Admittedly, I still harbor some deep seated guilt, it serves as a throbbing acknowledgement that I took people for granted and sold them a bill of goods in exchange for a generous bonus in concert with a salary that wasn’t too shabby at that juncture in my professional life. No, I didn’t sell drugs or rob a bank, but there were times that I felt as if I was wearing a black mask and brandishing a gun, steathily making the unsuspecting victim fork over their cash along with a certain measure of trust.
What did I do you ask? I served as debt management counselor for a “for-profit” debt consolidation company and whenever I see a commercial for this organization and its insincere gushing about how much they care about people and how they’ve helped them out of certain financial ruin, I become physically nauseated and the feelings of guilt at being a cog in this machine come rushing back with surprising force.
For the purposes of this article, I will not disclose the name of the company where I used to work, but I do want to provide a visual of the dark underbelly of the credit counseling industry so that people can tread with some understanding of what constitutes this “debt hustle”. The theory in debt consolidation is that consumers who are overwhelmed with debt obligations, can with the help of a 3rd party secure benefits from their creditors such as the elimination of late fees, reduction in interest rates in concert with a lower payment for the noble purpose of enabling the consumer to get out of debt faster. In my experience, this very seldom worked for the consumers as it did not benefit the credit card companies to cut their profit merely out of the goodness of their heart.
I was coaxed out of the stressful world of retail management with the rosy promise by a recruiter that I would be helping people to get their lives back from the monstrsity of debt, this was an appealing selling point. It was a noble feeling to know that I would be the medium to empower other people financially so I literally ran full speed from my employer at that time to come on board! It started out great; the training was all encompassing, learning about the financial industry was an eye opener. The money was coming fast and the bonuses weren’t anything to shake a stick at either.
I was there for nearly a year and a half when it seemed to happen out of the blue, suddenly we became “salespeople” instead of counselors, we began being coached by management that we needed to use fear as a leverage point to get potential customers to consolidate their credit card debt during that “first call” to us. Shortly thereafter quotas were instituted and if they weren’t met people were shown the door, it was a monthly occurance where people were immediately terminated for not hitting their goal for signing customers up on the “plan”.
It was at this point when my colleagues and I started to look at it as a game of “survival of the fittest”. Instead of listening to the people who often called in sobbing uncontrollably about their financial struggle, who let their guard down to someone they didn’t know to reveal themselves at the most vulnerable with the expectation that we would be able to make them and their families financially whole again. After all, that is what our commercial promised that we would and could do on their behalf.
Sadly, we began to take advantage of the very people that were calling us for help. Even more telling was a development that was put into place shortly before I left. The company developed a website in which potential clients would be able to consolidate all of their debt online all by themselves; a novel idea you would think, after all we are living in the technology age, right?
Strangely enough, they allowed the customer to use a credit card for a method of payment for their consolidated debt. Initially, when this was brought to the attention of the counselors during a department meeting we objected, simply because it smacked of greed… These are people that are coming to us because they couldn’t manage their debt and now it seemed that we were enabling them by allowing the use of a credit card to pay off their debt by incurring additonal debt in the process, not to mention the monthly fee that we were charging them for the service. As I looked around the table at my peers, I noticed that the majority of them were shaking their heads in disbelief.
“I thought we were supposed to be helping people?” I recall saying aloud and from the corner of my eye I noticed that my query was met with a cold blank stare from the team manager that chilled me to my core. I couldn’t help but to think that if he had a knife, he would have plunged it deep into me to silence my protestations. “Do whatever you need to do to get these people signed up, I don’t care” he growled through clinched teeth and with that the meeting was over.
As I walked out of the meeting, I couldn’t help but to think about the customer that I had who tried to kill herself a couple of months ago when she continued receiving the collection calls from the creditors that we pledged to stop, despite her making all of her payments in a timely fashion. I left out of that meeting determined that I would not be a party to such a nefarious scam if I could help it… Thankfully, I was able to leave the organization a couple weeks after this fateful meeting before I compromised my morals any further.