This could have also been titled "The time Amber thought she would not be able to finish her last two semesters of grad school."
This post has been sitting in my drafts list for well over a week. It is embarrassing to post, but what happened was a tremendous lesson for me and I feel the need to share it with others.
Tiny 18 year old Amber, a freshman at Iowa State University was beginning her first year in college and, like many other students, she did not have a job that first semester. For the first time in four years, a job was not a good idea while getting acclimated to college life.
She still needed money though!
What did she do, along with many other freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors and beyond? She got a credit card, of course. Oh, and not just any credit card. It was a shiny red ISU card with the mascot on the front annnnnd, get this, it came with a FREE T-shirt! What a steal, right?!
What was the interest rate, you ask?
I don't know.
Yep, I still do not know. That card is long gone by now and I am still unaware of the rate on that card, and I think I am better off not knowing, because I'm pretty sure that $100 leather jacket I bought (and yes, I bought a leather coat. It was 2001, ooookay!) actually cost more like $150 after interest.
I did not do the best with managing money during my college years and directly after it. So bad in fact, that I swore off credit cards for FIVE years to pay them down and I actually followed through with that. I am so glad I did that, because during those five years I developed a very good habit. I do not absentmindedly use credit cards anymore.
It was a great lesson learned.
In the past month I have learned another lesson. Another extremely important lesson. Check your credit report. No, I mean REALLY check it. For years, I would log in once, maybe twice a year. Check my credit score. Feel pleased that it was good, call it a day and move on.
Well, that bit me in the butt HARD.
While in DC earlier this month, I got a phone call from the financial aid office at my university. I didn't call them back for awhile, because I figured I just forgot to sign something. I looked at my University account online and everything seemed normal, so I went on with vacation. While trekking through Virginia (ok, not trekking - maybe just sweating?) I got the sudden urge, or need, to call them back in between our destinations. The guy that answered calmly told me my loans have been denied.
I think my blood ran cold and I whispered, "whaaat?" He said he did not know why, but gave me a number to call to find out. I was pretty speechless at this point and on the verge of faahh-reaking out.
I immediately call the number and the loan agency tells me there is something in collections on my credit report. I immediately start arguing! Collections??! That is absurd! I have not received a letter! I have not received a phone call! I have not received ANYTHING and I immediately go into defense mode and searching for answers. My first and last name is extremely common, there are THIRTEEN other people at my university with my name for crying out loud, so the only logical answer was that I was being mixed up with someone else.
When we get home (well, back to Becky's apartment in Virginia), I immediately pull up my credit report and.... lo and behold, there IS something in collections. A cable bill from the end of 2006. Here is that "D'oh!" moment.
Sigh. Who. Does. That?! I actually have a very logical explanation. Read on...
So, what was I doing in 2006 you ask?? Well, I was moving from Kansas City back to Des Moines, where I lived with my parents for a bit, working for the CLL in my hometown before I made the cross country move to Myrtle Beach. Three different addresses within six months. Three different states. A cross country move. It. Was. Hectic.
That is my excuse.
Credit bureaus do not give a shit though. I mean, why would they? It is pretty black and white. I cannot say I blame them.
What gets me is the collection agency had my parents address (which they still reside at) and my current phone number (which hasn't changed in over a decade). My parent have not received a letter in six years, and I have not received any phone calls.
I did not argue though. I quickly took care of the account. Athough in TWO MONTHS it would have dropped off my credit, but that thought makes me feel guilty. This is MY bill and I need to pay it. So, I paid it. Then contacted the loan agency. They said I could file an appeal. Which, I did.
Then... the appeal officer I was assigned (who was phenomenal) said there is ANOTHER account in collections.
Are you thinking WTF? yet?! Because, I was! I am combing my report and there is NOTHING else negative. Where is she getting this?? She told me they only use Equifax, and I was looking at TransUnion and Experian.
Fine, so I log in, get my Experian report and lo and behold they do have an account listed in collections, but it is FALSE. That account is NOT in collections. That account was closed in 2009 and was never in collections!
By this point I am cussing, pissed off, scared, trying to think of contingency plans if I cannot attend school this semester (thank god I can always sub!). Then realized, that would be giving up! I'm not giving up. If worse comes to worse I could get a co-signer for my loans. But.... I don't need a co-signer. I just needed to do the legwork to get this off my credit.
I am kicking myself. Kicking myself HARD. Why didn't I check this? Why didn't I know that this was on my report tarnishing my credit history? Credit history that I had worked so hard to make better! It seems so silly. It IS silly! Who gets on and just looks at their score and goes about their merry day? Apparently I do.
It is what it is and I cannot change my actions, I can however make them better in the future and I have learned a valuable lesson. I will go through my credit report each year with a fine toothed comb and carefully analyze everything. Mistakes can and do happen. Mistakes that can cost you a better interest rate or in my case, your student loans.
This story does have a happy ending though. My appeal was approved and everything is back on track for my last two semesters of grad school. At this time next year I should be a fully licensed teacher with my own classroom. Everything is as it should be, I did not need a co-signer and I will not be set a year behind because of a cable bill in 2006 that I forgot about. Thank goodness.
Classes started yesterday and I love my schedule (for the most part) and am so excited to be back on campus and seeing familiar faces. I am sure I will post about the classes I am taking later this week!
Do you check your report regularly? Have you ever had a mistake on your credit report?