Retirement itself is already one of the biggest financial challenges anyone can face. But being forced into early retirement with no money by illness can throw your finances into chaos. Income is limited and because you retired early, you may have missed the crucial opportunity to pay off debt. As a result, your bills outstrip your income and it’s a daily struggle to stay afloat.
That’s the situation Wanda found herself in after a serious illness forced her to retire earlier than expected. Her finances simply weren’t ready to make the jump away from a steady paycheck. As a result, Wanda struggled to get ahead on her limited Social Security income.
Wanda’s finances were stable while she was working…
Wanda spent a 20-year career working as an executive assistant and clerk of courts in her small Ohio town, Highland Hills. The money was good and the company benefits supported her healthcare needs without any issue. But at 55, she met with a financial planner who warned that her retirement was uncertain. In spite of her 401(k) savings through her employer, the $50,000 Wanda carried in credit card debt put her future at risk.
“Most of the money was spent, you know, on things – household things that I needed: Sheets, curtains, small appliances and things like that. I admit there was also some impulse shopping in there. If I saw a dress I liked but I didn’t really need it, I’d tell myself, “Hey, I want this and I have credit so why not buy it?”
Wanda’s debt was also caused by helping her siblings…
“Not only was I busy trying to take care of myself, I was also helping my siblings financially. Even if I didn’t have the cash, I’d put it on a credit card. At the time I was work so it didn’t seem like a big deal. I love my family and would doing anything, anything to help them out. They would do the same for me.”
Wanda did draw the line on everyday purchases…
“I didn’t use my cards for everyday purchases – food or anything that went into my mouth. Why continue to pay interest on food that you ate 10 years ago? So I never charged food or candy or anything I consumed. If I couldn’t show for it, I didn’t buy it. That much I told myself.”
Still, even without incidental purchases, Wanda’s debt levels were dangerously high for someone headed into retirement. She followed the advice of the financial planner and started to work on eliminating her debt.
First she found a company to help her…
“I saw a commercial for Consolidated Credit on TV. I hesitated for about a week because my niece had gone with a different company that didn’t work out. But after I received a few more calls from my credit card companies, I said ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I called Consolidated Credit.”
Then Wanda enrolled in a debt management program…
“Consolidated Credit put me on a payment plan that fit my budget. Before I called my interest rates were so high that even if I paid a few dollars over the minimum requirements, my balances were not going down.”
Wanda admits that at first, the program was challenging. She had to restrain herself not to using credit cards. Since her accounts were frozen as soon as she enrolled in the program, Wanda dealt with the adjustment of quitting cold turkey.
“I wondered how I was going to make it. I’d been using credit cards forever. Every time I wanted to go somewhere or get something I’d put it on a credit card. There was this little devil voice inside telling me I couldn’t do it. But then my little angel would say, ‘Snap out of it! You say you want to get these bills paid off, don’t you?”
Then disaster struck…
Three years into her 5-year debt management program, Wanda suffered a stroke. She had planned to retire on time at 67, but a hard recovery forced her to leave the workforce. She struggled to make the payment on her program, but she was determined to be resilient.
“I refused to go bankrupt. I just said, ‘No matter what, I’m going to get these bills paid off. I was too close to being done to stop. Sometimes it felt like I’d never be done, but now I should be debt free in a few months.”
Wanda says the relief of being this close to getting out of debt is indescribable. It’s removed a huge burden from her shoulders so she can finally look forward to the rest of her retirement.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m actually this close to getting to my goal. I’m relieved mentally, emotionally and even physically. I don’t have to worry about the credit cards. I can sleep at night.”
Freedom from debt is an amazing feeling…
“Sometimes when I think about it, I can’t imagine how I managed to do it. Without any help I’ve been able to maintain my house and beat these illnesses. What can I say? God is good.”
Wanda looks forward to the day her sister retires, too. They want to hit the road and travel the country together.
But Consolidated Credit taught her a lot…
“I definitely learned that I don’t need credit to live. I admit I didn’t think I could do it because I’ve been using credit cards since I was 21 and I’m 69 now. I still get those mailers from just about every credit card company, but I just tear them up. I have lived without credit cards for five years now and I’ve learned to actually live within my means. I pay cash for whatever it is I buy.”
And she has some stark observations about the trap that credit cards can create.
“When you have good credit, every company under the sun sends you a card whether you need it or not. But think twice before acknowledging those offers that come in the mail. When I was in debt I was reading one of my credit card statements. It said, ‘If you continue to pay this about your debt will be paid off in 15 years.’ Who in the world wants to be paying down debt for 15 years of their life???”
Wanda also has some advice for anyone in a similar situation…
“Do your homework. Find a reputable company and make the call. If you do nothing else get those bills consolidated. Then pay them off so you can sleep at night. Before I consolidated I didn’t sleep. But once I called and got started in the program, it gave me some form of relief. You won’t be relieved until you do something about your debt.”