If you ever want to see me lose my temper really fast, talk to me about my debt counseling company. I have never had to deal with such a band of galactic level screw-ups in my life. In a roundabout way, I would guess that they are doing the job they are supposed to be doing. They are curing me of any kind of desire to ever be in debt again.
I tell you it would have been better if I had never even started this venture. Honest to God! These people are horrible. I think that if I had gotten a home equity loan at a lower interest rate, not only would I NOT have the problems that I have with these people, but my credit record would have improved immediately, and I would be able to take a tax deduction on the interest payments on my loan. Which is something that you can’t do with a credit card loan.
I remember the day that I spoke with Consumer Credit Services of South Florida, Inc.* (www.godebtfree.com) I found them via the internet (something I’d advise everyone never to do). I spoke with a representative named Marty Bassman and told him straight out what my problem was. That I was making payments for a couple of years and they seemed to never go down. I owned a home, but the payments that I was making were starting to become a little steep. Not unmanageable, but steep. Marty said that he could help me. He told me the new payments that I’d be making and that the interest rates that I was paying would go down. All I had to do was send them a money order on time every month, never use those credit cards again, and pay them by the 15th of every month. So that there is no confusion about the 15th, they were to receive the payment by the 15th, not send the payment out on the 15th. He guaranteed that in 5 years my debt would be gone and my credit would look great.
That was my biggest concern. Making my credit better. It wasn’t bad, it could just be better. I could get a mortgage for a house, but I might not get a good credit card. Marty assured me that I was doing the right thing and that this program could not possibly hurt my credit.
So, I got the contract and the payment slips, and waited a day to send back the agreement via fax. When I called back (the next day), Marty had left the company, according to this new representative David Phelps. I spoke to David now. My impression of him boiled down to washing my hands after I had handled the phone. He was as slippery as oiled plastic, if that makes sense. Once again, I spoke to him about the rates that Marty had assured me and asked if this was going to hurt my credit history and record. He said that this could not POSSIBLY hurt my record. He said that in the perspective of any credit agency that I would be perceived as someone who is making an honest effort to pay his debts and build a good financial background. The only catch was that I was to close the credit card accounts that they were paying off. This was not a problem as most of them were maxed-out anyway, so I wasn’t going to use them to begin with.
I sent back the contract and sent my first payment. They said that if I got any harassing calls over the next month, that it would not be unusual it was part of the payment plan and it may take some time to get to the credit card’s collection department. I was not having a warm and fuzzy feeling by this time. If there is one thing I DO HATE, it is getting calls from creditors. But, like they said, the calls started, then the calls stopped. To be safe, I had American Express do a credit check on myself and see what it looked like. All the accounts that I agreed to put on the plan had an addendum that I was on a consolidation plan and that everything was good.
And everything WAS GOOD, in the beginning. Here’s how every month ran. I get paid every two weeks. Usually, on the second paycheck of the month, I would withdraw money either from an ATM or would cash my paycheck directly and go to the local post office and get a money order or a stamp. This would happen no later than the 3rd of each month. I would send a cover letter saying that this payment was for the following credit cards (with the account numbers), my account number with CCSI, the $318 payment, and the payment slip. At the bottom of the letter (as is my custom with all business correspondence, especially in the job that I have at present) I attached the following statement.
“As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to either call me at the number below (my home phone number next to my signature) or reply via e-mail to (my other e-mail address).”
This is one of my catch-alls. If there is any problem that I should be aware of, please call me. Hey, it’s part of being A PROFESSIONAL! Another back door was that I was keeping the actual agreed contract and all of the money order receipts in an envelope (which I still do). And I had one more back up, because the money order is from the US Post Office, guess who the witness is that the payment was made and cashed. That’s right, the US government could be called to trace the payments, if they had to. About 90% of the payments that I made are via the post office. It is only under extreme duress, that I will go elsewhere.
And so my life was going great in blissful ignorance of what Consumer Credit Services of South Florida, Inc. was doing with my payments for a couple of months. Then fate intervened.
My car died.
I had to get another. My car had gone to car heaven and was not coming back. So, I had gone to the dealership that my family has given PLENTY of business to (David Michael Honda of Freehold). It was February and I had just gotten my Christmas bonus, so I could afford to put some money down on the car. So, we picked out a nice car, a 1998, used, black VW Jetta, and applied for a car loan. And guess what? That’s right, my credit was turned down. Now, bear in mind, I had not missed a payment on anything for at least 4 years, I was earning over 50K a year with a fortune 500 company and my wife was earning a decent salary herself. I asked the loan officer** why we were turned down. He said point blank that it was because I was with a debt consolidator. The loan officer advised me to get out of the deal if I could. We had to apply for the car under my wife’s credit with me cosigning the loan…AT A HIGHER RATE!
It was Saturday, and I couldn’t call them until Monday! So, I boiled. When Monday came, I called to see what had happened. I got some brainless twit of a representative that said that it was part of the agreement that I signed. I went back to the contract.
There was nothing in the contract that said that my credit would be virtually destroyed while I was on the program. This was NOT part of the deal that I signed. I signed a deal that was supposed to REPAIR MY CREDIT, not make it worse!
