Archives for category: Debt

Too Many

I have a great desire to simplify and consolidate my life. The easiest place (of all places) to apply this is my finances. I have 1 checking, 3 savings, 2 ROTH IRA’s, 1 brokerage, and 1 401K account split between 3 institutions. In the past few days I have rid myself of 2 savings accounts and thereby 1 of the institutions, and consolidated the ROTH IRA’s. I have 4 credit cards that I’d like to get down to just 2, once I pay everything off.

My debt is feeling overwhelming at the moment, which I interpret as the driving force behind my general desire to simplify and control. I am actually doing an awesome job with my debt and I should be feeling more in control of my financial destiny than I have in years. I have paid off 30% of my credit card debt since the beginning of the year and I’ve also started rounding up my car payment and giving an extra $45 every month. It makes me feel better even though it’s barely a drop in the ocean of the loan.

I track every dollar I spend, still contribute a modest amount to retirement and savings, and my net worth – while still negative to the tune of $9K – has improved massively over the last 8 months.

My goals from now through the end of 2013 are to pay off 3 credit cards (approx. $12K) have $30K in savings/retirement and generally simplify every aspect of my life. I am making phenomenal progress on these goals, but I’m finding it’s a hard to week to keep the faith.

I’ve been reflecting on this subject for the entire last month and putting fingers to keys is long overdue.

2012 was a year of both very good and very bad for me. It included some very bad financial behavior but I learned a tremendous amount about myself at the same time. When all is taken into account, the scales of 2012 tip much more on the positive side than the negative.

The Good Stuff

Retirement: I started the year off owing $13,500 on my credit card and I decided I’d paid down enough debt (approx. $26,500) that I should start rebuilding my retirement savings. I learned a lot about investing, made modest but consistent contributions, and ended up making smart choices that ultimately delivered a 13.4% return for the year. That pretty much matched the S&P 500, and was a lot more than I expected.

Savings: I actually got consistent about saving and in addition to a baby emergency fund attached to my checking account, I also started a longer term emergency fund in a high interest savings account (PAUSE… while I smile to myself at what constitutes “high interest” these days). Although I chose to use a good chunk of the long-term fund to throw at the credit card this Autumn and the emergency fund was thankfully in place to help cover a massive medical bill at the end of the year, a good habit was established and, slow and steady, the funds are being replenished. While I’d obviously like the balances to be higher, it finally sunk in that savings go hand in hand with debt repayment so along with the consistency of the habit, this is a big win.

Debt: Surprisingly, my debt does actually fall heavier into positive recap of 2012. I learned the tools the first time I started Operation Kill Debt in 2011, but I did not learn the lesson. Although 2012 ended with me significantly more in debt than it started, it became blindingly obvious WHY I hadn’t succeeded the first time. As a result, Operation Kill Debt: Part Deux started on a much more solid and realistic foundation. Big wins for 2012 in the debt category are:

  1. Downgraded AMEX card from Platinum to Green; received refund on ridiculous annual fee.
  2. Aside from a couple of travel expenses that were already in the works and hit at the very beginning of October, no credit card use since the end of September.
  3. Cancelled all remaining auto-pays of expenses to credit cards; eliminated the unnecessary expenses, set the rest to deduct from checking. No charges have been made to any card since November 23.
  4. Cut up ALL credit cards (this is technically my biggest and proudest achievement of 2012, but I’m going in chronological order here…).
  5. Reduced outstanding credit card debt from $52,371.30 on September 23 to $38,775 on December 31.

As ridiculous as this sounds, I would rather be in the position I am now – owing $38,775 on the credit cards – than had I just paid off the $13,500 that I owed at the start of the year. The latter outcome would have left me in a much more vulnerable position, as I hadn’t acknowledged that credit cards MUST be eliminated from my life. I needed to feel some pain and some failure to put me in a better place for long-term success.

Hi, my name is Ha’penny Bits and I am a compulsive spender who cannot manage credit. Period.

Employment: This is a post unto itself, but for now I’ll just say I overcame a lot of fear and anxiety and proved to myself more of who I am and what I CAN do, rather than stressing over who I’m not and what I can’t. I also got to travel a lot, see new places in the world, as well as meet some fantastic new people along the way.

Health: I completely overhauled my diet and began consistent exercising in 2012. I implemented these changes to improve my overall health, physical fitness and mental wellbeing. It worked and it became yet another habit that’s stuck.

The Bad Stuff

This section is going to be short because there is no benefit to excessive dwelling on past behavior or handing over a lot of time and energy to regrets.

