Recovering from Debt: A Lifetime of Credit Abuse

This is a guest post from Don Miller from CreditCardForum.com.

QuestionsCan you imagine carrying a credit card balance for 35 years?

As crazy as that may sound, that’s exactly what I did. I was 19 years old when I was introduced to credit card applications.

I was looking for a special gift for a special someone.

After filling out an in-store application at Sears, I was instantly approved. Imagine that. I charged a sewing machine that cost $169.

That was the beginning of a lifetime of credit card payments.

How It Starts

Growing up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money, my drive to succeed began early. While most of the friends I had at the time were working for minimum wage, I was earning significantly more. I convinced myself that as long as I could make the payments, I was good. Sound familiar?

And make payments I did. My Sears payment was $10 a month, so I thought surely I could afford more. I had payments to department stores, bank credit cards, mortgage companies, car payments, jewelry stores, and finance companies. Why not? I deserved it.

That’s exactly what our culture teaches us.

That living within your means, really only means you have the ability to make payments and open up credit lines. As long as you are able to make the payments there will be no shortage of creditors seeking your business for their product; credit.

You see that’s what credit really is, a product. What most people don’t take into account is that all your credit balances are going to come due at some point.

That being said, instruments of credit are not bad in and of themselves. If someone uses a credit card to earn rewards and always pays their bill in full 100% of the time, that might be beneficial for them. But on the flip side, those airline and cash back credit cards have above-average APRs up to 20% and higher that will snowball debt quickly. And even if paid in full each month, they can easily lead to overspending when compared to using cash.

In my case, I abused credit. Borrowing money only prolonged the eventuality of having to pay for what I owed. I was able to accumulate all the things I wanted along the way, and though I had figured out yet another way to work the system.

Refinance Abuse

In my lifetime I have owned three homes. The first home was purchased when I was 18 years old. My second home was purchased when I was 24. My third home when I was 27.

Honestly I have lost track of how many times I refinanced homes and took out the equity to pay down debt, only to go right back to charging and accumulating more debt.
By now you have probably figured out that this story does not have a happy ending.

How It Ends

Remember how I said all credit balances would come due at some point?

I refinanced my home in 2008. I owed $108,000 on the first mortgage and $40,000 on a second mortgage that I had taken out to, you guessed it, pay down debt.

The mortgage company arranged for an appraisal on my home and I was astounded when I found out they appraised it for $350,000.

A happy mortgage officer called to tell me that I now qualify for even more money than I originally thought. He said I could have $210,000, but my payment was going to be $600 more per month than it was previously. I signed for the full amount, which paid almost all of my debt.

As all of us remember, the housing bubble finally burst, along with the economy. I lost my home to foreclosure. That did nothing to stop creditors from pursuing every avenue available to recoup the money that I owed. Personal bankruptcy followed after that.

Starting Over

Living without credit was quite an adjustment, but when it’s forced upon you, it eases the transition. Changes would have to be made.

One of my friends had told me about Dave Ramsey years earlier, so I began to do some research. I ordered his Financial Peace University home study program, and literally watched all the DVDs in one afternoon. Ironically, as I recall, the program cost $169. The beginning of my credit card abuse began and ended with a $169 purchase.

Editor’s note:  You can review all of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps here. Dave’s book has been one of my personal favorites, too.

As I began to apply the principles he taught, I purposed myself never to be a slave to credit debt again. I haven’t used credit in any form since the end of 2008. I don’t have a credit card, not even for backup or emergencies. I can’t tell you what my credit score is because I don’t care what it is.

Ramsey likes to say to “live like nobody else now, so that you can live like nobody else, later.” I like to say;

Having credit isn’t nearly as good as how it feels to be living debt-free.

Don Miller is VP of Marketing and Consumer Advocacy for CreditCardForum.com, which is resource where people post questions and get answers related to credit. The staff at CCF knows that credit cards are not appropriate for everyone and operates with that philosophy. In fact, Don himself is a Dave Ramsey disciple who no longer uses cards himself. However he still enjoys helping and advising those who use them responsibly by paying in full.