What happened when I got my first ever collections call

What happened when I got my first ever collections call

I don’t love answering calls from unknown numbers, especially now I’m out of journalism and don’t feel obligated to pick up every incoming call. But often these mysterious calls are from one of the market research groups I belong to and HELLO free money!

This was a different kind of call, though…

Debt collections calls … sound surprisingly scammy

I thought it was some kind of weird phone based scam at first.

As soon as I put the phone to my ear, I heard an automated message start repeating itself. This soulless robotic voice told me I had to stay on the line for a very important matter to do with Dun and Bradstreet.

WTF? I was tempted to hang up, but I stayed on hold. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, a human came on the line. She started asking me personal questions to verify my identity and to be honest, I still wasn’t sure this was a legit call. But reluctantly, I confirmed a few details, trusting that they were who they said they were (seedy automated call aside).

Long story short: they told me I had a $50 ACC debt that had just gone to collections. Except I had literally never received any notification of this at all. Apparently it had gone to a very old address from about 3 years and 3 houses ago. And as I told the rep, I am always careful to keep my details up to date with the government (through IRD, because taxes!) and if I did owe this debt you’d think they’d tell ACC where to find me. Also, I’m not self employed, so I don’t know why I would owe ACC anything at all.

Without proof of this alleged debt, how was I even meant to begin sorting this out? Seeing as I had literally no documentation relating to this alleged debt I asked them to send me whatever they had on file.

A few days later I got a lovely letter full of capitals and red and threats of legal action. Standard template, I’m sure. It wasn’t exactly proof of the original bill, but it was something at least.

Armed with a reference number and a dollar amount, I contacted ACC. A couple of days later they told me they would be withdrawing the debt from Dun and Bradstreet. Sweet, I thought – that puts an end to this saga.

Debt collectors are relentless

Of course it wasn’t that easy. I continued to get calls from unknown numbers during the weekday and in the evenings – many of which I missed, and the rest I actively ignored. Then they started texting… Seriously.

I forwarded my email from ACC to three separate email addresses I found on the Dun and Bradstreet website (two of which immediately autoresponded with out of office replies).

Then, I also emailed ACC back to see what was happening…

Bureaucracy reigns supreme

Dun and Bradstreet eventually responded, only to tell me that a) I needed to call ACC because b) they had just spoken to their contact at ACC, who had said there was no intention to withdraw the invoice and c) it remained outstanding at this stage.

Uh, NOPE. I’m not going to waste time on the phone, particularly when that does not generate a paper (or email) trail. A lack of documentation is what brought this whole mess about.

Then, I heard back from ACC again. Another email saying the invoice had been withdrawn from Dun and Bradstreet…

The calls seem to have stopped, so I am assuming the message has finally gotten through to the right people.

It’s a stressful and dehumanising process

Look, I know Dun and Bradstreet were just DOING THEIR JOB. But from where I’m sitting, their systems and processes suck. I felt thoroughly dehumanised throughout the whole thing. Stalked, even.

I’m probably being oversensitive, but I didn’t like feeling like I’m being treated like subhuman scum. Not a debt dodger. Not even a legitimately decent person who’d fallen on hard times and fallen behind. I was literally someone stuck with a mess because someone in a big agency made a mistake. It’s scary how little power individuals actually have and how hard it is to sort things out that other people have screwed up. Here’s another story from a fellow Kiwi in that vein.

Have you ever had to sort out a mistake on your credit report or deal with debt collectors?

Disease Called Debt

Review: Me Ne Frego

Bracciano castle, Italy
Oh Italy, how I miss thee

I was stoked as to discover Divino Bistro a little while ago, a surprisingly great Italian eatery on the border of Parnell and the CBD. Only problem is it serves a certain market, I suppose, and isn’t open on weekends.

But I now have another goodie to add to the list, one that IS open every day and with a bit more atmosphere.

(Gallingly, it’s just around the corner from where I used to live a few years ago! I mean, I have no idea if it was even around back then, and I didn’t know good Italian food at that point having not been to Europe yet, so it’s probably a moot point.)

Me Ne Frego on Manukau Road in Epsom, Auckland is an unassuming and unpretentious trattoria. The food is simple, authentic and delicious. Everything I want in an Italian restaurant, basically.

