Even the word itself looks, reads and sounds ugly. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about it enough. But actually, a lot more people are going through it than we care to admit, and even though in the midst of the madness it sure can feel like it…it’s not the end of the world. And by that, I don’t mean you’ll lose your house, your car and all of your other worldly possessions but you’ll still be alive. It literally means it’s not as bad as we may catastrophise.
I’m not going to NOT take responsibility for my own poor money management decisions, but I have to acknowledge the fact that I, amongst many others, were not taught financial literacy through education, OR our parents. But our upbringing, and the things we’ve seen growing up re going to play a part in our own decision making as adults, whether it’s deterring from our parents previous mistakes, or blindly making the same ones. I know that my parents worked really hard, however they came to this country not understanding what a credit card was, or credit for that matter. It almost seemed like free money! They also taught me never to open the door for strangers, especially when we were not expecting anyone. Funny how these two things in particular came back to haunt me as a grown woman.
Beginning University, I had just set up my first bank account as I previously did not have one. I always used cash before I turned 18, and contactless didn’t quite exist just yet. Even online banking at this point was still a new concept, I remember this because Santander didn’t have an (English) online banking app for quite some time. But having a card that I could use to access my student loan felt good. Great, even. And when that first loan dropped, I did not have the foggiest clue what one does with that kind of money. But that wasn’t all. The REAL shocker was the overdraft, which started at £250, and was increased to £1000 in six months without my own request. Looking back, I understand what this was setting me up for, never having had access to such amounts of money previously. But back then, it just looked like free money….that a broke student like myself was more than happy to accept with open arms.
Nobody really bothers you about your overdraft, or the debt you rack up whist at university because they know you’re not really earning any real money. The reality only hits when you’re back home, and you start earning again. The warnings about the interest rate on your overdraft start creeping in after about a year of ending your official student status. HMRC are ready and waiting for you to earn a penny over the threshold to start taking their money back for your student loan and tuition fees (which, in reality for a lot of graduates, they will never fully pay off). And so long as you remain employed, it shouldn’t be an issue. So long as you’re making enough to survive and give them what you borrowed, everything should be cool, no?
So what happens when things go wrong?
Life circumstances, heartbreak, redundancy, relocation, health and many other factors can have a direct impact on your ability to keep up with your monthly commitments. For me, it was going back to school and giving up my full time job. I was still living out of my overdraft, which had increased to £2000 by the time I had left university which I could never quite get myself to clear. Nobody was chasing me down for it so why bother? There were so many other things to take care of. I was reassured by my family that I would be supported, which they were but I was aware that things were going to be very different, which they were. But I did not start as I meant to go on, and had put myself in a very good position for things to go horribly wrong, which they did. I didn’t arrange with any of my commitments/responsibilities to lower my outgoing payments. I didn’t inform anybody of my change in circumstances. I just hoped for the best, until the calls started coming in.
Anyone who has been in debt before knows about ignoring phone calls. It became very much like not opening the door for strangers. If I didn’t recognise the number, I wasn’t going to answer it. But the calls became persistent and relentless. But just like I was taught when I was younger, if I don’t open the door for conversation, they can’t take anything from me. And so, I continued this same childish habit that I was taught. Then came the warning letters.
Some people take a pro-active stance towards issues. Being honest and open about your situation is really the only way to work through your debt. But when you’re avoiding calls, emails and letters it can literally feel like they are out to get you. Feeling “chased” by debt is a very unpleasant feeling, especially as a young person. At an age where you are meant to be carefree, spending without thinking too much and living your best life, you feel like a black cloud is constantly following you everywhere you go. It can even make you feel shameful, as nobody wants to be broke, and worse yet nobody wants to TALK about being broke. I wish I’d have known before bruising my credit score how much easier it would have been if I’d have just talked SOONER.
Finally turning my warning letters over and looking at the back page led me to some information about a charity called StepChange. I called them on a day that I was truly fed up of people hunting me down and explained my situation. I didn’t want anyone coming to my door, better yet my MOTHER’S door, barging in and taking things for the value of my debt. That was truly my fear. That was the same reason my parents told me never to open the door for strangers, to not let the bailiffs in. StepChange did me the honour of explaining that debt companies are not like the way they used to be, and will not ask you for more than you can afford. They explained a range of options to me, including a plan where I can ask my debtors to pause my account whilst I am currently unemployed for up to six months! They even offered to make a plan for me where THEY contact all of my debtors, and arrange a plan and all the communication happens directly between the debtor and the charity. That sounded like good news to my ears, because just seeing these phone numbers (many of which I had memorised and blocked by this point) gave me heightened feelings of anxiety.
They encouraged me to actually TALK to them myself, which I was originally quite reluctant to do. I was so surprised by how understanding of this they were and explained that many people feel this way. When I did eventually pluck up the courage to talk to the various debt collectors who were ringing me down (only after securing a part time job a few months later), all of them told me they would not take any money from me unless they were SATISFIED that I could cover my own living expenses and had arranged to pay off the most important debt that I owed. I can’t believe how much damage I had caused to my credit, and how much stress I had caused myself by burying my head under the sand in a crisis as opposed to just talking to somebody that could have helped.
What I learned, and am continuing to learn from this experience is:
TALK TO SOMEONE!
I will always sing about StepChange as they came through at a time when I thought I was truly going to lose it. They reassured me that no one was going to come and take my mama’s sofa for my downfalls. They let me know that it won’t be this way forever, and that there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. I am still working my way out of the black hole, but I am so happy because now I know that there really is a way out. And if this piece hits close to home, there’s a way out for you too.
Broke but still boujee 💅🏾
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