I am a pretty awesome person but like anyone, I have some things that I am less awesome with. Whenever I talk to my accountant sister it becomes embarrassingly clear that some things that I am "less" than good at involve numbers, subtracting, and of course, money. Whenever someone talks to me about money, my eyes roll in the back of my head and my mind starts drifting to a world of magical rainbows where bubbles are used for money.
So It's no surprise that in my thirty years, I made some less than sound financial decisions. I have overdrawn on my bank account, lived off ramen noodles so I could buy that adorable Betsey Johnson dress, and just plain forgotten to pay a couple of bills. None of these things has affected me and in turn I have never regretted these youthful mistakes. Except for one instance. There is one event that has haunted me for the past five years. It has made it impossible for me to get a mortgage, forced me to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars trying to get it off my credit score, and caused very serious bankers to laugh in my face. What am I talking about you may ask? I am talking about the time I went to Medieval Times on my twenty fifth birthday, had an asthma attack, and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Yes, you heard that right. I got an asthma attack at the place that you eat giant turkey legs while watching people joust.
Now that you are done laughing at me let me explain myself a bit.
I was newly engaged and living in Los Angeles. My fiance said we could do whatever we wanted for my birthday and I said I wanted to go to Medieval Times. I was a cool hipster twenty-something who wanted to be ironic. My fiancé laughed at me and said OK. We drove for two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to Anaheim. A couple of times my fiance suggested we turn around and do something closer to home. I said no. I was very committed to being cool.
When we got there we saw tons of signs outside warning guests with asthma that the horses, fog machines, and dust could cause an asthma attack. We laughed because how much of a dork do you have to be to get an asthma attack at Medieval Times? Halfway, through the show we found our answer. You have to be as big as a dork as me because I got an asthma attack at Medieval Times.
My fiancé and I drove to the West Anaheim Hospital and when we told the nurses what had happened they rolled their eyes and screamed, "We got another one from Medieval Times." They put me in hospital bed number twenty five which we thought was crazy because it was my twenty-fifth birthday. After they gave me a breathing treatment we laughed about the whole situation and drove home. Little did we know, we had just experienced something that would affect our credit for the next seven years and prevent us from buying a home.
I had moved the week before and hadn't gotten my new license in the mail. When they checked me in I told them to send the bill to a new address but they must have had problems hearing me talk because I couldn't breathe. I got a bill from the hospital for $100, which I promptly paid. I never got another bill and foolishly assumed my health insurance had covered it.
Four months later, I returned from my honeymoon to over twenty voice-mail messages from a women named Hannah at MediCredit. When I called her back she informed me that my health insurance did not cover any of my hospital visit and I owed $600. Since I hadn't paid it yet, I had already been reported to a collection agency. I did some research and found out the hospital had been sending the second bill to the wrong address. I called my new BFF Hannah and told her that I had already paid $100 but I did indeed owe $500 and paid that off as soon as I could. She said I would need to show proof so I asked her if I could email my receipt. She informed me that her company doesn't have email and I could fax it to her. This was 2009 so I thought she was joking. Nope she was serious. I downloaded office comedies from the '80s like Working Girl so I could learn how to work this mysterious thing called a fax machine.
No one I knew owned a fax machine so I went to Kinkos. Over the next couple of months, once a week I would go to Kinkos try to fax my receipt, hear a busy signal, call Hannah and be told that they were really busy and to try to fax them again in 30 minutes. I never once heard anything but a busy signal so I would end up snail mailing my receipt to them which they conveniently never received. This fun game went on for five months. Eventually, I got sick of hanging out at Kinkos for hours on end trying to use the fax machine so I gave up. My husband and I decided this credit agency was so ridiculously unorganized no one would ever take them seriously. And we were talking about $100. It wasn't like my asthma caused a global fiscal crisis or anything.
So we forgot about it and enjoyed being newlyweds. Then a couple of weeks after our first anniversary we found out we were pregnant with our first child. So we decided to be responsible adults and buy a home. The first banker we met with thought it would be easy for us to get a loan because we had no debt and lived within our means. A couple of months into the process we found a home we loved. One that we could see our puppy and future daughter playing in. It was finally our turn to achieve the American Dream.
Then we got a call from the bank and were told we couldn't get a mortgage because a delinquent charge of $100 was just reported from a collection agency out of California called MediCredit. He asked if I knew anything about this and I said, "Well, this one time at Medieval Times... "
We tried really hard to get it removed. I wanted to just pay the $100 but was told it would make me look worse to the bank -- as if I was admitting my guilt. I was able to get it removed from two out of the three agencies on my own but for some reason couldn't get it removed from Experian. I called MediCredit again and tried to explain my situation to them. They said if I didn't pay the $100 it would affect my unborn child's chances of getting a student loan for college. I was hormonal and very pregnant and started crying hysterically. First my trip to Medieval Times was stopping me from buying a home and now my daughter wouldn't be able to go to college because of it.
My husband forced me to hang up the phone and we decided maybe this just wasn't the time for us to buy a place. We were expecting our first child in a couple of months at the last thing we needed was added stress.
Two years went by before we were able to start the home search again. When we met with the banker after he checked our credit we knew he would bring up our old friends at MediCredit. I tried again to get Experian on the phone but after being on hold for three hours we decided to contact the experts.
Now we are dealing with some awesome people that are trying to help us but here's the catch: It will take at least $500 to get this incorrect negative mark of my credit report. If we want a house we have to do this but I can't help but be pissed off at the ridiculous of it all.
I was a responsible person. I had a job and health insurance. I just have one delinquent $100 charge on my credit report from when I was twenty-five. I'm not trying to buy a mansion. I just want to buy a two bedroom to live in with my family and I don't think something that happened when I was twenty-five should stand in the way of me achieving this.
I'll pay the $500 to my credit fixed and I know eventually I will buy a home. But imagine all the other people out there who don't have an extra $500 lying around to fix their credit? When we live in a country where billionaires get bailed out for lying and stealing should we really make it this difficult for the average American family to buy a modest home because of something happened when they were twenty five?
Owning a home is a financial decisions but also an emotional one. I feel an instinctual need to provide shelter for my daughter. I also want her to learn from my mistakes so that her life is easier. Usually, when I make a less than sound choice I am able to find the silver lining or the lesson. Because of this there are very few choices in my life that I regret. Except this, and the worst part is I don't know what could have done better in the situation. Was I not supposed to have health insurance? Should I have given the hospital a fake address and social security number? Should I have sucked it up and not gotten medical treatment? Should I have avoided Medieval Times like the plague?
I don't have the answer. I used to feel like an idiot because of my credit issues but the older I get I realize our country is filled with people just like me. Middle- to low-income people who want nothing more than to provide a secure life for their family. Not a life in a 20-bedroom mansion with its own heliport. Not a life with a summer home. Not a life filled with expensive jewels or birthday parties more expensive than most people's homes. A life with a home and some extra money saved for their kid's education. These people are being prevented from doing this because of small misunderstanding and mistakes that affected no one but themselves. If big banks, car companies, and billionaires who actually caused the recession are helped out, why can't these people be forgiven? Where's our bailout?
Unfortunately, I fear the average American will never be bailed out. At least not anytime soon. So in the meantime I am trying to think of what to tell my daughter when she is old enough. I don't want her to experience this so I spend my spare time thinking of what I could have done differently but I don't think there was anything I really could have done differently. Maybe I will eventually find the lesson or maybe I will just turn into an old lady who mutters, "This one time at Medieval Times... " over and over like Citizen Kane's and his "rosebud." Whatever the outcome one thing's for sure... I will never ever go to Medieval Times again!
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