The menus are handwritten on paper and cardboard. The light shades are colanders.  The walls are adorned with photos of people eating pasta. The dishes were served with tongs. There are no salt and pepper shakers – or god forbid, Parmesan cheese – on the tables.

We ordered one entree and three mains (which to be frank is not unusual for us two in NZ – but rest assured the portions are actually decent!) and left satiated with dreamy grins on our faces.

The seafood spaghetti was solid, though we had expected full individual pieces of each kind of seafood rather than small, uniform bits.  The wild goat ragu was rich without being greasy and totally surpassed expectations. The beef cheek special hit all the right notes – the meat disintegrating under the fork, served in a rich thick sauce with mounds of creamy, herby potato.

There were a few too many whole peppercorns sprinkled throughout the various dishes for our liking, but not unforgivably so.

The lighting was wacky and the presentation nothing to write home about, hence no photos. But trust me, Me Ne Frego is worth a visit or several. We’ll be back.

A mantra for 28 (or any birthday, really)

6 life lessons I've learned the hard way

You are (probably) a good person who deserves happiness. Do right by yourself, always.

It greatly helps to master the art of not giving a fuck. We all have a limited number to give, and you don’t want to waste yours unnecessarily.

Know your priorities. Stay true to them. Everything falls into place from there.

When you feel stuck and there is a clear way out, no matter how difficult that path may be, start walking in that direction.

Listen to your body. It will tell you when enough is enough.

Life is messy and grey; people are fallible and complicated. So forgive yourself, for the past and for all the screw ups that lie ahead.

Thinking about … expanding the family

I didn’t grow up around animals. I didn’t even like dogs until I spent time volunteering on an Italian farm and fell in love with the five dogs who lived there (two have since passed away, RIP).

Adopting a dog was literally one of the first things I did as a home owner, and we’ve always envisioned having a couple of dogs around.

The time isn’t right just yet to add a second dog to the mix, though I’m starting to think about it and plan ahead. We’re working on getting Leila better trained right now – mainly around walking on lead, as she can be a bit of a handful sometimes.

She loves human attention but she also loves other dogs and I’m sure she’d love a companion. Obviously she’s been an only child here so far (unless you count the chickens) but she shared her space with another dog at the SPCA for a long time.

My main concerns is around the logistics of walking two dogs (hence wanting to get her more trained) and whether I’ll be able to go running with both at the same time. We have plenty of space so I’m not worried about having enough room for two. Doubling up on some things – bed, bowl, kennel leash etc – will be an initial outlay but then it’ll just be food and maintenance.

Getting the right dog will be important. Probably a male this time, and of similar size or a little larger (she isn’t a fan of small dogs). One that is a little lazier than her, but can still keep up with her for the most part. I’d like to adopt again – I have a bit of a soft spot for boxers, though they’re rare in shelters here and there don’t seem to be any boxer-specific rescues in NZ.

Has anyone gone from one dog to two? What was it like?

I think I have financial PTSD

I think I have financial PTSD

I woke up the other day with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

There’s still this deep seated fear buried inside that things are going to fall apart.

Nothing specific, just the thought that this is too good to last – the house, two incomes, the dog. Somehow, I’m going to lose it all and it’s going to be taken away.

If there is such a thing as financial PTSD, I think I have it.

From money troubles to money worries

As I work to rebuild from the past couple years and improve my  financial wellness, I imagine my emotional well-being will too.

In How To Worry Less About Money, John Armstrong draws a distinction between money troubles (urgent, immediate, pressing) and money worries (emotional, complex).

Going from worrying about the day-to-day and the immediate future to worrying about the distant future is a nice change. I mean, it’s still a worry, but it’s a hell of a lot less stressful.

When you know you’re making ends meet you have the ability to actually be future-oriented – and that’s the only way to really get ahead financially. To figure out where to put your money to work the best for you.

All I can do is wait it out, I imagine. Acknowledge (or ignore) those fears as they rear their heads. Slay them with logic, or contempt. Only time, and money, will heal.

Have you ever felt this way after coming off the back of a financially stressful time?

