My Crazy Week, Part 2: Pesky Bill Collectors

Funny thing about addictions...they kinda take over and make you forget to post the second part of a blog series. Yes, I am an addict. Not to crack, sudoku, internet porn, or any other wasteful past time. No, my addiction is much much cooler:

Sid Meier's Civilization 3: Call to Power is quite simply the greatest video game ever created. A turn-based game that mixes the conquest from Age of Empires with the management of Sim City, this game never gets old. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to win (i.e. take over the world), even if you play non-stop over an entire weekend.

I started a game Friday night after finishing at the poker room. I stopped to eat, sleep, go to church, and shower. The rest of the weekend was spent playing Civ3. It's both comforting and scary, being able to clear my mind of all things but the game; I look at it like a vacation...only cheaper and without airfare.

My meager ways have worked however; this week I took out a big chunk of my debt. After liquidating my simple IRA fund, I was infused with a huge cash amount to use. Since many of them are medical bills, I'm also saving all my receipts in hopes of writing it all off next spring.

Most collection agencies are happy to hear from me. Usually they are trying to find lost clients while I am actively calling and making arrangements to settle my debts. Having the large sum of money gave me some leverage, as some agencies were willing to settle for a lesser amount IF I paid a substantial lump sum. I figure I saved $350 easily.

I'm awaiting a decision on my recent $2000 hospital bill. I filled out an application for financial assistance, and I'm praying they can cover at least half of that amount. If so, then I can be out of debt before the summer.

However there are some collectors that just want to be pricks, and while I'm happy about the state of my personal affairs, this one agency has me quite pissed.

In January I paid a big chunck of a bill, $240 on a $340 medical claim. As I called to finish paying off the debt this week, I was given an unusual surprise:

"I'm don't know what to tell you, Mr. Martinez, but according to your account, you owe another $45 for legal fees and documents." I had tried to pay off the bill, but some lady, different than from who I had dealt with before, told me I owed more than the stated amount. I hadn't planned on putting up a fuss, until I was told: "There's no person that works here by that name."

I'm like most people: don't toy with my money (in this instance, my personal debt). I've had mail and phone calls telling me about the $340, no where is there mentioned a $45 fee. There was some arguing back and forth, and I told them they'd see the other $45 when Hell froze over.

Later that day, I realized I handled the situation all wrong, and that despite the extra charge, the idea was to pay off the debt. Feeling somewhat sheepish, I called the collection agency back the next day.

Even though I spoke to someone else, I apologized for my actions the previous day, and told them that I would pay the final $45 to clear the debt. Of course, they had some other ideas:

"I just spoke with my boss, and she said that there's a charge for sending someone out to serve the judgement notice."

I wanted to scream at her over the phone.

"Just yesterday, they said it was $45 to finish paying everything off. So you're saying that in the manner of one day, with a bill of $45, you chose to send the account to be served? How much is that?"

"I don't know right now," was her response.

"Forget my credit card number," I told her. "If you're gonna charge me for it, I'll see you guys in court. Then we can let the judge decide who's being stupid."

I'm not sure what legal recourse I have, or whether the judge will just tell me to pay it anyway. Regardless, if I have to pay for a court date, I might as well vent and complain. I'll be sure to tell him everything I can. Who knows, maybe I'll play the "religious card" and see what happens. How's that expression go: "All's fair in love and litigation?"

One part of the story I left out: after the first day, when I was angry about paying the extra $45 dollars, that was also my first day volunteering at God's Kitchen in downtown Grand Rapids. I think that time spent was beneficial; perhaps it gave me a better perspective...that it was better to just be done than to argue. Maybe when I go back this week I will see things that way again.

I'll talk more about God's Kitchen and Meals on Wheels next time. For now, thank God that I will be able to pay off all my debt before Postulancy in the fall!

(back to Civ3!)

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