In this article I showcased a friend of mine, Michael. I should point out that Michael was much more than a friend to me, we had been in a very serious relationship for a year and a half. I want to make this clear so that readers out there don’t think I go financially helping any friend in need. Michael came into our relationship with a pile of debt but told me he had strong intensions to work out a plan to pay it all back. I was very much in love with Michael and as our relationship grew I thought I could better his and my life by helping him with his debt.
I was wrong.
I’ve always said that when you notice something and welcome the idea into your consciousness you tend to see it all around you from that moment on. A few years ago my friend Sally bought a yellow Ford Escape. I never paid much attention to the car before and never noticed it on the road. Once she acquired hers I started to see it everywhere I turned. I welcomed it into my consciousness and boom(!) there it was all around me. I’ve found the same to be about my relationship with Michael. There are many women and men out there that desperately try and help their loved debtor. So many people, both parents and lovers, put their own needs and wants aside to try and rescue their loved one from their debt woes. We see the toll it takes on them and we want to help. What we frequently fail to see is the toll it takes on us. The toll it takes on our relationships; both with the debtors and with other people. With my now 20/20 hindsight vision I saw myself three months into our relationship putting aside my wants, my needs, my money for Michael. I thought if he was happy and stable that we’d be happy and stable.
I was wrong.
Two months before my original article was written Michael and I had gone our separate ways. I will not delve into our relationship woes but I will let you know it was because of debt that I left. He was not willing to take care of his debt or even look into any options to relieve himself and us of his financial burden. I refused to keep paying his bills and keep living the way we were. So I left. In those two months we spent apart we still tried to be there for the other emotionally and see each other every now and again. About two weeks ago we vowed never to speak to the other again. Finally torn completely apart, by his debt.
This is our story.
For a brief overview, Michael was in about $25,000 worth of debt, both secured and unsecured. He was bringing home around $1000 a month after taxes and had monthly minimum payments of $765 going out each month leaving him with $235 to live on. He had gotten into so much debt because his mother had purchased a car and after a year decided she wanted another; so she pushed the car on her son to avoid any penalties. The car was then in joint names and Michael was responsible for the car payment. A payment of $465 a month. Since then Michael racked up about $8,000 in credit card debt which has all been maxed out.
Michael, although he often cursed the car for sucking up most of his paycheck, loved his car. He often called it his Black Beauty and regardless of any situation he refused to get rid of it because he did not want a car that looked less prestigious.
In the last article I reviewed all of Michael’s options and given that he only had $235 a month to survive on, bankruptcy was his best option since he could not even afford insurance, gas, food or even a place to live.
On July 27th, Michael mentioned to me that his mother was encouraging him to take out a 401(k) loan to pay off two credit cards. He thought it was a fantastic idea. He said he would be saving $42 a month in minimum payments (not taking into account what he’d be paying back each month to the 401(k)) and it would really lighten his load. Being that Michael only had $1,500 in his 401(k) he was only allowed to take out half of the amount, $750.
I had advised him it was not a smart idea to take out the loan since he would be tied to a job he was not happy in, if something unforeseen happened and he was not be able to work he would owe the amount up front and it just wasn’t worth it to risk all of this to increase his monthly income by $42. It didn’t make sense.
I then asked if I could use him as an example for my next article since there are a lot of people in this country with the exact same problem; little unsecured debt, a car out of their price range and just can’t seem to make ends meet. He agreed and said he would not make a decision about his financial situation until I had published the article and showcased all of his options.
I posted the article on August 2nd. After reading it Michael became angry and depressed. It was not the clarified response I was intentionally going for but I felt like he was really starting to see his debt in a new light. Whilst on the phone his mother and him got into a big fight arguing about debt. He started yelling and threatened to just file for bankruptcy and throw her under the bus, let her take the car completely and free himself of the debt he felt she had created.
Right after this argument he hopped in his car, sobbing uncontrollably. I told him to calm down and I would go and meet him. He agreed and we met, talking for three hours about what to do, where things went wrong and how to fix the future. He told me that night he didn’t want to make any decision until he spoke to his uncle, an attorney, and get his perspective on the entire situation. I respected this.
Any decision you make about your debt should not be a decision just because someone tells you to. Adversely, a decision you make about your credit should not be because someone tells you to either. You have to be the pilot of your own life, your own decisions, your own credit report. There should be no one else to blame, these were your decisions.
After our meeting Michael told me he felt better and that he would discuss all of this with his uncle and his mother to lay out the best path. The very next day, August 3rd, Michael was involved in a bad car accident. No harm or injury was done to him but the same could not be said about his Black Beauty. The car was totaled and had to be put down. The amount awarded for the car was $3,400 less than the loan. Which means, Michael now has no car and still owes $3,400 towards the car he no longer has.
