Lisa Kern

Lisa Kern
Pennsylvania, US
March 28
I'm a mom of three boys, a needy dog, and an insolent cat. When I'm not writing, vacuuming up pet hair, or cleaning pee off the toilet seat, I like to fantasize about jeans that actually fit and an all-you-can-eat-chocolate-and-cheese diet. Welcome to my party.


Lisa Kern's Links

JUNE 15, 2010 9:40AM

Abusing deadbeats: the new national pastime

Rate: 34 Flag


People have been asking me what I’ve been doing the past few months.  I wish I could answer with a glamorous response.  I’d love to be able to say, “I’ve been on my book tour,” or “I’ve been working with the folks at Axe to create a body spray that doesn’t smell like cat pee,” or “I’m working with scientists around the world who are studying the phenomenon which causes people and pets to barf in my presence.”  (OK, maybe that last one isn’t so glamorous.)


The real story is that I’ve been busy surviving.  Unfortunately, our livelihood, construction, is still on life support in this part of the country and is unlikely to recover any time soon.  Our phone doesn’t ring these days unless it’s a bill collector or some other poor out-of-work soul hoping that we’re faring better than he is and, therefore, in a position to hire him. 


To gain some cash flow, my husband has taken a part-time job in a different industry with the intention of still being able to work at our home remodeling business once the economy improves.  This part-time job is at a reduced wage and offers no sick days, no vacation time, no paid holidays, and no health insurance, but at least we have a certain amount of money coming in each week on which we can rely.  Welcome to America where you can work multiple jobs and still not quite make it.  We are eking out our mortgage payment, thankfully, but paying our other bills remains a struggle.


Spending the past four years at the bottom of the food chain has had the unfortunate side effect of revealing to me the amount of disdain and intolerance that corporations have for people in our situation.  I’ve learned that your cell phone can be turned off if your payment is less than thirty days late.  I’ve discovered that creditors will begin calling for their money the day after your payment is due.  I’ve found that fuel oil deliveries can be stopped in the middle of winter, even with children in your home, if your payment is two months behind.


The entire winter and spring have found me engaged in the juggling act of Which Bill to Pay This Week.  Believe me, it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds.  While the mortgage is always top priority, things get dicier when I have to choose among utilities.  Don’t think less of me, but sometimes I choose food or electric over paying my internet cable bill.  I know; call me reckless.


I use my computer for work, so it’s important that I keep it functioning.  Recently, I’d begun having problems with my work email account and had to call Comcast, my internet provider.  As is the case with many companies, my phone call was immediately dumped into one of the many layers of Voice Mail Hell, where no matter how many numbers you push, or in which order you push them, you will never, ever, EVER reach a live person to help you.


The day that I called Comcast for help with my internet account, I was late on my payment by two weeks.  I did not expect that Comcast’s voice mail system would refuse to direct me to the help I needed unless I made a payment, right then and there, over the telephone.  I tried to get around it by pushing a different series of responses, but each time, it would only take me so far before informing me that my account was past due and that a representative would be happy to take my payment over the phone.


Since there was no way to reach a live person and I was desperate for assistance with my work email account, I paid the Comcast bill online with a credit card and tried again to reach someone to help me with my problem.  No deal.  Their computer system needed three days for my payment to register.  I hung up in frustration.


I decided to ask for help via their online chat system.  The first thing that the representative wanted to know was how he could help me make my payment.  I resisted the urge to suggest that if he really wanted to be helpful, he could pay the bill for me.  Instead, I stifled my scream of frustration and asked for his help in resolving my email issues.  He agreed to help me only after I’d assured him I had submitted the payment online.


Of all of our creditors, though, none have been more poorly behaved than our mortgage company. 


During the several years that we’ve had our mortgage with Chase, I’ve always scheduled the payments online, on their website.  While the mortgage is not usually paid on the first of the month, I do make sure it’s always paid by the fifteenth.  I’ve even confirmed with Chase that paying by the fifteenth is still considered an on-time payment and that it’s not necessary to pay by the first of the month. 


Why, then, do I receive collection calls each month, sometimes ten times per day, from a woman named Katie with a thick Indian accent, urging me to pay my mortgage?


I explained to Katie that I always schedule my payment online, through Chase’s website, and that it’s already been paid for the month.  Can’t she see it?  She claims she cannot.  Apparently they know only the names and phone numbers of people they are instructed to call and nothing else. 


