They were both just twenty-five, married for two years, and the financial noose of heavy debts was already closing in on them. They were over twenty thousand dollars in debt. This included angry creditors, harassing phone calls from collectors, and no one to bail them out.
“The truth is I saw it coming, and maybe I was even an accomplice,” says Janet Listman. The Listman's live in one of Los Angeles' more affordable outlying communities, popular with young couples. “A few weeks after our wedding, we were visiting with a family who had just made major renovations and purchased new furniture. My husband kept whispering. “Look at that plasma TV. We should get one like that,” or, “Look at that great living room set, I want it.” We were both in our twenties. I did babysitting and my husband worked for the US Postal Service. These people had been married nearly twenty years and he was a successful businessman. But somehow, we thought we could be like them.”
It started with expensive jewelry for our wedding anniversary and birthdays, the new SUV for our vacation trip, and the new glass enclosed living room wall unit and sectional sofa, all purchased on easy payment terms. Then the baby came, and it was “Only the best for our little princess.”
And the money?
“That was the easiest part,” Janet continues. “My husband quickly learned to manipulate credit cards and loans. The first $5000 worth of credit he acquired was so easy. It made him heady and thirsty for more. And I got such a lift every time I flashed my credit card. It made me feel so . . . grown up. I guess we didnt really think about how we were going to pay it all back.”
Janet and Grey Listman relied on a halfhearted promise from a wealthy relative, who had hinted at the possibility of helping them out with the purchase of a new apartment. But when Grey approached him for help paying back his credit card debt, the relatives wallet was closed. The parents on both sides were helpless; they were barely managing for themselves. As their credit line was stretched to the limit and no one seemed to be forthcoming to bail them out, desperation set in.
But Grey was one of the lucky ones. He realized the financial quicksand into which he was sinking. He contacted a debt consolidation service and produced a debt recovery plan for himself. Today Grey works a grueling fifteen hours a day at two jobs, one at the Post Office and another as a night manager in a pizza store.
In the United States debt has become a way of life. Benjamin Taylor, a debt management counselor, calls it a plague:
“A couple generations ago, you knew who was poor by the patches on his clothing. Today everyone dresses well, and people dont want to be caught without the latest gadgets or trendy furniture. But they never learned how to live with debt. The code that “if you dont have you dont buy,” has become outdated. Lets say a young person's main income is a regular average salary, but instead of living frugally within his limits, he sees it as natural that he should manage with credit card debts. For him its not a bad thing because he probably sees other friends and family borrowing money as well. Perhaps at his age, the father has no debts and lived within his means, and this only happened when consumerism and fads recently settled in. But meanwhile, the son sees how easy it is to obtain credit, without thinking about the consequences.”
Benjamin Taylor is a consumer credit counselor at Click Debt Consolidation, a Los Angeles based agency established to get people out of debt and keep them debt free. He is convinced that, even with below average salaries, people can find ways to make ends meet without borrowing blindly.