There was a time when I was floating near the top of the other 99%. My student loans were paid off. Other than my mortgage, I had no debts. My credit score was just short of 800, and I could stroll into nearly any shop or restaurant and charge it, then pay the full price 25 days later without ever giving it a thought.
Then I had kids. A divorce. Studios started paying tv sound editors five days of pay per show instead of six. The television season shrunk and fewer union films were being made. Overtime dried up. I remarried, and we bought a fixer upper near the top of the market and took out a second mortgage at the peak to start repairs. I went back to school for a second master’s degree while my new husband earned his MBA and started on his PhD. We had a baby. A year later, the writers’ strike brought the entertainment industry to its knees. And then the final nail in the coffin: the housing bubble burst.
It all sounds like some bad made-for-tv movie from the 1970’s, but instead of being a woman in peril running from my wife-beating husband or recreational drugs gone bad, I was trying to escape from something much more sinister: the flailing American economy.
Although our home hasn’t drowned completely underwater, it’s basically bobbing in the sea like a buoy. If I was Noah, those animals would already be picking bunkmates.
Our savings ran out. So did the second mortgage. But with our great credit score, we started seriously considering the offers that we used to throw away along with craft catalogs and obscure charity labels.
Receive 0% Introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for one year.
It was like free money – almost. We just paid a 3% fee and we could postpone the bills. Certainly we could pay it off within a year. We signed our John Hancocks and slept like babies.
And then the roof caved in… literally. We replaced the 80-year old pipes and windows, but the funds ran out before we got to the Spanish tile roof. Each winter the tarp over our house grew bigger until we had a 1700 square foot sail strapped over our entire roof billowing against the wind, ready to make our home airborne as if we were Dorothy flying over Kansas. Tiles were flying like exploding landmines and this back burner fix suddenly became a front burner emergency.
We took advantage of three different credit card offers to come up with $11,700. And within months we were robbing Peter to pay Paul – taking out one balance transfer deal to pay off the balance of the one the year before.
Accumulated stress caused me to have a serious case of shingles to my head and eye and landed me in the hospital for nine days last November. The hospital and doctor bills came to over 100 grand. Insurance paid for most of it, but we were still responsible for about $3,000. I also missed weeks of work in an industry that doesn’t offer sick pay.
Needless to say, we have been taking huge austerity measures these past few years. We rarely eat out. The only movies I go to are at the TV Academy where I’m a member. We shop at thrift stores, and only when we absolutely need something. The Eurozone would be proud.
In the past few years I have become quite adept at the balance transfer jugging act. I have billpayer and autopay paying more than the minimum amount each month and I’ve created fluorescent notes reminding myself to have the balance paid before the interest goes into mafia amounts.
We had two cards doing just that in mid and late July. So on June 24th I applied for yet another balance transfer, and this one had an even better deal – no balance transfer fee.
As the day got closer, I started calling the automated operator of the credit card cards being paid off to make sure the transfer was made.
Because it was under Tom’s name, they wouldn’t talk to me – the lowly wife – so I had him call. He was told that they were still considering the request.
Considering a request? This card loves us! We did the dance with them two years ago, paid off the balance, and didn’t touch the card for a year. We had available credit of over ten grand.
I was starting to sweat. I juggled some bills, got some temporary advance cash and had funds covered the day the big interested was to start. We had another 3 grand due for this card the next month so there wouldn’t be any need to stop the payment.
In the meantime, I kept calling the second big interest card, but that one still hadn’t gone through. I bugged Tom to call them again.
It turns out that we were denied.
Because we already had an account.
Apparently the credit card company thought they were sending the offer out to some random Joe who had no credit history with them at all. Since we already had an account, we weren’t eligible.
That’s like offering a homeless guy on the freeway off ramp your leftover McDonald’s fries, but when you discover that it’s your next door neighbor you nab the greasy bag back.
I’m not by nature pushy, but I suddenly became the cartoon wife with the rolling pin in her hand, demanding that her husband fix this or else.
Tom convinced the credit card to give us the deal… almost. They wouldn’t give us the free fee. But it’s only 1%, which is $100 cheaper than the standard 3%.
So now we continue with our game of financial whack-a-mole. I start back to work in September, and we’ll continue paying down our huge accumulated chunk of debt.
Now I know what it’s like to be Greece.