I’ve really gone and done it now. I got up this morning, a little late, but not very. As I wandered into the front room, I blearily noticed two letters had arrived,in identical envelopes, in the familiar typeface of Bank of Ireland Credit Operations.
I know the girls and guys at Credit Operations well. I remember once answering my phone in Blanchardstown, while a guy from Credit Operations told me to stop writing cheques when my account was overdrawn. He was taken aback when I put him on hold. I had to put him on hold, as I had just realised that I had got on the wrong bus and had to beg the driver to give me my money back as I didn’t have enough for the fare once I found the right bus. As it turned out, the bus driver was lovely, and let me ride to the end of the line and come back into town with him. The man from Credit Operations was less understanding.
Anyway, I took the two letters back to bed. I opened the first. I was expecting a vague telling off for having missed my October loan repayment. It always says the same thing. Today’s letter was different. It said that my “relationship” with Bank of Ireland was “unsatisfactory”. It went on to say that they were withdrawing banking services from me, and I have 60 days to close my bank account.
I’ve been dumped…. by a bank. In a way it’s the most heartbreaking kind of rejection there is. At least if you get dumped by a lover, ostracised by a friend or fired from a job, it’s by someone you know. The people in Credit Operations have never even met me!
I didn’t even know banks did that!
I opened the second letter with trepidation. Credit Operations are giving me 21 days to pay my arrears on the loan, or else they will hand over the entire loan (all €22,500 of it) to a debt collection agency. A debt collection agency! It sounds barbaric! I have visions of burly Russian men coming and taking my George Foreman and my stripy cushions and throws away. If phone-in radio shows are to be believed, I could end up in Mountjoy Jail.
I have dealt (very briefly) with a debt collection agency before. In the summer of 2005, I opened a bank account in AIB, for the sole purpose of getting an overdraft. It was during the boom years and that kind of thing wasn’t a problem. The account balance stood at minus €500 for about two years, until AIB got tired of all this, and threatened me with a debt collection agency. I went to my Bank of Ireland bank manager, and topped up my loan there, and paid off AIB on the last possible day. Obviously, this message didn’t get through to the debt collection agency. I got home one Friday night, after a fairly heavy drinking session, to find a letter waiting for me from this debt collection agency, demanding €500. I panicked and rang them. It was night-time and they were out. In my drunken logic, I left twenty-nine messages, each quoting the reference number of my AIB payment. The man from the debt collection agency rang me on the Monday morning to tell me that it was all sorted, and I could hear the smile in his voice as he absolved me of that responsibility.
Ironically, that €500 is part of the new debt that could have to be handed over to a new debt collection agency.
I didn’t take all this very well. I went to the shop and used my shiny new Laser card (which I had ordered from a freezing cold car in a Sligo car park at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning) to buy a breakfast roll (with butter and sausages and rashers and pudding) and a muffin. I also bought a box of cigarettes, all of which I have now smoked and 5 two-euro National Lottery scratch cards. I won €9 (on a €10 investment)! Comfort eating, comfort smoking and comfort spending are probably not my way out of this problem. I’m calling in to my bank branch in the morning to throw myself on their mercy. MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service will also get a visit.
After all this, I’m looking forward to the marathon. That, I can control and I need a bit of catharsis.