Counselor Q&A with Sheila West

Sheila WestSheila West doesn’t dream like other women. “Some women dream about handsome men, I dream about Visa and MasterCard,” says the 15-year certified credit counselor. “I like helping people get out of debt.” Below, Sheila shares her experiences doing just that…

What’s the most memorable call you’ve received since becoming a counselor?

I don’t know if it was the most memorable but it was very touching…

This year, I got a call from an executive with a major company. He was a big money earner with a high income and close to $200,000 in credit card debt. I think it moved me because no matter how much money you earn, it doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. This man and his family are dealing with an autistic child who was severely brain damaged at birth. And most of the credit card money was spent on schooling and tutoring and medical procedures for the child.

It really stuck with me that it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Everybody has problems. I think about that every day.

How do you separate your work life from your personal life?

I wake up in the middle of the night talking to myself, and my husband is like, “You are talking about Visa and Master card.” After 21 years, that’s all I think about.

I have learned that when I walk away, I have to walk away. But there are times at night when I don’t know. I just go into my office, turn on my computer, I see my email and somebody has asked me a question. It could be 11 o’clock at night, and I’ll sit and type a reply. I had one woman type back to me, “Do you ever sleep?”

Sometimes, I’ll pick up messages and call the client back in the evening – they’re not expecting to hear from me until the following day, so it kind of eases a little bit of the pain.

There’s always a reason why people fall into debt. What’s the most common reason you’ve heard?

The most common reason is loss of income – job loss. One party or another in the family has been laid off or had hours cut. If they live for every penny and if their hours are cut, it puts the family into panic mode. They worry: Do they pay their mortgage or buy food for the family? Or do their lights stay on? Or do they pay the credit cards?

What’s the worst reason people give for being in debt?

Gambling. One woman who called me was a tremendous gambler. She lost her job and was looking for something to do, so she started going on river boat cruises. She became an addicted gambler and started pulling money from her credit card – to the tune of $100,000. Her husband didn’t know, and that’s one of the other things that are very prevalent: “My husband (or wife) doesn’t know, please don’t tell them.”

And I don’t.

What’s the nicest thing a graduate from the program has ever said to you?

Both men and women have cried. One man wrote to me and said, “I’m in your program for three years, and I just pulled my credit score and my credit score is over 700. So I am thrilled to death that I will not only be getting out of debt, but my credit is still in good standing!” Those are the things that wipe away the hardest part of the day.

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