Archive for September, 2012

Five Years, Six Figures, Nine Lives

As I type this, I am thinking back to the lowest points that I have known in my life. None have really been life threatening, but a few made me shudder. One of the lowest was the aftermath of the house fire that left me questioning what my next step would be, when actually it was just taking one day at a time. The fire was in January of 2006. Planning and rebuilding took longer and cost more than expected, as it usually does. By September of 2007, I had finished the apartment, but not the main living space of the new house. It was also about this time that the economy started to sour and credit started to dry up, just when I needed it most.

I had maxed out the equity of both houses I owned, borrowed all I could from my family and friends, and finally resorted to my credit cards. Of the nearly dozen or so credit cards I had open, some had begun lowering my credit limits, and others closed them altogether. I used up the credit on every one that had funds available, to the tune of more than six figures. This was in the form of convenience checks and EFTs directly into my checking account in order to pay my contractor’s invoices during the construction process. When September rolled around in 2007, my contractor presented me with two invoices that had been a long time coming. He had said he needed more time to put them together, but when he did, they were a great deal more than he had estimated. I remember standing with him in the unfinished kitchen, looking at the invoices, turning to him and saying, “Stop. Stop everything your guys are doing and leave. I’m broke. I cannot pay these invoices. We’re done here.” His jaw dropped, he stammered, and I stopped him, saying, “I’m broke.”

Several weeks later, as I sat in bed in the apartment, my mind raced through all that had happened since the fire; my business slowing down, my credit lines disappearing, the uncertain financial future. I had begun commuting to New York City every week in order to work with clients there, as well as the clients I had on Martha’s Vineyard. I dreaded the long commute. I felt as if I had no alternatives. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, listening to the wind outside. In less than a week, I had more than ten thousand dollars in payments to banks due and not more than a hundred dollars left in my savings and checking accounts combined. I could not think of a more dire time in my life, financially or otherwise.

When I got out of bed that next morning, I took a deep breath and vowed to never give up. I worked deals with every client that would take my call. I cut deals for packages paid for weeks, if not months, in advance. I called the bank that was handling my home equity line of credit and applied to refinance my mortgage from another bank with their line of credit into a new mortgage. I floated my personal accounts into my business accounts and transferred, consolidated, or restructured whatever I could until things stabilized. Smoke and mirrors, whatever it took to get by until the next payments were due.

So earlier tonight I made the final payment on the last credit card that I had maxed out. It took five years to pay off six figures of credit card debt. Straight up, no special programs or deals with companies that want a piece of the action. I went all in and made it out alive. One day at a time, that was all I had. I wonder how many lives I have used so far, how many I have left?

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