He called me and asked me to come meet him, he was distraught. Without hesitation I jumped in my car and raced over. We talked for a while and I told him how lucky he was to not have taken out the 401(k) loan because he’d be financially screwed if the car was totaled (which we didn’t know at the time that it had been). He agreed and said that he planned to look for new jobs that night since he felt so unappreciated at his current job now. At the very least he’d look for a second job to bring in more money and pay down more debt. He wanted to make a change. He made it seem like the accident was a real wake up call and he wanted to make a plan to fix his future. I was thrilled at his ambition.
Here’s where it gets a bit twisted…
Now, I’ve mentioned all of the debt that Michael owes towards his creditors but I failed to mention the money he owes to friends and family. I was included in this mix; Michael owed me $100. It was not a terribly high amount but I was holding my ground and expecting my money back this time. He had had a few bad paychecks so I let the payment slide. He promised me he’d repay me on August 6 in full as it was his “first decent paycheck in weeks”.
Needless to say, August 6th rolled around and there was no payment. Come the 7th I inquired about my money. Evidently, the six words “when can you transfer my $100?” is an immediate halt cue in debtor communication. I didn’t hear from Michael for days.
On the 8th I had logged in to view my credit report and saw that one of Michael’s cards was showing on my report since I used to be an authorized user. I logged on to the account to see that I had in fact been taken off but to my surprise, the card had been paid in full; a $400 balance cleared.
I found this suspicious, I logged on to some others and found that another had been paid in full as well; $315.
Knowing the ins and outs of Michael’s finances I pondered to myself, how in the world did he get $715 to pay off these debts? I could only assume he’d taken out his 401(k) loan.
I texted Michael to let him know that I had logged in to the one card to make sure I had been taken off the account. I left it at that. Giving Michael a chance to 1) still respond about my $100 and 2) tell the truth about the payments.
By August 9th, after days of not speaking the truth came out. I finally received word from Michael that his paycheck was in fact, “not very good” and that he didn’t have my full $100 but could pay me part of it. When I questioned the cards that had been paid off he told me that we shouldn’t speak anymore.
I was livid. Not that Michael took out the loan; that is his own choice and as he sees now, his own mistake. But the fact that I helped support Michael for so long, helped paid for his bills, gave him emotional support and of his $715 he paid off, nothing was set aside for me. The one person who gave up everything for him. I started to see what I truly was to him; a stepping stone.
And now dear readers, what broke my heart and spirit the most, all of these payments had been made on July 31. Just two days before I posted the article. Before I rushed to his side for emotional support when him and his mother fought about finances. Before his car accident. The entire time, through my finishing of the article and the emotional rescuing I thought I was doing, he had paid all of this off and let me think he hadn’t. And then, told me he didn’t have my money, when he clearly had.
Our ties were cut that night for good.
I had enough of being used.
As a writer I’ve decided to not let this entire experience eat away at me but to get my story out there to other spouses or partners or even parents that think that they are helping another by paying for their debt but in all reality are probably just being used. I’m not saying all cases may be this way, but I’m willing to bet a good portion of cases out there with one paying another’s debt is falsely seeing their actions as helpful when it’s not even helping themselves.
I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and I’ve come to the conclusion that Michael was a money and debt addict. Similar to behaviors of any addict Michael would loose control of money, spending whatever he had available then relied on credit for basic necessities like food or gas. He would often have a long list of failed promises, cloudy thinking, uncontrollable stress, anxiety, anger and deep depression.
I thought if I could just help Michael get along then I could rescue him from this, help him have a better life, a better future, a better us. I’ve come to realization that there is nothing I could have done. Paying his bills did not work. Emotionally supporting him did not work.
I kept asking myself, “what did I do wrong?” and “what could I have done?”. Both of those questions yielded the same answer. Nothing. I did all I could. I did more than I should have. It was not my fault this happened, it was not my doing, it was Michael’s.
It hit me one day that no matter what I did it did not matter.
Michael is and was the only one who can change this; the only one who can fix this; the only one in control of his debt, however little that control was.
As of August 20th I received an e-mail to our joint e-mail account I had failed to close yet. Michael had not removed himself from this service and I was notified that of the $715 he had paid the balances of, $600.66 was back on those very cards; transactions starting August 5th. A portion of this renewed debt is cash advances, which as we all know, have insane interest rates.
Currently, Michael has a totaled car, which he still owes $3,400 on, has doubled the original debt on his two cards he cleared by taking out the loan and near maxing them out again, and is now tied to his job which he cannot get to since he has no car.
Michael has no savings and his 401(k) was his only safety net.
What he will do from here, we’ll never know. Where he will go from here, better be within walking distance.