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You may have heard me grumbling nearly 2 weeks ago that my car wasn’t working.. AGAIN! I didn’t really get into it, because I didn’t want to tell only one part of the story, and it seemed like it (the story) was moving along nicely. I figured that when it had unfolded completely that I would sit down and write. A day or two… maybe three…
Well the ongoing saga shows no signs of being wrapped up any time soon, so I might as well start writing before I forget what I’m even writing about.
I had a nice birthday. The kids came up to visit. We had a lot of fun. I told them after supper that I would take them to the park. It was code for “Run…run you little monsters… tire yourselves out… please!”
Well, we climbed into the car, fastened our seatbelts, and away we went. Only.. we didn’t actually go anywhere! Yes, the car started. That wasn’t the problem (this time). The problem is that when I tried to put the car into reverse, it seemed to get stuck part way! The gear shift refused to move. Not down. Not up. Left. Right. Nothing. It was completely stuck. So back into the house the kids went, while Daddy threatened the car with a quick, flaming death if it didn’t fix itself immediately. Have I mentioned how much I truly hate that car sometimes? When it works, it’s a great little car. When it doesn’t work, I want to melt it down and make beer caps out of it!
This is the first time that I’ve had car problems in my own driveway. Normally I have to tow it from the side of the road, which has been expensive. But not this time. This time I was still in my driveway. But there was a little glitch. It was a long weekend, and I wouldn’t have a chance for it to be looked at for at least a few days.
But I’d had enough anyway. I’ve been telling myself that I wanted to get another two years out of it, before getting my new Lexus. Well, that plan would have to be altered. The first opportunity I had, I was looking at a new car. The hell with my Kia and its random-strandings.
The first car I test drove was a Hyundai Elantra. It wasn’t a bad car, and the price was certainly in my range. I’d have no problems with that payment. I thanked the salesman and told him that I wanted to check out a few other places. He was a very nice gentleman.
Then I went to Ford. It’s been awhile since I’ve owned a Ford, but I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about them since the Toyota recall disaster. I know quite a few people who have bought Fords recently, and thought that I should at least go visit them and see what they had to offer. I settled on a 2010 Focus. My friend (Remember “Pauline”?) used to drive a Focus. It was basically a box with 4 wheels. Not a single bell, nor whistle. I’m surprised that the windows even rolled down. That was the old Focus, not the new Focus. The new Focus is a thing of beauty… well, except for the one in the showroom. It’s a god-awful greenish thing… I’m trying to think of SOMETHING that looks that colour.. anything… I’m still drawing a blank. I told the saleswoman that the colour was horrid, but I’d gladly drive one if they had something in another shade.
I was quite happy with the Focus. It drove nicely. It looked great. But what really sucked me in was all the extra stuff that it had.. the hands-free package synchs up with an iPhone (probably any phone) to be able to make voice activated calls. That, in itself, was worth the extra $500. Then she told me that I could control the iPhone music playlists with my voice too?! That’s it. Where do I sign? It also comes with Sirius satellite radio, but I couldn’t care less about that. Sure, I might try it out.. but when I can talk to my iPhone and get it to play the music that I want to hear, when I want to hear it. No thanks, Sirius… Besides, I still have a bad taste in my mouth from our stock encounter.
I didn’t want to make my decision quite yet, though. I wanted to drive at least one other car. Off to Honda I went. I had bought a 2004 Civic, that my ex currently still drives. It’s a nice little car. Very dependable. Very comfortable. Very expensive (in comparison to the Kia Spectra I bought for myself around that time). The new Civics are sweet looking cars. I sat in it, and instantly felt a very familiar feeling overcome me. It felt like the 2004 Civic that I used to drive somewhat, although an obviously updated model. It didn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as the Ford (no hands free synching) but it was a nice car. What really bothered me about the whole Honda experience was the pushiness of the salesman and his boss. In 2004, that salesman was awesome. He let the car sell itself. And it did just that. (Coincidentally, I see that he’s at Kia now… another example of how these guys just seem to migrate from one dealership to the next) It’s quite possible that I might have decided to go for the Civic again, if it wasn’t for the over-selling on the part of the salesman, and my friend kicking me repeatedly under the table to warn me not to get sucked into the trap! I was finally able to pull myself away from that uncomfortable setting, and escape.
The next day, I went back to Ford and took the Focus out for another drive. That sealed it for me right there. Find me a standard, in dark charcoal, with the hands-free system and throw a bow on it. Daddy’s got himself a new toy! Of course, things are never that simple.
“There is only one in Canada that meets your criteria”, she told me.