I wasn’t certain as to what I should do. Would it be better to stop the program and have it be perceived that I couldn’t do it which would make an even worse impression on my creditors, or should I stay and ride it out and get out of the program as fast as I could.
I decided the latter.
But CCSI was not through with me yet. Another virtual breach of contract was on the way. After I had made my 27th payment to them, things started to go REALLY bad. In October of 2001, I was getting calls from US Bank about my MasterCard account. Huh? I asked what was wrong and they said that they were receiving the payments late. Not wanting to jump the gun and panic and strangle someone straight off the bat, I kept my cool and explained that the only MasterCard account that I had was from a debt consolidator and they should have received the last payment I had made. Also, keep in mind that I had proof in the form of the date on the money order, which I kept on file. I also had to ask the representative if she had known where she was calling and reminded her that due to the September 11th Anthrax scare in Monmouth County and Central New Jersey mail might have been delayed, and to be patient.
I didn’t receive another call for one month. The MasterCard account was apparently late again. This time I asked when it was due. The representative said it was due on the 2nd of the month. I told her that it was impossible for my payment to be late as I was paying it on the same time, every time, every month. Through deductive reasoning, the only two things that could be going wrong was that the agreed payment date on the contract was altered or CCSI was sending out the payments late (or both).
I called CCSI and spoke with another twit. I said that one of my creditors, that you are making payments to, keeps calling me and saying that the payments are late. They said that they were making the payments as soon as they were coming in. So, I asked them when, on the contract that they had, were they supposed to receive the payments. They said that they were supposed to receive payments on the 2nd.
They said that they were checking their records and that they were looking back to when I started the plan in November of 1998. November? The first money order I have was from September. I reminded them that the contract, whose copy I still had, and the first payment I had made with the receipt (that I still had) indicated that payment started in September of 1998, and was to be received by them on the 15th, a date that I had initially specified. They said they understood and they would fix the problem. They said that if I wanted this problem to be prevented in the future, that I would have to make the payment even earlier by two weeks. So, basically, they wanted me to make a payment a month before they were due. Let me remind you that they were the debt consolidator and I was their client. Also, if they make their payments late, the creditors and my credit history do not reflect that they were late, it reflects that I was late. And the collectors come after me.
Guess what happened the next month. Yup.
The representative called me and said that the payment was late again. (Of course they make these calls at 8 o’clock at night and when there isn’t a damn thing you can do to solve the problem.) I spent that sleepless night figuring how I was going to scream at CCSI.
The next day I told them they had half an hour to fix the problem or the next call I was going to make would be to an attorney for breach of contract. I also told them that I was going to call the Better Business Bureau, (whose approval they have so much pride in posting on their website), and tell them this:
That all of the payments were made on time except that one account. That I had all of the original documentation of the agreement that I had made. That, in telling me that their organization would make my credit record better, they were in fact making it worse by making late payments. That if I ever wanted to buy a bigger house or an additional car, I may not have that possibility because of mistakes that they had made. That I probably would have been better off getting a home equity loan to consolidate my credit and built a better record with the payments I was making directly to one creditor.
When I had called them and told them what I was going to do, they took some action. Amazing what happens when you threaten with a legitimate lawsuit. Their answer was that they had called the creditor and that they had them make a note to have them call CCSI instead of me. They reviewed my contract and (surprise, surprise) I was right. I suggested that there might have been a problem with the payment due date, and that it might have changed when the account, (which was originally Core States Bank of Delaware), went to US Bank. And that CCSI would have their best results if they change the due date to one which would correlate to my payment. They also were saying that apparently there is a delay between the creditor’s Accounts Receivable department and their Collections department and they weren’t certain whether or not the problem was resolved.
This was last month. All I am really reminded of is the Latin phrase, caveat emptor–let the buyer beware. What I am hoping for is to get enough money with this year’s bonus (Bwahahahahahahahaaa!!!!) to pay off one account at a time and redistribute the payment I am making to my creditors to pay the accounts off faster. I see little hope in getting a home equity loan with a decent rate to pay off my existing accounts, because CCSI has rather efficiently destroyed my credit. My advice to anyone reading this rant is to carefully investigate any debt consolidator you decide to go into a contract with, and check their track record. But even more so, unless you are bordering on bankruptcy, not to do it. Just pay it off by hook or by crook and don’t let these incompetents (who most likely know less than you do about your loans) get to your money.
These people are quite consistent on how much they screw-up! and on how much apathy they have for their own business. Your credit is NOT a 9 to 5 business, and it is not something that should ever be taken lightly.
Can you imagine how furious I will be next month?
*- Nice pretty site, huh? If you only knew how many other shmoes like me they have conned. I had read an e-pinion about them once after the fact and this guy hated them as much as I do.
**- Believe it or not I come from an upper middle class family. My family has given more business to David Michael Honda than most of their other customers. My father bought his last 4 cars from them and has them do all of his regular maintenance and bodywork. My sister and brother-in-law bought their last 3 cars there. My wife and I also bought our last 3 cars from them, and have our maintenance and bodywork done there as well. Also, my eldest sister has a VW from them. We usually get preferred service, so when I got the loan officer to level with me as to why I did not get the loan, it was no big accomplishment. The car dealership had more to lose than just my sale, if I was not happy.