Disease Called Debt

Why you won’t find jam in my house

By: Larry Jacobsen

You won’t ever find jam in my pantry.

The reason goes back to that very first year I lived on my own.

I studied mostly, and I worked where I could, and my budget was incredibly tight. It looked something like this.

$165 living costs (rent and all inclusive bills)
$30 groceries
$20 for bus fare

I had about $20 left over every week.  A bag of chips or a block of chocolate was a splurge. (Things like the time I slammed my hand in a door and had to go to the doctor in a rush threw everything off.)

I ate a crap ton of jam sandwiches. I packed them in brown paper bags. I had a sweet tooth, and figured there was fruit in the jam so it must be somewhat healthy.

(Yeah, I relate everything back to food, but what did you expect from me?)

As my budget eventually loosened up my lunches became more varied. I stopped eating jam outright. I’d overloaded to the max and I couldn’t stomach it any longer. Plus, it reminded me of my brokest days.

I don’t eat jam anymore, though the day may come when I buy it again. I might even try making it – I have an overachieving guava tree and more guavas than I know what to do with, though I don’t particularly like the fruit.

What do you associate with your broke days?

Link love (the sleep deprived edition)

An assortment of random, workplace related thoughts:

  • Instead of getting caught up in jealousy and insecurity, I’ve been really trying to consciously focus on learning from other people at work.
  • The outcomes of something I worked on came in for some criticism the other week. A couple years ago I think I would have been devastated, but I took it in my stride. I’m confident enough in myself, my judgement and skills these days to stand by what I do, especially when a number of others came in to bat on my side.
  • Suddenly it seems a bunch of people I used to work with have snagged shiny new jobs as “Head of Something or Other”. I have zero desire to be head of anything, but I do get a small pang of professional envy…

This week’s links

Bored of all the jobs, don’t know what to do with myself (Two great points from Ask a Manager here, I think: Funding your ability to live life is the core of success; and why are some people expected to be okay with working for a paycheck while others are encouraged to settle for nothing less than their dreams?)

The biggest lie I ever told

Forget cardboard houses – sometimes you’re sailing through life on a cardboard boat

The truth about work-life balance

Why I don’t want to be self employed

How can you tell if an experience is worth the money?

Motivation is a myth

Money questions to ask before the wedding

How to feel good

Polling people on their lady parts

What keeps me in Auckland? Work. Loved ones. Malaysian food. The landscapes. 20 degree days in June.

Nip up Mt Eden and look out across the city at Rangitoto. How great is that view? Swing round and look back out at the Waitakeres. We live in a tree city set among volcanoes. It’s like Endor. Ewoks would be happy here. We have relaxing beaches on the North Shore and full-on ones out West. Jump on a ferry to Waiheke, have a sniff around Rodney. It’s bloody great around here.

 

 

3 ways that being lazy saves me money

How being lazy saves me money

I kill it every day at work, but outside of the office my middle name might as well be Snorlax.

I hate gyms with a passion

They are a strange and foreign environment. I spent a year in an apartment with a free building gym and spent about 10 minutes in it, total. I know better than to waste money on a membership I’ll never use. If I must exercise, I will run and hike outside.

I can’t be bothered with contact lenses anymore

In summer maybe, but even then, not full time. Between battling dry/sensitive eyes and the hassle of putting on makeup (a necessity to liven up my face sans the visual dominance of glasses) it’s too much work for the sake of vanity.

I procrastinate like it’s my actual job.

I haven’t had a haircut in six months and counting. Haven’t been to the optometrist or dentist for two years. The latter is definitely NOT good and I’m going to rectify that soon, I swear.

Life with a mortgage (is surprisingly sweet)

Life with a mortgage is pretty sweet

Living with a mortgage ain’t half bad.

My contents insurance, which WAS around $1200 a year when I was renting, plunged to about $400 when I bought my house. Car insurance decreased by a few bucks too. Unexpected fringe benefits of home ownership! My jaw literally dropped when I heard the new figure and I had to ask the rep to repeat it back to me.

My house insurance is about $1250 a year. And since I got a $1200 cash gift from my new bank when I confirmed my mortgage, it’s basically free for the first year.

