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Are You OK?

A while back, I came across a blog entry via Twitter that brought attention to an Australian social campaign called R U OK? It promotes starting conversations to let people know that they are cared about and to help them voice things that are not OK in their lives so that help can be provided before a situation becomes a crisis. It’s a beautifully simple concept really, and one that could realistically save a life.

This morning, I was reminded of this campaign as I was sitting on my front step waking up with a cup of coffee. This is a small community so most people know each other. When a car drove up slowly into my neighbor’s driveway, I noticed it of course but did not think much of it until the door opened and no one got out. The elderly man in the driver’s seat sat there for a few minutes and then put his head down, chin-to-chest, occasionally looking around then putting his head back down for a couple minutes. From this angle, he was acting as I’ve seen people with dementia act when they are confused, not knowing quite where they are or why.

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Alarmed, I got up but he picked his head back up and reached for something in his car. He seemed OK for the moment but I kept watching. After a few minutes of him just sitting there, his head began to sink again, so I went inside to get my phone in case I needed to call anyone. I headed over to his car and quietly asked him, “Are you OK?”

Startled, he jumped and stared at me for a moment before angrily telling me, “I’m napping!” The tone of voice made me take a step back and apologize, telling him I didn’t know if he needed help and I was just checking on him. He nodded then, and turned to put his head back down.

Since this was not anyone who lived there or anyone I had ever seen, I kept watch from my front step for about 10 minutes longer. Finally, he got out of the car and slowly made it to the front door where my neighbors apparently knew him and they helped him in. I apologized for startling him and was thanked with a smile and a wave that communicated to me, “It’s OK.”

Even though everything was OK this time, there may be a time that someone does really need help. The responsibility falls on all of us to be aware of the situations around us and to be proactive, asking even a total stranger… “Are you OK?”

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An Open Letter To Debt Collectors

Prior to writing this post, I had already chastised myself knowing I would end up using at least once the most over-used phrase of the past few years:  “In this economy…”  It simply has to be said because the situation has affected nearly everyone in every social class in America.  I did however resign myself to only using it once to spare the reader the groans and eye-rolling the phrase garners from even me.  You see, I too am a debt collector.

Unfortunately, just because I work in the field does not mean I am immune to the phone calls day and night, often far in excess of the number of calls allowed by the FDCPA for consumer collections.  As a commercial debt collector, I too have been hit hard by the fallout of failing businesses across the country, layoffs, bankruptcies – these all affect my net income.  Most commercial debt collectors do their work on a commission basis.  When a debtor doesn’t get paid by their customers, a client doesn’t get paid, therefore the collector can’t get paid.  This puts the collector in a situation of less money coming in which of course means less money available to go out to their own bills.  These economic failings we have been enduring for the past several years have had a ripple effect all the way out to the edges of the American picture.

This brings me to the heart of this post: What I want to tell every bill collector out there who continues to ring my phone from 8:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night sometimes with only minutes between phone calls.  First realize that no, I am not going to answer your call.  Calling me from a number that identifies you as one of my creditors or a collector only to turn around, block your number and redial me as an unidentified caller does not work.  I still know who you are and what you want.  The simple fact of the matter is the more you call, the less likely you are to get even a call back from me.  I don’t want to talk to someone who just keeps harassing me.  Your bill will be paid using any means that does not require I speak to your under-educated and typically rude representative and it will get paid as soon as I have the money to do so.   I know who I owe and I know what I owe.  I know when the bill was due.  Your repeated phone calls (as well as texts, e-mails and form letters) will NOT make my paycheck get into my bank any faster.  You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear again:  You’ll get paid when I get paid.

How bad are the calls?  Out of approximately 30 calls a day, one or two may be personal.  Those personal calls often get missed because your collection departments call so many times a day that I am pushed to the point of having to turn off my phone.  If I leave it on, the battery is dead inside of two hours due to the sheer volume of phone calls from collectors.

Collectors:  Do you think I want to be in this situation?  Do you think I am simply not paying you because I don’t want to?  Or can you for just a moment stop and ask yourselves what might be going on that is causing this situation?  I am a single mother with no support system who has taken a 35% pay cut this year, down from an income that I was just barely scraping by on last year.  I have had to make major sacrifices just to keep a roof.  It is hard for me right now.  Much more so than you ever cared to ask.  When it comes down to putting gas in the car to get to work and being able to feed my child today, those needs are going to come well before your medical billings from 2009 when I broke my leg.  That certainly was not something I planned to do or asked for.  When the water bill gets raised from $16 a month to $45 a month for the same usage without any warning or reason, it’s going to take someone on a very limited income a bit longer to find a way to pay it.

The auto lender that is also a part of the problem will start calling the day before the payment is due then continue relentlessly even after it has been paid, likely due to one of their databases not being updated with another.  Regardless, you of all people DO get paid every month.  It may not always be on time, but you get your money.  Don’t start calling me until I am 30 days past due.  By then I would expect you to start to worry.  Just back off a bit.  Please.  Believe me when I say that my car is my lifeline.  If there is a problem that will put my payment past 30 days, I will call you and ask for an extension or other help.  Your hounding me does not help either of us – and that goes for all of you.

A couple years ago, I received a letter from a person I had been collecting from on my own job.  I’d worked with him over a year and because I would work with him, he did end up paying off his debt in full.  It just took a little longer than anyone would have liked it to, including the customer.  In his letter, he mentioned a documentary he watched that portrayed bill collectors as people who stop at nothing to get the money in, going as far as to make threats on the debtors, corner them into making promises they could not keep then holding that against them, and pushing some people to the point of suicide with the unending demands that could not be met due to a wide variety of personal situations.  His letter was full of accolades giving examples of how I had changed her perception of the “typical” debt collector, how appreciative he was of my willingness to work with him and not harass him while still working the account.  Even slow progress is progress after all and more often than not working with a debtor will get an account paid more fully than would happen if they are beaten into just ignoring the calls.

Collectors:  If you were on the other end of the phone, who would you be more likely to work with – the person who rings your phone at all hours 3, 5, 7 times a day and won’t work with you – or the person who lets you breathe long enough to find a way out of the predicament, the one who offers you solutions over threats, support over arrogance?  Take some advice from these examples.  Back off – just a bit.

Be a part of the solution – NOT the PROBLEM!