Sent in by a reader …. From the New York Times; that they got a crazy loan(s) isn’t the most powerful part of this story. The rapid spiral of debt, and hopelessness is; this story is a “must read.”
Between humongous loan balances and high rates, we had hung ourselves with the rope they gave us. In the previous December alone, we charged $2,845 on the Chase card for Christmas gifts, food, gasoline, clothing and other expenses. The charges included almost $350 for groceries, $700 in clothes from J. Crew, $179 at GapKids and $700 for airplane tickets for two of Patty’s children to visit their father in Los Angeles. Our balance climbed from $14,118 to $17,135, and in January 2006 we maxed out at our $19,000 credit limit. And there were other expenses on other cards: $1,200 in dental work for Patty’s son Ben; $1,600 to rent a beach house the previous year for us and all the children. Granted, the beach house was an embarrassing mistake. But given that Patty had landed a solid job, it seemed like an indulgence we could work off later.
I felt foolish, ashamed and angry as I confessed to Bob. Why had I been trying to live a lifestyle that I couldn’t afford? Why had I tried to keep up the image of a conventional suburban family man, when nothing about my situation was conventional? How could I have glossed over the fact that we had been spending about $3,000 more than we were earning, month after month after month? How could a person who wrote about economics for a living fall into the kind of credit-card trap that consumer groups had warned about for years?
The panic attack hit me around 2 a.m. on Patty’s birthday. It was Oct. 17, 2007, and I was lying in bed obsessing over bills that couldn’t be postponed and the money we didn’t have to pay them. Like many of my predawn fear cascades, this one had its start with a specific unpaid bill: $240 in traffic tickets â€” $140 for speeding, $50 each for expired tags and inspection. The fines would double if we didn’t pay them in less than a week. The tickets had uncorked the bottle on all the other â€œmust paysâ€: the $400 electric bill with the cutoff date printed in red; the $220 cable/telephone/Internet bill for the past two months; the MasterCard and American Express bills â€” at least one of which had to be brought current or I wouldn’t even be able to travel for work. And of course, there was the $3,271 mortgage payment.
My panic circuitry was in fine form, connecting small debts to big ones, short-term problems to the bottomless abyss, private calamity to public shame. Once Patty was asleep and I was alone in the dark, the bottled-up fear reached the surface. I tossed from side to side, trying to figure out at least a triage plan for our bills. I was too fidgety to lie still in bed, but I was in no mood to actually sit down with the bills themselves. I climbed out of bed for a moment, then jumped back in. I couldn’t decide if I would rather feel confined or all alone.