To Your (Financial) Health I

by James C. Hess

Several years ago, shortly after the dot-com economy of the 1990s began to fail, owing much to its inherent dishonesty, I encountered a fellow I had not seen for many years.

We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked how I was doing.

Physically, spiritually, and financially my health is great, I replied.

Your financial health, he said. That’s interesting.

We talked some more and then went our separate ways. I didn’t think any more of his remarks about my financial health until a few days when he left a message for me, asking I call him. It was, the message said. Important. Very important

I agreed to meet him at a small cafe not far from where I live. As soon as he arrived I could tell by his body language the visit was not to be a social one.

I want to know, he said, barely seated. About your, um, financial health.

I knew immediately what the lunch would be about. I had experienced it before. Many times.

Because a person’s financial health is like their physical and mental health, I began. Trying to explain the matter over lunch won’t do. Come to my office this weekend and we will have more time to discuss the matter.

He was visibly relieved by the offer, and I soon learned why: Like so many others in today’s world he found himself between a rock and hard place , financially-speaking: He had debts he didn’t think he could ever pay off, and the methods to eliminate these debts were anything but pleasant: At best, bankruptcy. At worst, well, he didn’t even want to consider that method.

As we talked it was as if a floodgate had opened: He had bought a house he could not afford. He had leased two full-sized SUVs he could not afford to keep. And to get ahead–or so he thought–he had taken to using the cash advance on credit cards. Which, not surprisingly, were quickly exhausted.

But more credit cards were at the ready. Of course they were. Credit card companies are more than willing to provide them. Especially to those who can ill afford them.

To make a long story somewhat shorter this fellow eventually racked up a total debt of almost two million dollars, and much of it was either coming due or past due.

But luck was with him. The banks that were owed much of his debt did not want to take his house, the SUVs, or any of his other possessions that might go to pay off a portion of his debts simply because they had far too many customers just like him. Instead, they suggested he find an advisor who would work with him to restructure his current financial situation and pay off his debts in a timely manner.

That advisor, it turned out, was me.

At first I was reluctant to assume this particular role. After all, I am not a certified financial advisor and I tend to take my own advice with a stiff drink and a grain of salt. But after a measure of consideration I decided to help this fellow out if for no other reason to see if I could make a success of his situation.

So the first thing I told him after I told him I would help was what I tell you now: Get rid of your credit cards. All of them.

And that’s just the beginning.

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