“Well that’s perfect, because I only want one. Bring it around front, so I can sign my life away, and drive home.”
“It’s in Nova Scotia. My manager is going to call them and see if we can have it driven here. It’ll be here by Friday.”
I was disappointed, but not shocked. It could have been worse. It could have been sitting on a lot in Vancouver. I could wait.
So then I went to see the finance guy, who tried to up-sell me to the latest and greatest. I stuck to my guns in everything except tire warranty. I’d run into a problem before with tires, and figured that a little extra peace of mind probably wasn’t a bad idea. Hell, it gets lumped into the car payment, spread over 6 years at 0% financing. How bad could it be?
Everything was great. I signed the papers, and went home.
About 10 minutes before I got home, my cellphone rang. It was the financial guy.
“Do you have a large outstanding consolidated loan that’s not being paid?” he asked me.
“Umm.. no. I was on credit counseling for a few years, but I completed that successfully back in the fall of 2009. Hell, I’m their Client of the Year!”
“Well, Ford Canada Financing shows that you have a large bill that is not being paid.”
“Well, they’re wrong. I’m debt free.”
When I got home, I called the people at CCS and left a message about what was going on. It was my understanding that I wouldn’t run into problems like this after I got out of their debt management program. Yes, my credit report does show a massive sinkhole that probably will never go away, but it also shows that I completed the program successfully, and gives me an R7 credit rating. It’s specifically designated as “Debt Settlement”. It’s not great. But it’s better than the alternative.
Well that was over a week ago, and CCS is trying to convince Ford Canada Financial that I really do intend to pay my car loan, and not drive away with it. I’m not sure what the hold-up is other than “It’s only been 6 months since you completed the program.”, but I don’t know what the magic number is for qualifying. But there’s one thing that I’m pretty damn sure of…
My “Only one in Canada” Focus is no doubt being driven by someone else at this very moment.
The one shining light from this story? I called CAA to send a tow truck and haul my Kia off to the mechanic. I wasn’t going with the car. He could figure out what to do with it when it got there. It didn’t take him long to fix it. He called me while I was actually driving the Focus, and told me that he drove it off the back of the tow truck without any problem! Apparently the bouncing on the back of the truck for an hour was enough to knock it back into gear! It’s been working fine ever since, but I still don’t trust it. I’d like to get this mess with the financing over and done with, so I can get rid of the Kia. I even have someone who will buy it from me as soon as I’m ready to sell it, so that’s just fine with me!
I think I need to buy a horse.
Today is the annual meeting for the staff of Credit Counseling Services of Atlantic Canada, where I will be recognized as their Client of the Year. I was asked if I could provide a written copy of “my story” that would be presented at the meeting, complete with a professional voiceover. I’m curious to see and hear what it looks like, and am supposed to be getting a copy to take home with me.
Here it is… my story…
We always assumed that we could dig ourselves out of debt… later. Everything always revolved around “later”. Need a new living room set? Pick it out now, pay later. Need a new car? Get it now. We can hang on until things get better. Later.
There are two major flaws with that kind of thinking. First, our definition of “need” was a little too broad. When I think back to some of those purchases, I cringe. We did not live extravagantly by any means, but we certainly lived beyond our means. Credit was our friend, and we slowly sank deeper and deeper into a financial hole.
The other flaw with that thinking was that eventually…“later” would arrive, and we were seldom prepared for when it did. Our idea of setting aside money because we had purchased something on “No Payments for an Entire Year!” never worked out, no matter how sincere we were. There just always seemed to be something else that took priority.
So we continued to pile on the responsibilities. First a mortgage. Then a new car. A baby on the way. Then another. A second new car. We managed to maintain our financial heads above water, barely making our monthly payments, and hoping to be able to hold off just long enough to start paying things off.
Then disaster struck.
I was out of work for 5 months. It’s an unsettling feeling to have to put groceries on a credit card because there is no money in your bank account. Our line of credit was exceeded. The phone calls started. The people on the other end weren’t very sympathetic. The stress of those daily calls began to take its toll.
Eventually I was back to work and things began to improve. With the worst behind us, we figured that we could finally begin to dig ourselves out. But even though we were making payments, the damage was too great. Our creditors demanded back payment for the months that we had defaulted, and we simply did not have the money to pay them back as quickly as they wanted. Amazingly their suggestion often was “Is there anyone in your family or a friend you can borrow from?”. We were being pressured to replace one debt with another.