Debt: Goes without saying that running up my cards AGAIN was not a good decision. I have a closet – hell, make that a house – full of stuff that feels stifling, and my current and future self will be paying for all that shit for the next two years. Side note: eBay sales began in 2012 with many more to come in 2013.

Savings: Precariously low balances, which is even more scary as for the first time in 17-years I can’t reach for a credit card to use in case of an emergency (although that’s a big YEAH!!).

Retirement: Pitiful retirement savings for someone in her mid-30’s.

In summary, I acknowledge my mistakes but feel blessed that a course-correction occurred and I continue to take steps to rectify my situation. And with that, 2012 will always be remembered fondly.

AMEX

My second wake-up “your finances suck” call came last September, when AMEX politely informed me they were cancelling the extended payment option on my account. Thankfully they were still allowing my $31K balance to be paid over time, however, all future charges would have to be paid in full. Also thankfully, they informed me of this before I’d had a chance to charge another $5K of outfits in that particular billing cycle.

This is why I have such a love/hate relationship with AMEX.

AMEX was the spark that ignited my explosive spending. It’s always been my card of choice. I had a Platinum one, because that’s the story I wanted to tell. My credit card said SO much about my fabulousness and my status in life (It did! It told everyone I was shallow, irresponsible and in debt!!!). I should have dropped the Platinum the first time I woke up and paid it off, but despite the $450 fee, I wanted to keep that warm and special feeling.

NOTE: My AMEX has since been downgraded to Green and despite it being the oldest account on my credit report, I will be cancelling it when it’s paid off later this year. I prefer the story my Green Card tells. It’s in a drawer still wearing it’s “Activate Me” sticker and it’s cut into two pieces. I also got a new card number so I don’t have it memorized if I ever wander onto shopbop.com or similar.

But when all is said and done, I do love AMEX very much, because they have also been the catalyst for my wake up calls. They have twice cut me off before I’ve gotten so far adrift I can’t save myself. For that reason alone, AMEX will always have a special place in my heart.

I started a blog last year and failed just like my first attempt to sort out my finances. In the absence of Anderson Cooper, I stated I was doing it to “keep me honest”. Bull$hit as it turned out. I stopped blogging as soon as I had some bad behavior to admit.

I don’t have a particularly exciting financial story. I charged up my 15.2% APR AMEX with a bunch of fancy shit I don’t need to impress Jones’ I don’t even know. I cashed out $15K from my old 401(k), took the big tax hit, paid $12K off the card and went Joan Crawford on that debt, paying off another $10K in 4 months. Then I did the smartest thing ever… transferred the remaining $18.5K to a brand new 6.9% MasterCard. Not so smart as it turned out. I HATED that AMEX debt with a fiery passion. I didn’t hate it when it became a balance transfer because there was no more emotion associated with those dollars. So what happened? I got complacent. And then I charged the shit out of that AMEX again. [LESSON LEARNED: CUT UP THE CARDS!]

It started with a pair of sunglasses. Actually, it started with weakness for a handsome colleague. Again, that’s a whole other story and I’m only pledging full transparency in all matters financial at this time. 😉

Where was I? Oh yes, a lunch date with a beautiful British man and a throwaway comment about my sunglasses. Followed by a night all alone in a hotel room and a thought that it couldn’t hurt just to check out sunglasses online. What do you know, I’d done so well paying off so much debt, I deserved a little treat. Those sunglasses turned into new jeans, turned into new outfits for every meeting I attended with this man, to complimentary shoes and accessories for those outfits, to… Ugh, the picture is clear. I’ve created a whole life story that isn’t mine.

Unfortunately, my story is actually $15,675 on my 15.2% AMEX. $17,200 on 6.9% MasterCard #1. $3,685 on MasterCard #2, which is 0% if paid by 12/31/2013. $2,640 on Retail Card that is 0% if paid by 10/16/2013. All adding up to a grand total of $39,200 in toxic debt. Did I mention the $39,846.27 outstanding car loan? I sure drive a nice car.

I’ve never missed a payment, and my “I LOVE DEBT” score is 756.

The one thing I did do somewhat right last year is contribute to my retirement savings again and build an emergency fund. It’s a pitiful amount for someone in their mid-30’s but this isn’t about beating myself up, it’s about celebrating a success in a crap-load of failures. I have roughly* $14,357.82 in savings and retirement accounts. *I say roughly because the markets suck and I’m sure my 401(k) took another dive today.

The cards are cut up, the budget is solid, the net worth is wildly negative but has been increasing steadily since August.

And that’s all the news that fit to print. At least for today. X