Sometimes all the calls for bill collection get a bit demeaning


A scene from my morning, 10:00 am. I’ve had a late morning (no babysitting) and am groggily getting ready to head down to campus for a special seminar. The phone rings. I answer it.

Automated voice: Please hold for an important message. I sigh, realizing this is probably another call about an unpaid bill that is past due. The automated message repeats.

Shortly, the message is interrupted and a real human comes on the line. Here goes, I think, which bill collector is it this time?

“Hi, I’m so-and-so from favorite-clothing-store credit card company.

Oh great, I think, I just had this conversation two days ago. The last person warned me that because I couldn’t give them a date, I’d keep getting calls. I have no new information about when Husband’s check will arrive than I did two days ago, so I am unable to say anything new, but it is of course a different person who did not hear my explanation from last time. I have enough crap to do and I have to get out to be on time for the seminar. I don’t have time for this.

“Oh, hi,” I say. “Listen, I know you’re calling about my bill payment, but I don’t have any way of paying it right now and I don’t know exactly when I will have the money to pay it because my husband works freelance and the checks don’t come on any regular schedule. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing new I can tell you guys,” I say, all rather quickly and breathlessly.

“Ok, so I’m going to have to make a note that you are refusing to pay,” she says back.

Excuse me? REFUSING? This is not a choice. “I don’t know why you call it refusing, I’m UNABLE to pay,” I tell her, irritated.

I don’t even remember what she said after that except that it wasn’t “Oh, I understand, I’ll just make a note not to call you back for another week and that you are aware of the situation.” What I do remember is that she said something short and terse, and I said “Ok, thanks, bye.”

So what? Was I supposed to have a patient conversation with the credit card company phone operator every time they call me every 2-3 days asking if they can set up a payment, telling me that I’ve missed some, and informing me that they will need to report this to the credit report agencies. They always say it like they think it’s some sort of threat, and I’m supposed to just go “Oh, well then. You know I was just hiding that extra money to buy candy and toys, but now I’ll give it to you guys instead.” Right.

Lately every call from every bill collector is a lovely story where they try to explain to me how bad it is that I haven’t paid and how it will hurt my credit and they’re going to close the account/cut off the electricity/shut off the phone service and all this stuff like I’ll just respond merrily with with “Oh, I was just testing you guys to see what you would do” and cheerfully hand over the money. I just want to scream at them “I’m aware! I know of the consequences! There’s nothing I can do, and I mean it! It’s hard enough to deal with all this as it is, I don’t need you to remind me every day with phone calls all the problems that are just growing!”

Why must they do this? When I say I can’t pay it right now, I mean it. I mean I can’t pay it, because we can barely buy groceries and eat balanced meals, and it was a challenge to keep them from cutting off the electricity, and now they’re gonna shut off the cell phones, and each time one of these goes unpaid too long we get so many fees and penalties that even when we get the money to pay what we would have we are buried in more things owed, and that precious, anxiously-waited-for paycheck for Husband stretches over even smaller amounts.

As husband said, it felt like we got a breath of fresh air, about two weeks ago when he got a check for $1000, but we had so many overdue bills and all that the brief comfort afforded by that was so very brief, just enough to gasp for air, and then the following monday it was like we were just pushed back under, someone holding our heads below water and we just get to come up for air every once in a while but mostly we’re just under the water, holding our breaths, sputtering and flailing and fighting to get back up but only to be pushed back down again when we’ve been afforded that brief moment of a breath of air.

It’s been over a month now of living like this, and things are really no better, but I’m maybe getting used to it. Except it’s not really used to it, it’s just used to that run-down feeling, used to being so tired and out of energy and not even being able to replenish with balanced meals with fruits and vegetables and protein and lots of healthy nutrients. I’m tired and hungry and now I’m sick too; I saw the doctor yesterday for an annual and she seemed to think my cold was pretty strong, and I have an infection too, the type that you get most when you’re stressed out and your immune system is weakened. I think my body is telling me that this isn’t working.

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