Think you can astonish a credit counselor with your $20,000 credit card debt? Not a chance. They've seen it all, including shopping divas who outspend their incomes and clients who have severe gut reactions once all their hidden debt is revealed.
These seasoned financial professionals have stories to tell from their time working for nonprofit member organizations of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Here are just a few true money tales from behind closed doors. Some names and locations have been changed to protect clients' identities.
A gut reactionAfter years of ignoring debt, discovering how dire it's become can be pretty distressing. But to get physically ill? Credit counselor Scott Monroe of Phoenix was on the receiving end of what can happen when figures are finally totaled. A client came in with a bag bursting with unopened bills. "Even in the beginning, she wasn't looking too lively. Her voice was lowered to the point where almost no sound was coming out."
Monroe had her open the envelopes (a technique used to help borrowers gain ownership of their situations) and recite the balances as he added them up. "When it reached over $35,000, she had this look on her face -- something very unpleasant was about to happen. I grabbed the trash can, but it was too late. She threw up all over my desk."
Monroe rescheduled the session for when the client felt up to the task.
What do you mean I have to budget?Spending problems are not always easy to recognize or admit, as San Diego counselor Ellen O'Neill knows well. One client had an especially hard time accepting living within her income. During the session, O'Neill found out the woman was spending a jaw-dropping $100,000 more than her salary each year.
To stay afloat, she had been drawing equity from her house and paying the home loans off with her credit cards. When O'Neill explained the danger of this behavior and told the client she needed to budget, the client's response left O'Neill nearly speechless.
O'Neill did her best to remain calm and reasonable. "I told her that was a valid point but she still had to spend within her means." And ultimately, that's what she helped the client do.
More than a money messCounselors are accustomed to cleaning up debt messes, but bird fallout is not the norm. Mike Ruehle of Boulder, Colo., recalls a client who arrived with a large parrot. "During the session, the bird sat on his shoulder and pooped down the front of the client's shirt. The client did not react negatively to the action. In fact, it all seemed to be quite normal for him."
Because the gentleman was out of work, Ruehle did his best to prepare him for job seeking. "At that time, our agency had a special program for the unemployed. I had the pleasure of trying to help this guy compose a résumé with the bird on his shoulder."
Moreover, Ruehle said, "this client wanted to work in a grocery store and thought he was entitled to take his bird to work with him.