Enough was enough. Something had to change. Friends of ours were clients of Credit Counseling Services, and were quite happy with how they were starting to turn their own lives around. We talked about it, and decided that we needed to set aside any shame or embarrassment that we felt… It was obvious that we couldn’t do this on our own. We needed help.
Our first session was very humbling. I can’t say enough good things about Ashley, but it was still difficult to hand over a stack of bills and talk about the mess that we’d gotten ourselves into. She assured us that we had made the right decision and that, together, we would come up with a plan to get back on track. Then we cut up our credit cards.
Ashley was right. It didn’t take long before the creditors’ calls stopped, and we were no longer afraid to answer the phone again. If someone did call who wanted to talk about our payments, we simply directed them to Ashley. That alone was worth its weight in gold!
We also began to see results in our debts. I actually looked forward to getting my latest statement in the mail. I can remember when the first bill was paid off. It was a very small one, but the feeling of seeing it completely paid, and knowing that more money would now be allocated toward another bill was a huge lift.
Eventually my wife and I would separate, and in doing so, separate our debt obligations. Once again I went to see Ashley; this time with a list of bills that I wanted to solely take over. I could have lowered my monthly payment, but was determined to pay off my debt as quickly as I could. At the current rate of payment, it would take me 16 months to be debt-free. My goal was to shorten that to 12.
I’ve long ago gotten over any negative perceptions that I had prior to making that initial appointment. I wrote a paper in university for my Personal Finance course on my experiences with CCS. My professor asked me to present it to the other students. Because I was a few years older than everyone else in the class, I had experienced some of the financial pitfalls that the course aimed to help students avoid. I was a living example of what not to do, how it could affect you, and how to pull yourself out, while keeping your head held high. I received an “A” on that paper.
When anyone ever talks about credit counseling, I always say the same thing. “I should have done it sooner!” That’s my single regret. Get past whatever emotion it is that is holding you back, and realize that these people are professionals. Not once did I ever feel judged or looked down upon. The assistance that they provide is invaluable.
Now, my financial outlook is making a dramatic comeback. I continue to set aside money for purchases that I’m interested in, rather than impulsively rushing out and buying something. I have a clearer distinction between my “needs” and my “wants”. I continue to make regular contributions into a “rainy day” fund for life’s unexpected challenges. Things are good.
On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone at CCS, especially Ashley, for everything that you have done to help us over the past few years. I honestly do not think that we could have recovered as well as we have, had it not been for your assistance.
I would also like to thank you for recognizing me as your Client of the Year. I hope that you realize the tremendous value that your services provide. You really do help change peoples’ lives.
As part of my credit rebuilding mission, I requested copies of my credit report from both agencies tasked with maintaining that information in Canada. There’s a fair amount of confusion when it comes to these credit reports.
Second, you do not need to pay a penny to see a copy of your credit report. It’s totally free, but you will need to make your request in writing. You will also need to include copies of two pieces of identification. I used my driver’s license and my medicare card.
Third, your free credit report does not include your credit score. For that, you will need to pay roughly $25. I did not bother to request my credit score, as I have a pretty good idea what it is already. (Although as I write this, it might not be such a bad idea to pay to receive my score, so I can get a baseline and do it again in a year or two.)
I dropped both envelopes into the mailbox on the same day, and oddly enough, received both credit reports in the mail on the same day, about 10 days later. The difference between the reports is staggering.
Equifax’s report literally had 4 lines on me. It told me that I have a cellphone account, and that it was paid in full. It made no mention of the mortgage that I still hold in my name, which I thought was a little strange.
On the other hand, Transunion’s report was 6 pages. It listed every single mailing address I’ve ever had, right back to when I was in high school. It listed every phone number I’ve ever had, every single credit card that I’ve ever applied for, and every single company that has ever done a credit check on me. It also listed the mortgage, and all the bank accounts I currently hold. (Except the offshore one with all my millions that I’m safekeeping until the divorce is finalized…) Once you got past the fact that your entire financial life was being summed up in a half-dozen sheets of paper, it was quite interesting. Even a little scary.
And there were actually a couple of surprises there in the form of who has done credit checks on me in the past. Atlantic Lottery Corporation? Back in 2002? I don’t remember winning any large sums of money in the past, but I do think that I might have applied for a position with them around that time. I don’t think that it went anywhere. There was also a check from Capital One in 2007, which really surprises and annoys me. That was during the CCS debt management program, and I would never have applied for a credit card. So I’m a little confused as to why they ran a check on me.
For the sake of a few minutes of your day, photocopying a couple pieces of ID, and the cost of a stamp, I think that it’s well everyone’s time to send away for both of these reports.
Just in case. You never know.