About that debt…

I wrote recently about how everyone has debt of some kind – here’s a real-life example on how that goes:

I tell clients they can give debt collectors my name and number -that usually stops the calls but every once in a while someone pushes the envelop. This particular collector called me claiming my client owed money.  Now.  I informed him my client could not pay, and besides, we believed the debt was too old to collect.

He replied, “You know, debt never really goes away.”  The guy was going way off script with that comment, since debt does indeed have a statute of limitation, so I thought I’d have a little fun with him.  I said, “You mean spiritually?”  That shut him up.

So yeah, everyone has some kind of debt, whether it’s financial or spiritual.  But WE ALL have it.  So why do we Americans walk around with our heads hung low as if it’s something to be ashamed of?

I used to use the logo “Got Debt?” (picture the Got Milk? ad campaign and you’re on track).  I had it on my office signs, on my business cards, and even had a batch of t-shirts made one year.  When I would take out my cards to give to someone they would look at the black and white design and laugh.  I loved that- I loved that I took something that everyone perceives as negative and was able to turn it around into a laugh.

zachary-kanin-did-you-put-3-250-pounds-of-fresh-mackerel-on-my-credit-card-new-yorker-cartoonWe all need to talk about money.  It’s important. For example, in an earlier post I talk about the guy who was enraged when his credit card company lowered his total available credit and he felt as if he was robbed.  My response to him– that he had agreed to that– didn’t help.  But had he been better about talking about money with people, it a) would not have been a big shock to him when his limit was lowered and b) he would have had a different response other than to feel robbed.  He might have also been reminded of who writes the fine print when it comes to most debt and credit issues. Then he might have reflected on the fact he wasn’t going to owe that money.

Don’t want to talk to those closest to you about money? Then start by talking to strangers about money.  My clients are always afraid that someone they know will find out about their financial situation.  I tell them they are in good company, that everyone around them is struggling.  I tell them to talk to the person in line behind them in the grocery store, to the person in line in front of them at the dry cleaners, talk to the clerks – everyone is struggling.

Lots of people don’t want to file for bankruptcy or make a strategic decision to stop paying their lee-lorenz-if-debt-is-a-measure-of-consumer-confidence-we-have-become-very-confiden-new-yorker-cartooncredit cards or other debts because they think their neighbors will find out.  I test them by asking, “When did your next door neighbor file for bankruptcy?”  They always answer, “Well, we don’t know.”  And my response:  “See!  No one will know.  Your don’t wear your debt issues on your sleeve.”

That of course goes against the message I’m trying to get across– that we should be more open about our finances with each other.   That we should discuss money more: money policy, credit card account terms and conditions, mortgage payments, taxes, saving for retirement, saving for a rainy day.  Maybe then we will all laugh a little when we talk about debt.  That’s the place I want to live.


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