to take to get out of the hole, assuming I ever do (being retired and not noticeably employable)..

    • otherdeb said,

      Welcome to my little corner of the blogoshpere, Janet!

      I know exactly what you mean. And, in truth, getting discouraged is about the worst thing you can do, because that tends to make you want to do some retail therapy.

      One of my favorite tips, these days, involves my reading matter (I am an omnivorous reader). I make regular use of my library and its reserve system, and of the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Overdrive, and Adobe Digital Editions applications, to read books on my phone and computer. Amazon.com has a ton of free books to download on just about any subject imaginable. For the few books I do buy, I save up Amazon gift codes from various places — survey sites, and doing online beta testing for a site called Brainbench.

      Another thing I have found useful on occasion is to let an account go to collection. Yes, it shows up on my credit report, but there are some retailers who change their word every time you talk to them, and who refuse to reduce your interest or waive fees if you agree to a plan with them, which you often cannot do because they want a minimum payment that is more than you take in each month. In that case, the collection agency will often make an agreement for an amount you can afford, and work out a plan where you can check with them every few months as you pay down the debt, so that when it does reach a level that you can pay it off in one or two payments you can make an arrangement to do so.

      One reason I am doing this blog is so that my readers and I can share what we have learned along the way, so feel free to comment. I make no bones about being in the process myself, and find that sharing what I’ve learned (and listening to what others have learned) is one of the best ways to keep from feeling hopeless and discouraged.

  2. Jenna Phillips said,

    Dear Deb,
    I am enjoying the information you share here about debt and the fears one can experience. I would like to know your opinions and advice about Junk Debt collection letters. Should or how one should respond to the intimidating letters. Some do not even seem legitimate.
    Thank you,
    Jenna

    • otherdeb said,

      Hi Jenna, and welcome to my blog.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Junk Debt collection letters.” Also, you say some don’t even seem legitimate.

      The first thing you should do when you get an intimidating letter from a collection agency is to put it down after reading, and take a deep breath. Maybe get a nice warm cup of tea or coffee. I’m not being facetious. Often, collection agencies – not the really professional ones, by the way – count on you panicking. Then when you are calmer, reread the letter. Make sure it contains the name of the original creditor, the account number you had with them, and the amount of the debt.

      Next comes checking it against your credit report. In the United States, you are allowed to pull all three major credit reports FOR FREE once a year. (If you have not done so, you can go to annualcreditreport.com and do so. It’s an important resource, and well worth the paper you print the reports out on. I do this religiously, and it’s saved me from unscrupulous debt collectors more than once.)

      If the debt is legitimate, you can call the debt collector and calmly work out a payment plan, unless you are at the point where the debt is about to expire. In that case, you should not call them, because if you call and agree to a plan it will restart the time the statute of limitations on that debt has to run. If, however, you have paid the debt, you can send them a letter saying that the debt in question was paid off on such and so date, so please check with the original creditor.

      One thing to note: Sometimes, an agency will be old debts by another agency, and will not have been given information about payments you have made. In this case, it gets trickier to handle, because, if you have made payments by automatic withdrawals (or other “pay by phone” arrangements, you will have to get either printed bank statements showing the payments, or a list from the previous agency of the payments you made. In this situation, it is especially wise to do all communications via Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.

      In fact, if you are disputing anything with a collection agency, I would highly recommend using Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.

      Above all, remain calm. If you can maintain a sense of perspective, it will serve you well, especially if a collection agent tries to intimidate you on the phone. More than once I have told agents who have threatened to ruin my credit that, “if my credit was good, do you think you’d be calling me?”

      I hope the above is helpful. Please let me know how you fare in dealing with this, Jenna!


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