Katie called us one Sunday morning at 8:30am.  This didn’t seem right to me, so I asked her why she was calling us so early on a Sunday.   She ignored my question and instead proceeded with her usual demands for payment. 


                “Look, Katie, I don’t know what time it is where you are in India, but it’s 8:30 in the morning here.”


                “I am not from India!”


                “Where are you calling from then?”


                “I am calling from Chase Bank.”


                “I know that…but you’re in India, right?”


                I AM NOT FROM INDIA!”


Once again, Katie-Not-From-India told me the same thing she does every month:  I haven’t paid my mortgage and Chase wants me to pay up.  The rest of the call continued as it always does:  I asked her why she calls me when it’s not the fifteenth of the month and my payment is not late; I asked her why she can’t access her own company’s website to see that my payment is already there; and I asked her why she has to call me every single month? 


Katie doesn’t answer my questions and refuses to deviate from her script.  In her mind, I am a deadbeat loser because my name is on her list and she will stop at nothing to collect this debt.  Nothing I say convinces her to view me otherwise.  I’ve complained to Chase’s customer service.  I’ve spoken with the collection department.  Still, the calls continue each month from the 2nd through the 15th.  Apparently my problem is not worthy of any effort on their part to stop it.


As someone who regrettably receives legitimate collection calls, it’s especially disturbing to receive calls when we’re not even late.  After all of the hard work and financial finagling that my husband and I go through each month to make that mortgage payment, being harassed month after month unnecessarily is like a giant slap in the face. 


Also, with record unemployment in the United States, does Chase really need to outsource their collection calls?  Aren’t there enough people in this country who could use the work? 


I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop the harassing phone calls, but if Chase feels the need to have one of their employees pester me each month for a payment I’ve already made, the least they can do is give the job to someone in this country who needs it.

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Just to amuse myself I sometimes put them on hold. Push the star and pound sign a few times for effect. Come back online with a high pitched voice and some goofy accent, explain you are your own supervisor and will offer them a one time negotiation. Hoohah. Good times!
Oh my god, I am so sorry. As if people who are struggling don't feel bad enough. What is this need to treat people like they're irresponsible losers - while there are those who break the law every day with impunity and never have to worry about paying their bills?
BBE - You're right. That didn't make me feel any better. I will check out the FFDCA and see if I can get Katie-Not-From-India to stop calling Sunday mornings.

Sheepy - I'm ready to revolt - you in?

Stellaa - Thanks for the compassion. Don't even get me started about the unfair advantages bestowed to credit card companies, the only industry permitted to change the terms of a contract any time they wish. P. S. Your husband is absolutely correct about capitalism.
alsoknownas - Your method of dealing with those calls sounds waaaaay healthier than mine! I admit that I've completely gone off on the Chase people. Next time, I'm going to simply say, "Paid it" and hang up. The ones where I legitimately owe them money are more difficult. How do you say, "I'll pay you when I can," in Hindi?

Jeanette - I hear you. I get very angry sometimes, even though I know it serves no purpose. I keep hearing that things are supposedly getting better but I'm certainly not seeing it.
This is the sort of extreme injustice that leads to insurrection. It can't come soon enough for me.
Oh - this afternoon I have an interview for a part time job, for which I'm extremely overqualified, with no benefits, at much lower pay than I've earned in the past, and I'll be glad if I get it. Like your husband, I just need to keep some money coming in and my head above water.
oh boy do I ever hear this blog. I don't blame you one iota for your anger. I had a feeling, judging by your past posts that you've been up to your kishkas in money crap. it's so stressful and no one, the least of which our government, is not helping the people, the lower and middle classes out in any way, which I find frustrating to the point of screaming. when i worked to elect them, I believed this administration would at the very least help out those treading water, as you and your husband are.... why wait until families sink?

Lisa, you have my support for what it's worth. and I wholeheartedly agree with stellaa and her husband...we can't afford capitalism anymore. I wish someone would tell me what to do about it, because I'd do it. we're all between a rock and hard place, that's for sure.

and I read BBE's link and that chilled my shit. I thought we were free of that draconian practice. apparently not.
I wish we could get the phone numbers of the bank presidents and management teams and call them and ask for our money back. Multimillion dollar bonuses for putting our economy in the toilet, and they harrass their customers. The system is set up to screw us over. If you are honest and try to pay, they still cripple you with the credit reporting agencies. Hang in there, and I hope better days are ahead! R
Eva - I wonder why, with so many of us in the same boat, no one who can do anything about the situation seems to be able to see it. I've never felt so powerless. Good luck with your job interview. I hope for better days for all of us.