Council rates (the equivalent of property taxes in some of your countries) are pretty darn affordable. Mine are just under $1500 a year. This is typical for houses in this range; when house hunting I saw probably up to a $500 variation in annual rates between all the properties, based on their value.

And YES, before all you (non NZ) lovers of renting jump in, I’m prepared for the costs of maintenance – I will be referring back to my pre-purchase house inspection report plenty over the coming years, which was brimming with recommendations around everything from insulation to safety glass.

Replacing the deck and repainting the roof will probably be the priorities – but a new kitchen just might come first. There’s no rangehood, no splashback (both noted in the report as matters to remedy) and everything just generally needs an overhaul. Might even knock through a wall and make the whole living and kitchen area open-plan with an island.

How much am I paying?

My 30-year mortgage is structured in three parts. Here’s what it’s costing me per fortnight:

  • $77.83 ($30,000 floating loan @ 5.29% – was 5.44% at drawdown but rates dropped since)
  • $492.24 ($215,000 fixed loan for 2 years @ 4.35%)
  • $474.30 ($200,000 fixed loan for 3 years @ 4.65%)

So I’m paying the bank $1044.37 every fortnight, plus I’m also repaying my family at $200 on top of that: $1244.37 all up.

Thus far I’ve also knocked another $3,000 straight off the principal with extra lump sum payments but now I need to turn my attention to a few other financial priorities.

Mortgages in NZ

So, if any of that sounds weird, here’s a simple intro to mortgage options in NZ.

Or if you’re not much of a video person, let me try to run you through how things work here.

Fixed vs floating: There are fixed mortgage rates and floating (variable) mortgage rates. Fixed rates are typically lower.

The minimum term you can fix for here is generally 6 months and the maximum 5 years. Lots of people (like me) split up their mortgage into a few separate loans, some floating, some fixed. Floating allows you to focus on repaying the loan without penalties, while fixed gives you some certainty around rates (but with less repayment flexibility). And thus, a combo can offer the best of both.

Then there are a few more types of mortgage accounts available with floating rates:

Revolving credit loans are basically a giant overdraft, with one account acting as your loan, chequeing and saving account all in one. Your pay goes straight into the account and the idea is to leave the money sitting there as long as possible (eg putting your expenses on a credit card and paying them off at the end of the month). By keeping the account balance (and thus, loan balance) as low as possible at any time, you save on interest because the bank calculates interest daily.

Obviously this requires discipline and organisation, though you may be able to set it up so that your credit limit reduces over time, making it easier to stay on top of things and ensure you’re making progress. When it comes to refinance/rollover time I imagine I’ll choose revolving credit for part of my mortgage.

Similar but different, an offset mortgage is linked to your other accounts with the bank. Your mortgage interest is offset by the amount you have in your other accounts. For example, if your mortgage balance was $500,000 and you had $20,000 between your savings and chequing accounts, you would only be paying interest on $480,000. But compared to revolving credit, offsetting is not offered by as many banks.

And in case you missed it: my step by step guide to actually buying a dang house, from getting preapproved to settlement day.

Link love (Powered by cake and coats)

NZ Muse link love

Dispatches from our animal kingdom:

  • Our chickens have probably grown about 50%. They are huge compared to when we first brought them home! They still aren’t laying yet. Not exactly sure how old they are but their combs haven’t turned red yet (they are in the beginning stages)

 

  • We started off feeding them pellets, which the dog used to try and steal. Now we feed them mash, which she doesn’t really seem interested in.

 

  • The dog tends to follow them around curiously but I’m pretty sure we’ve drilled into her that they are friends, not foes.

 

  • But she will try to chase birds. In fact, she actually managed to catch one the other, unbelieveably. It eventually died 🙁

 

  • She is me in dog form – seriously food motivated, and prefers drinking warm water to cold #asianforlife.

 

This week’s links

Don’t follow your passion. I wholly agree, as per this and this

What if you just don’t make enough money to get ahead?

Auckland house shopping with a $550,000 cap

Personal finance lessons from Buffy

This has been a sad week for humanity. But let’s remember the vast majority of us are good folk and let’s do our bit to preserve that. Here are 2 pieces from Captain Awkward and Ask Polly that made me cry while on the train to work.