Paying off debt is one of the most anti-climactic things you can do. This summer I was fortunate to receive a decent advance for a book with Reader’s Digest. It allowed me to pay off four credit cards that had been dragging on my life for years. It was a silent baptism, washing away my sins in living water, allowing me to be reborn to a new life– a life without fear of the ringing telephone. A life that consists of more than looming financial deadlines.
And yet, I say it was a silent baptism because there was no celebration, no supportive community gathered to sing hymns, just a check that went into my bank account, and was sent back out and then was gone. Everything went on pretty much the same way as it has. I’m still a starving artist, broke and beautiful.
A couple of weeks later I got a letter from Citibank. “Congratulations, this is the culmination of years of effort. We know how hard this was to do– you could have written your debt off, declared bankruptcy and left us with the loss, but but you didn’t. We admire you. Over the years you paid us $x0,000 in interest. Amazing but true! Thanks to fractional reserve banking, this allowed us to issue $x,000,000 in loans to start-ups like x, and create many jobs. Thank you, job creator! You were a great customer for us. Sorry about that whole punative interest thing and that time with the rude call center lady. Hope it didn’t erode the quality of your life too much.”
That’s what I wanted it to say.
Instead, it was full of threats for “canceling my payment program.” It spelled out all of the horrible things that might befall me if I failed to reinstate it. So that is the kind of congratulations they actually send. Or they just quietly remove your account from the online system. Log in and see the zero balance, log in next time and they say you’re not a customer. That’s it.
The other thing that happened almost immediately was that my credit rating plummeted. You heard me right. Paying the cards off made my credit rating go down. It has something to do with length of credit history and available lines of credit I suppose.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t care that much. Let it sort itself out. A credit rating is part of the debt purchasing game, and one that I no longer want to be part of. I don’t want to figure out how to “rebuild my credit.” I don’t want to play.
Yes, it would be nice if the impersonal world of banks that had such a profoundly personal effect on my life was able to acknowledge this milestone, maybe send a thank you note for years of business. It is better still to be free of them.
(This article originally appeared on my non-fiction blog Broke is Beautiful)