Monkey - Thanks for your support. Like so many other things in this country, the pendulum swings at extremes. We've gone from the banks loaning money with impunity to not loaning any at all. We've morphed from a nation of rampant consumption into a nation of fearful money hoarders, waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Why that stupid pendulum can't settle somewhere in the middle is beyond me. And yes, I do believe that capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It shouldn't be this hard for this many people to live.

Libmomrn - I still say we should have let the large banks fail. The natural order of things is that the smaller banks would have stepped up to fill the need, but without the same level of greed.
I suspected as much, that is about your infrequent appearances. I have followed your challenges over the many months. I find it quite interesting that as I am typing this above me is a CHASE Freedom, no annual fee, advertisement, for heavens sake. Call or write the state attorney general in Penn. They cannot call you that much; it is against the law. I agree; nothing worse than getting a call from New Delhi asking how your day is or demanding payment in a thick accent. The money grubbers want us all to fight over who gets the honor of being the next Wal-Mart greeter. We are all victims of greed; the top one percent wants it all. To quote from your hilarious post, Which Bill to Pay... “Arrange them in a line and do eeny-meeny-miney-mo.  The one that you land on when saying the final mo is the winner. Speaking of mo, you need mo’ tequila.” I can remember driving around in the Idaho sticks late one night and wondering if I had enough gas to make it home and hearing that phrase. It made me howl. Sending good vibes and wishes your way, Lisa. Wish I could send cash.
Richard Farina wrote book called, "Been Down So Long Looks Like Up To Me," which sums up how I feel about my situation, and your situation looks a lot like my situation, only you have more "things" to hold onto than I do. I hope that you can hold onto them. Screw the banks, and credit card companies. Let's outwit, and defeat them, not get scared by them.

Someday I Will Start The Revolution

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but, this morning, I had to bring cleats,
and a baseball uniform to my son.

Someday, I will start the revolution
but, for right now, there is cereal to buy,
and Nintendo games to rent.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but my son's sneakers are worn,
and he needs new clothes for the spring.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but my daughter needs a new dress,
and I've got to come up with the money
for her next guitar lesson.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but I've got those student loans to pay back,
and these credit cards to pay down.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but I've got this new apartment,
and the cable hasn't even been put in.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but right now I am late for work.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but I need new tires for my car.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but I may want to get a Masters in poetry,
or creative writing, first.

Someday, I will start the revolution,
but this woman just walked by,
and, man she looks good.

Someday, I will start the revolution.

Look At The Bums

Look at the bums,
here another one comes;

last week, maybe he had
a job in a factory,
but they downsized.

CEO got a bonus
for thinking that way;
everybody, especially
the stockholders, thinks
that he s a great man

eats off a ten thousand dollar plate
at the White House,
shakes the right hands.

Here comes a bum,
got a tear in his eye,
I immediately criticize,
say that he is a crack addict
who will want a quarter
from me.

He asks for money for food.

Why don t you get a job?
Why don t you get a job,
like me?

you and me
we're living in the land
of opportunity.

Oh no,
I just lost my job

.--Mikel K
OUCH, Lisa, I don't know how I posted twice. Please take one of them off!
Love you Sweet Cakes. I hate that crap and I wish I knew of any solution. How frustrating ... well screw frustrating ... how enraging. Unplug the phone. Tell them all to suck it with your silence.
Dr. Spud - Thank you, my friend. At least I know I'm in good company, right? After yet another call from Chase yesterday, I did decide to call the State Attorney General's office. Their calling practices are abusive. I'll let you know how I fare. XOXO

Mikel - Thank you so much for the poems and for stopping by. I've read the first one before but I forget where - perhaps you posted it elsewhere? The second one is so true. No longer can we make assumptions about the character of people who've fallen on hard times. It could be us the very next week. Did you write the second one?

I-Mom- You know I love you back. Don't try to call me - I think I'm going to take your advice and unplug the phone!
For what it's worth, I understand the pain . . . we've been there, and are just now starting to see a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. Keeping my fingers crossed for you, Lisa!
I am not from India either. Still, I liked your piece.
Hope things improve for you. Thanks to Big Money,
these are tough times.
Every month I make two mortgage payments when I receive them...then I receive the next one within days of them receiving my payments. I'm told my payment automatically triggers the next payment coupons. HUH? Thank goodness I read the due date and adjusted via a sticky note on the envelope when to mail it. No more instant payments from fear for me.

