What NOT to Do When You are Behind on Your Bills

After three years in the mortgage collection business I learned a lot about the different ways people handle their debt. The crazy thing about it is honest is always the best policy. The debt doesn’t disappear magically so it something that you are going to have to take care of. People have multiple different ways they try to cope with being behind on a bill, most of which aren’t going to do anything but hurt you. The most common ways people deal with being behind are by avoiding it, lying about it, not taking it seriously, being a jerk about it, or allowing it to affect their personal life.

Avoid It

Pretending the debt doesn’t exist and you don’t actually owe it isn’t going to help you and it certainly isn’t going to make the debt go away. To many people try to hide from their debt, fully expecting it to disappear. What people don’t realize is the companies are used to trying to find people and depending on the debt they are more than willing to go to court to have your wages garnished in order to pay the debt back. The best thing you can do is to actually call the company and explain your situation and suggest a reasonable method for resolving the debt.

Lie About It

It was sad how many times people felt like they needed to lie about the reasons they were behind. People’s pride can make them do things which don’t always make sense. I know you didn’t forget to pay the payment for the third month in a row there has to be a problem outside of your forgetfulness.  People are not going to be willing to help you get ahead and get back on track if you can’t be straight with them. Lay it out there for them, explain the problem and why you can’t pay. The worst thing that could happen is you don’t get any help but more likely than not you can work out a plan to get ahead.

Not Take it Seriously

It is a debt you owe, whether or not you take it seriously can massively affect the outcome. The collectors are going to be nicer the more serious you are about working with them. If you laugh about it and act flippant they are going to get increasingly rude and less willing to help. You got yourself into the debt, the least you can do is man up and deal with it.

Be Rude

There is almost never a reason to treat someone poorly. This of course goes both ways so don’t let the collector treat you rudely either. Be nice and you are bound to get further in negotiations for repayment. As the old saying goes “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” In the event you are being treated poorly ask to speak with a supervisor and kindly advise them if you continue to be treated this way you will send them a Cease and Desist letter which will prevent them from contacting you at all.

Hold Out for a Management Position

I have talked to people before who have been out of work for over 6 years. These same people can’t afford to pay for their home or their car and can barely put food on the table to feed their families. They have been running up credit card debt to try to keep afloat but they refuse to get a job doing anything other than the job they lost. I understand you want/need something better but flipping burgers at McDonald’s or stocking shelves at Walmart pays money. That money spends just like the money you get working someplace else. When all else fails you need to do what is necessary to cover your obligations. Sitting and waiting for the “perfect” job isn’t going to pay the bills.

Allow it to Affect You

To often we allow our debts and our bills to define us. We allow the collectors and collection calls to get to us and it starts to affect us on a personal level. The way we deal with our friends and family changes and we start to turn inward more and more to hide our debt, and quite honestly our shame. DO NOT be defined by your debt and don’t allow it affect the way you interact with the people you care for. If you have to be honest about your problems do it. When you start to let it affect you in this way you are losing to your debt.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vinny Financio October 15, 2009 at 9:38 am

This is all so true. It’s amazing how people let their emotions lead them in financial decisions, especially when they’re in a tough spot.
It’s easier to blow things off at first but it can make everything so much more difficult later

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2 Financial Samurai October 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

It’s impossible NOT to let heavy debt affect you. Good things not to do, but what are things to do? I guess the whole PF community is answer this question, so no need to answer :)

See you over at FS one day. Cheers

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3 Kyle October 16, 2009 at 6:40 am

I agree completely that it is going to affect you, which is unfortunate. It is just money and yet we let it run our lives instead of allowing it to enrich our lives.

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4 kenyantykoon October 16, 2009 at 5:41 am

i agree with all this but i think that it is easier said than done. more often than not, these are the same things that we do when the bills come a knocking. But all in all, these are nice things to think about

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5 Les October 16, 2009 at 8:19 pm

This looks almost like the 5 stages of grief
1. denial (avoid it,lie, don’t take it seriously)
2. anger (be rude)
3. bargaining
4. depression (allow it to affect you, withdraw)
5. hopefully, acceptance

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6 TJ Smith October 17, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Excellent points. Avoiding bill paying is the worst. You are right to suggest working with your creditors. They will usually help you work out a payment plan and once you get this going, your stress level will immediately improve. The best approach to the affect on your psyche is a head on approach to a solution. I had to learn this through experience, of course.

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7 Jersey Girl October 21, 2009 at 6:58 am

Lemme play a bit of the “devil’s advocate” here–on the point of flipping burgers ar McD’s, what happens when someone’s unemployment compensation is far more than what working at a fast food place earns? Is it financially “worth” it?

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8 Kyle October 21, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Unemployment doesn’t last forever, you make a good point though. I was actually referring more to those people who actually have 0 income coming in. When unemployment runs out you can’t just sit there and hope money grows on the trees.

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9 Thelma November 10, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Not all debts are caused by selfish longings nor are creditors that willing to work with people. Please wake up and look at reality before posting such foolishness.

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10 Kyle November 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Thelma,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I do not assume all debts are caused by selfish longings. In fact some of the largest debts people deal with are related to medical issues outside their control. This doesn’t change the way you should deal with your debt, only the reason it exists. A creditor stands to gain nothing by alienating you and being served with a Cease and Desist order, which is what they should get if they are rude and unwilling to work with you. The biggest part of working with the creditor is to initiate the conversation and have a plan for dealing with the debt. If you show you are taking it seriously they will be much more likely to work with you.

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11 jen June 28, 2012 at 8:30 pm

i got behind in my car payment and i thought it was best to call and try to deferre my loan a month or two to get back on track. all i was told is there is nothing they can do for me and demanded payment. Which I dont have

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