I Reduced My Debt From $212,000 To $30,000!
I am an independent film maker. In April of 2007 I went into production on a small but warm film with only a $500,000 budget. I had a single investor and it was the culmination of a decade’s work to get the film made. As we started shooting we went over budget, and at the same time my investor became ill and was hospitalized. It was impossible to speak with him at the time about covering the over budget expenses and I was faced with the choice of shutting down production or financing the expenses myself. I wound up putting $212,000 on seven different cards with six different banks. Then my investor (and good friend) passed away. I was left to service the debt myself at a time when I had no income because I was still responsible for finishing post-production on the film, so I couldn’t go look for other work.
My goal was to finish the film and sell it to recoup the money and pay off the debt. I continued making $3600 monthly payments with that intent. However, when we had a finished film, the housing market had already collapsed, the credit collapse was just hitting, and more than a year later the film still has not sold. I was running out of cash and desperately trying to stay current on my mortgage (adjustable rate and through the roof for much of this period).
Though my investment was in a film, I believe there are many small business people who have found themselves in similar situations, taking out loans for their businesses and then finding that the economy isn’t supporting their business. Perhaps many of these people, like me, also find themselves turning to credit just to cover basic living expenses.
I finally made the difficult choice to stop making payments on my credit cards for the first time in my life. I’m 41 years old and was actually proud of my credit score that hovered near 800. I then spent the better part of a year taking sometimes five calls a day from banks and collection agents on the many accounts. It was a long, often frightening, sometimes painful experience that, in the end, not only successfully reduced my credit card debt from $212,000 to $30,000, but also taught me many lessons about how to separate myself from the emotional judgment that often accompanies debt.
In the end, I emerged a stronger person. I saved $115,000 in the negotiations. I did this without using a “service,” many of which are getting very bad press these days as being scams or doing more harm then good for their customers. I did it myself and tell the whole story in my book, “The Do-It-Yourself Bailout,” in detail. What the phone calls sounded like, how I got settlement agreements, I even put copies of the settlement agreements and amounts into the book. I want others to have as much information as they can to work through their own debt.
I believe, in this economy, that every individual has the right to consider him or herself the President and C.E.O. of their own corporation, the corporation of “You,” and the right to treat debt with the same attitude that businesses do. It is a commodity and the C.E.O.’s responsibility is to deal with it as best he or she can for the health and benefit of the shareholders, which in the corporation of “You” is the family.
I truly feel that my experiences will give people countless insights into how they can prepare themselves to navigate the process of negotiating through their credit card debt.