I had my phone disconnected because of so much harrassment. I had the number for 21 years. Screw the phone banks in India.
to them we are less than dirt
Pre-Katrina and pre-the-economy-going-belly-up, I had a landline phone. Apparently my number used to belong to a girl named Jodie who owed a lot of people a lot of money.

Of course, Katie from India would NOT believe me that I was not Jodie, did not know Jodie, and had no idea when Jodie would be sending payment.
I've read that more companies are outsourcing their debt collection to India firms, because in part, they are more successful in getting payments. This is attributed to their less heavy handed approach and greater stress on "problem solving" payment of debts. I'm sorry that your bank apparently has not hired that kind of firm. The picture you paint sounds insane.
Ack! Why does the above ad now have sound? It made me jump a foot in my chair!

Owl - I'm glad to hear that you're seeing a tiny bit of light. Not only am I happy for you, it gives me hope that it will eventually end for me (for ALL of us!) as well. XOXO

Leon-Not-From-India - You made me smile! Thanks for stopping by to read.

Buffy - My mortgage company does that, too. As soon as my payment posts, a new bill is generated. I hear you about the phone; it's so tempting to just do away with it altogether.

Roy - Sadly, I think you're right.

LandP - I REALLY wanted to write and post something funny, but this one wanted to come out. If nothing else, I know I'm not alone.

Karin - Good for you! Maybe if all of us resist their inane demands, they will get the message. Probably not, but at least we'll feel better, right?

Leeandra - What a nightmare that must have been for you! At our last house, we had the good fortune of receiving the old phone number of a person who had to have been a drug dealer. Calls would come at all hours, and the quite stoned callers couldn't understand why we didn't know their dealer's new phone number or whereabouts.

Skeptic - Really? Collection firms in India want to problem solve? That has NOT been my experience at all. The people who call me are rude and demanding and completely unwilling to listen to anything I have to say. Even the companies I legitimately owe money are not interested in offering any alternatives. They want the full amount now.
I hate that you have to put up with this. So many good people who are valiantly struggling to keep it together have to put up with this type of harassment.
I had this problem with a student loan a few years ago, it it turns out that I had sent in two payments, twice, while living abroad, and they were counted as one payment both times. It put me a payment behind. I made a monthly payment on time but somehow it worked out to be late because of that until I cleared it up. Make the bank change your payment day in the computer.
I know from experience how frustrating and enraging this is all around--working your ass off and still not being able to pay all the bills each month, AND having to deal with those collection agencies, which are the nasty icing on the big crappy capitalist cake.

Deep breath.

I'm sending you big, big hugs and the fervent hope that you will get in touch with the folks at Axe, because I think you may have found the solution to your money troubles right there. If they won't let you help them fix the way it smells, maybe they'll let you write the ad copy for them: "Try new, improved Axe. It no longer smells like cat pee."

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. It sucks. I've been there, but I was there several years ago before everything tanked, as usual, being ahead of my time. And it totally sucks when you're out there doing the best you can but it's never enough. I hope things get better soon. You don't deserve this.
Believe it or not, I miss my old mortgage company.

I went through a period of having to eat the late fees and pay the mortgage just in time to keep them from notifying the credit agencies, by the 30th. On the 16th the calls would start. The calls came from the Milwaukee area (accents and the home of the company gave that away) and one collection person would be assigned to my account for months at a time. (Yes, this went on a long time.) I would explain my situation to the collector. Like most collectors I've talked to, they understand, they get it, they've been there and they appreciated my story and politeness. Or so they said. (I can't remember ever having a collector who didn't sound native American.) I would tell them I will pay online on the 28th (eating yet another fee - $7.50 to pay online.) She would explain that she has to call me on a certain schedule. I would explain that I don't know when this cycle will end. After that, she would call, leave her message, and I would delete it when I got home from work. If I was home when the call came, well, I don't answer calls from numbers I don't recognize, the legacy of too many years with too many bill collectors.

My mortgage has now been sold to US Bank. My little book of payment coupons has been exchanged for the monthly bill; I'm only on my second but it, too, seems to be generated by the previous month's payment. There's a $5 fee for paying online. (What a scam.) I hope never to find out about their collections process but I'm not sure I won't.
Oh, this reminds me of the fun days when I had an overdue student loan, the people assigned to call can do absolutely nothing to help you, even when the problem is that the bank has failed to do its paperwork.

I'd hang up on them.
How rude am I? Lisa, your situation sucks, is totally unfair and I feel just horrible for you. How much of this can we process before someone actually starts a revolution?

