Jose knows what it’s like to have money problems. Seven years ago, he and a friend opened a sandwich shop in Tampa, Florida. For 2 years, they split the bills and the profits. They did well. But then his friend’s mother fell ill in her native Venezuela, and the friend had to return home. Jose couldn’t afford to run the restaurant alone, and he ended up in debt.
“Money was tight,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to ruin my credit, and I wanted to have more control of my finances.”
So he called Consolidated Credit and enrolled in the debt management program. But six months later, “I found out that they were hiring.” Specifically, customer service reps.
“In addition to having customer service experience, I was really happy with the way they were handling my debt, so I decided to apply. Here I am five years later. And, because I went through the program myself, I know how tough it is. I do my best to help the clients get back on track.”
How did making that last payment make you feel?
“Oh I was so happy,” he says. “Going through the program, I was able to understand credit cards and interest rates. I’m more mature with my finances and with money. I only have one credit card with a zero balance that I use only in emergencies. Upon completion of the program and getting out of debt, my credit score jumped from a little over 500 to over 800.”
Congratulations on getting out of debt Jose.
What’s the most memorable call you’ve received?
“I have received many,” he says. “But there was this lady who called in to find out her balance and how long she had to go to complete the program. We went from account to account and discovered that she only had one payment left. She started crying uncontrollably and shouting, Oh my God I cannot believe this!’ This one has always stuck with me.”
Do you remember what had gotten her into debt?
“She told me that the debt was from her daughter who had asked her to use her credit card. The daughter then got married, moved away, neglecting to pay back the $70,000 debt.” She said, I’m that person who will pay my debt no matter what. Everyone is telling me to file bankruptcy, but I’m 70 something years old, I’ve been paying all my debt, and I’m not going to stop now. I will assume my responsibility and pay the debt. Even though I didn’t spend the money, it’s in my name and I will pay for it.'”
Jose said the woman was surviving on her retirement, so money was tight. She got a part-time job to supplement her income. But the money was just enough to afford rent, food, and the payments.
Jose remembers a different client in a similar situation:
“I also spoke to someone not too long ago who’s still making payments,” he recounts. “She got sick; her son was helping her out and paying all her debt. But then he moved away and she had to be helping him because he was unemployed. She began receiving bills and found that her son had been using her Social Security number to take out credit. He had racked up $30,000 of debt in her name. She decided to put the account in the program. The son took some accountability and is paying half of the bill.”
What’s the most common reason you’ve heard for falling in debt?
“Store credit cards,” he says. “People are sometimes unaware of the credit card company policies. They apply for store credit cards because of the store discounts that they are offered.
But honestly, those are the worse credit cards. People don’t take into consideration the interest rates that will be applied to the card once the grace period expires.”
According to Jose, these interest rates are usually pretty high. People often think that making the monthly payment is fine, but that’s not all.
“You have to devise your own plan,” he says. “Make higher monthly payments than the minimum to get rid of that debt. Use your credit cards for emergencies and large purchases. Not for daily coffee, gas and groceries.”
Jose says when you think that you are receiving a 10 percent discount you really aren’t because you’ll be paying 20 percent in interest. It’s too easy to spend but difficult to pay.
What are some of the nicest things a graduate from the program has ever said to you?
“It’s good to hear clients say thank you for helping me get out of debt and helping me control my finances,” he says. “It’s awesome to work in a place where you know you’re helping people. We help lower or sometimes eliminate their interest rates.”
Jose recounts a conversation he had with another satisfied client. He said the client expressed that before signing on to the debt management program she was getting help from her mom and her brother to cover her bills. But since joining the program she was able to pay her car, credit cards, and pay all her bills on time. She would now have an extra $300 a month that Jose advised her to save for rainy days. She said that she would because the program has taught her how to control her finances.
What do your friends and family think about your job?
“My family has learned so much because I explain to them how the program works and how credit cards work,” he says. “Particularly the fact that it’s better to make the full payment on credit card debt.”
But Jose says it can be challenging to try to explain the program to people who have misconceptions about it.
“People think that consolidating your debt is bad, and it’s like bankruptcy but it’s far from that. You are paying your debt with a low interest rate and paying the same amount of money every month until you are out of debt. Your credit score gets back on track, but some people don’t know that. People call in all the time and say, ‘I’m calling to make sure you won’t take my money.’ There are some illegitimate companies out there, so I don’t blame them for being careful.”
Jose directs people to the Better Business Bureau, where Consolidated Credit has an A+ rating. He also mentions the 5 million customers who’ve gotten out of debt because of the program.
Has anyone cried upon completion of the program?
“Yes, from shock and surprise that they had indeed completed the program debt-free,” he recalls. “There was this guy who called in to find out when was his next payment. When he found out that he was actually done, he couldn’t stop bawling. He started screaming to his wife who apparently was in another room ‘We are done!’ Then she started screaming ‘I cannot believe this! Are you sure? Call back to make sure!’ They were super-happy to know that they had a zero balance.”
Do you have any advice for clients?
“If you must get a credit card make sure that it’s for a good purpose,” Jose advises. “Don’t apply just because. The best thing is to avoid credit cards and just use cash.”
Whatever the reason, we have the solution
We often get in debt for similar reasons. Either through helping someone out or because we are unaware of how credit cards work. And because of our lack of awareness we resort to spending on the things that we do not need. If your debt is out of control for some reason or another give us a call like Jose did to get the relief that you need. Our certified credit counselors are standing by to take your call. Dial or request a free Debt & Budget Analysis online.