How Bad Credit Almost Cost Me My Career… (Teaser for today’s Monday Money Matters)

About a year and a half ago, my love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with credit that I had entire adult life went nuclear. Yes, nuclear. How does that happen? Easy. I almost did not gain admission to not only one, but TWO, bars over my bad credit. I take full responsibility for my bad credit because it was a result of years and years, or should I say two separate seven-year cycles, of bad decisions.

My first bad bout with credit happened in college. At the time, it was the credit wild, wild west. Now, there are protections against predatory lending on college campuses. But then, you could get a free t-shirt if you signed up for a credit card and in college, who doesn’t need extra t-shirts to sleep in or better yet, an extra t-shirt, or two to stretch you until laundry day? So if I remember correctly, I had two of those. I also loved to shop at Express so I had one of those too. I’m not sure how any of this was possible considering I was an unemployed college freshman. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze the minimum monthly payments for these cards out of the money my parents sent me per month. This would have been fine until the summer when I could pay off the cards in full but I KEPT using the cards. Talk about under water… I spent the Summer of 2000 negotiating payment terms with debt collectors. Looking back, I made some serious mistakes even in that process, like giving the debt collectors my banking account information for post dated checks. Thankfully, nothing bad happened to me but there’s plenty of stories where bad things did happen for hundreds of Americans.

As if the credit card woes weren’t enough… I racked up crazy utility bills from my off campus living that I clearly could not afford to pay. For someone who never had a full time job longer than three months during the Summer my credit report was getting a little lengthy and not in a good way. In 2005, I paid $250.00 to have a credit repair guy “fix” my credit. Looking back, I could have easily used that money to do it myself. But by 2007, my colleges issues most of my college issues were gone. And you think I would have learned…

Sometimes you have to put your hand in the fire to know it’s hot. This is the one that presented the TKO.  After college, I was able to get three additional cards.  I had a good payment history with all of them until 2009. In 2009, I was laid off from my job (don’t think of this as an excuse). Even during my lay off, I paid regularly on my cards but there were a few notable problems:

1. I carried a balance on my cards when I should have paid them all off.

2. I went to law school and I really couldn’t afford to make monthly payments.

Oh and let’s not forget the issues that I had with PPA, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, or the DC Parking Authority, that ended up on my credit. Or the illegitimate dental bill that miraculously appeared. Or the Bally’s membership that’s been hanging out on my credit too.

Sadly, my credit in 2011, was probably the same as it was in 2002, AND by 2011, I had ALL the education and training to know better.  When you know better, you MUST do better. I worked out payment arrangements with one of my credit cards that I was able to pay with the job I held in law school but everything else remained unchanged. I figured I would handle it when I started working as a full time attorney. Little did I know it was an IF I became licensed.

Most bars have a character and fitness component where you have to report any infractions with the law, including speeding tickets, any instances of dishonesty, and of course, your credit. In March of 2012, when I was completing my first bar application, I started to see how my credit woes would be problematic. With everything I had to report, my application was a book. After passing the bar, I learned that my credit stopped my application to practice law in its tracks. I had to explain what happened and why my credit was so abysmal. Thankfully, by the grace of God (yes the grace of God) I was granted admission.

In November of 2012, I set up a plan to pay off everything I owed, excluding school loans but including my car.  I followed the system in Blog #1 to the “T.” In December, 2012, in full swing of my payoff system, I had to account to another bar for my credit. This bar was not as forgiving as the first. Since I had a plan in place, I was able to provide documentation on what I was doing but I had two looming credit issues from 2005 and 2007 that were erroneous. But when you had credit like mine, two erroneous issues, were hard to believe. But thankfully, I did something right.

I had been claiming these two accounts were erroneous from the moment I started receiving notices for them.  I wrote letters every time I received correspondence from them. I also initiated my own disputes with the credit bureau and the collections agency and documented those interactions.  So when I had to explain why I was not paying these particular accounts, I had years of documentation to prove my claims. After a few months, I was sworn into the second bar. Can you say sweating bullets?

Over a year later, now my debt payoff plan is complete, I have other issues like tons and tons and tons of credit offers. I think I get at least 10 per week. I didn’t even know there were THAT many credit card companies out there.  But I don’t apply for ANY of them. What I did do, however, was that I asked for an increase on my credit card (just to see what would happen) and I found out that I had GOOD credit. After thirteen years of suspect credit, I had GOOD credit! I think I told everyone I talked to that day my credit score. I remember talking to my father about something completely unrelated and said, “Well you know, life’s different when you have GOOD credit.” Indeed it is…

I shared this story for a few reasons. One, to show even as finance person, I have made some terrible mistakes and it wasn’t until I nearly lost everything I worked for that I got my act together. I hope that you don’t have a moment remotely similar to mine before starting to be aggressive with credit repair. Two, to show that it took about a year using the program in Blog #1 to really see results.  Three, to show that the suggestions and knowledge that I will provide later today, I have used successfully.

Author: theivyinvestor

Courtney is a practicing attorney who prides herself on being a "change agent" in the world of personal finance. She has a wide array of experience in Investments, Banking, Credit, and Estates over a span of 15 years. She has learned the rules of the finance game and wants to teach others how to win.

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