A thought, possibly useless, I don't know what kind of construction your husband does but I would so love to see some construction people use this down time to get skilled in historic reconstruction, especially windows - restoring old ones rather than replacements. Or develop a business model as a consultant/adviser. This summer I am going to rebuild at least the 8 97 year old windows in my front porch and probably build new-old fashioned screens and storms. If things go well, there are more. I actually know what I'm doing there but 10 years ago I would have been happy to be able to hire someone knowledgeable to instruct/assist me. I also have to re-build my crumbling concrete front steps - I can't afford to hire a concrete contractor to do a complete replacement and am apprehensive about taking it on myself. Also, if I hire a contractor to rebuild, they have to build to current code. If I repair myself I can leave them structured as they've always been. Gutters - similar. I fear working at the 20-25' height where they are, even to take them down. They are heavy steel and can be painted to match the house. I don't want to sub flimsy aluminum in a standard color. I can do the restoration work but could use some advising - particularly from someone with a sturdy, long ladder and muscles.

This probably seems more like handyman work but when I tried to hire a handyman once for a window, he said the work I needed done was too skilled and I needed a contractor. I might be able to afford a contractor to do a small job but they seem to want big ones.

Seems like it could be a market. Old House Journal, especially their forums, might give better insight to potential demand.
I am crossing my fingers that things improve for you soon. It's tough paddling the canoe-with-no-money upstream, especially when those to whom you owe money are assholes.

And Stellaa's husband is brilliant in his take on capitalism.
Lisa, I'm so sorry. I figured something like this was going on based on your prior posts. As if managing the bills isn't already hard enough, you have to be subjected to the harrassment. I can't add anything intelligent to the conversation that others haven't already articulated.
mypsyche - Thank you for your kind words. It helps to know that we're not alone in this.

Oryoki Bowl - I've heard of so many people having a similar experience when making two payments that I wonder if the banks are intentionally using it as a tactic to collect late fees by applying both payments to one month. I wouldn't be surprised.

Susan - Yes, yes, and YES. I can tell that you get it. Thank you. Your comment about the Axe ad copy made me howl. Do you think they'd buy it? XOXO

Monique - You're such a trendsetter! In all seriousness, I appreciate hearing from people who are now on the other side of hard times because it helps me believe that one day, I will be there, too. Thank you.

nerd cred - Oh, those online payment fees drive me crazy! I had a credit card that would charge you $10 extra to make the payment on the same day BUT they prevented you from scheduling the payment within the three day period before the due date. You either had to pay far in advance of the due date or you had to pay the $10 to ensure a timely payment. It made me so angry that I cancelled the card.

Malusinka - It's beyond frustrating that the people making the collection calls are unable to help resolve any issues or give you any information at all about your account. I appreciate you stopping by.

nerd cred - I live in an old house, too (1830) and agree that there is a niche market for this type of restoration. In our experience, though, the cost of the original materials or the fabrication of new-old replacements is more than most people are willing to pay. I think you have a great idea in suggesting that a resource for people to call to ask for advice is sorely needed. Could a consulting service like that be profitable? I'm not sure, but it's an intriguing idea. Good luck with your projects.

Maria - Thanks for the support. And yes, Stellaa's husband has totally nailed it, hasn't he?

Cindy - It's unnerving to read about the return of debtor's prisons. It reeks of royalty kicking the peasants, doesn't it? These are certainly strange times. I hope they're over soon!

Brie - Thank you. :)

Nelly - Of course you've added something; you've added your support, which I truly appreciate. Many thanks for stopping by.
If you can get the phone number and snail mail address of the President at your bank, I'll help you talk sense to him or her. PM me. This problem is not unique to banks. When I was in the hospital almost a year ago, the bed made a mistake and recorded my weight as 30 pounds more than it really is. Ever since the hospital has been harassing me to join their weight loss programs. I'm trying to get them to save trees and stop sending me insulting useless information. If we join forces maybe we can get ourselves free of these misinformed agents.
These are very difficult times. I'm amazed that you maintain your sense of humor with all that's going on. As dire as the situation is, I couldn't help but laugh at the "India" remark. Perfect. I've spent more quality time with Dell representatives in India than with just about anyone. Keep your head up, sweetheart. Eventually, you'll triumph over bad times and Axe.
Lisa, I hate the fact that sometimes the maw of the feed consumes posts faster than I can get to them. I don't know how in holy hell I missed this one because I believe you when you say, "it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds". PM me sometime...we'll commiserate.