Credit Not So Priceless
I didn't need any coaxing. When my best girlfriend suggested a spur-of-the- moment vacation to San Diego, I jumped at the chance. I had everything I needed to go thanks to Visa. For now, I was playing the credit game and winning.
Later, my stellar credit score landed me a fantastic interest rate and a mint condition Chevrolet Camero. Besides buying the new car, I charged everything: haircuts, clothes, groceries and gas.
Three years later my new husband, Derek, joined my spending spree. When we eloped to Las Vegas, Visa helped out when we booked our flight, honeymoon suite, wedding chapel, a marriage license and gown and tux rentals. I didn't think for one minute about the $1100 tab when we were cruising under the city lights in a rented, red-hot convertible.
That is, until later.
Every month, we spent more than we made and our balances ballooned. But it didn't stop us from purchasing a new living room set. Who could resist? It was "no interest, no payment" for one year.
We financed new cars at the max loan amount and charged movie and dinner nights, concerts and weekend getaways. And, after our son was born, he was also well-entertained.
One evening after I balanced our checkbook, Derek strolled through the front door. "What's in the bag?" I snapped.
"Cleaning supplies for the cars. Why?"
"How much was it?"
"I can't believe you spent money on the cars again! I just balanced the checkbook. We're broke."
"So what else is new?" he said.
I erupted and accused him of not caring. But, I was just as guilty. The next day I charged a new outfit
Our dysfunctional behavior continued like a washer jammed in spin cycle for two more years. Going in circles, but getting nowhere.
As a property manager, my compensation included our rent, utilities, and cable TV. Even with this perk, we had too much debt: two car loans, an orthodontics bill, medical bills, daycare expenses and a dozen credit card bills.
Still, we paid everything on time but we paid nothing off. So after my job transfer to Colorado (which we charged), we maxed out our credit cards. Our financial grave was complete. Sand piles of debt surrounded us on every side. So much for the credit game.
Visa claimed victory.
Desperate and defeated, I called a credit counselor. He told me they could manage our debt for the next five years by negotiating lower monthly payments and lower interest rates. But I wanted out of debt now! So Derek and I met with a bankruptcy lawyer.
He explained, "Bankruptcy isn't as bad as people think, and it's simple. Bankruptcy allows you to stop paying your credit cards immediately, so you can get back on track with your finances. What are your other options, anyway?" He glanced at our debt worksheet. "I guess you can keep on doing what you were doing. But with your income and debt, your credit is shot. "
He highlighted the benefits of his service compared to a credit counselor. Bankruptcy seemed like sunshine after a long, cold winter.
Forget the five-year plan.
After signing the papers and paying the "easy, one time $600 fee," relief was on the way or so I thought. Instead, I felt guilt. I felt like a thief for putting our debts back on our lenders.
Worse, I learned bankruptcy was not "easy", as the lawyer suggested. It followed us around like a stray cat for ten years. At first, we dodged our bad credit by borrowing from family to buy a cheap, commuter car. Then, a prospective employer questioned Derek during a job interview. "It's a character issue," he said.
Shame stalked me. I couldn't escape the lurking shadows of my past mistakes. Conversations about credit with family, friends and professionals humiliated me. I stuttered telling mortgage lenders about our last three home purchases, "Umm, just so you know when you run our credit you'll see we've had a bankruptcy."
Last year, we passed the decade mark. Bankruptcy is no longer trailing behind us. Our credit report is clean. We even have a few credit cards again, but we pay them off monthly with few exceptions. No more "buy now, pay later" gimmicks. We say no to social invites we can't afford. Now, credit is a tool not my identity.
I'm done playing the credit game.
Our financial fallout unmasked my worldly mindset. 1 John 2:16 says, "Practically everything that goes on in the world wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him" (The Message).
Bankruptcy knocked me off my pedestal of pride and onto my knees. Losing my credit and my car drew me back to God. Now, I find my worth in Him not in my possessions or my credit score. I no longer go in debt to prove myself.
For years, I thought my worth was determined by what I owned. I made sure I looked good on the outside, while I was empty on the inside. Thankfully, God doesn't judge a book by its cover. He looks at the pages of our heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.)
Questions and Answers
StoriesIf you've been through a experience related to this topic, we invite you to share your story with others.
Share Your Story
Other Things to Consider
Relationships: Communication Gaps
Parenting Teens: Communication Problems