DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – “I was a $20,000 millionaire.”
Single Mom Kimberly James was matter of fact — and even full of chuckles— as she recalled her journey from recent college graduate eager to define “status” through material things, to a grown-up who now stares upward at a mountain of credit card debt.
“The credit card debt — it just tripled and tripled … you had the late fees, and the over the limit fees, and then all of a sudden you’re way out there,” said James.
And James is not alone. While the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday means a day off for many workers, staffers at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas prepared for an avalanche of calls on the King holiday.
“It’s the third week of January, they’ve just received those holiday bills and they think ‘oh my God!’, what am I gonna do? I can’t make the minimum payments on all of these,” said Todd Mark, vice president of education at CCCS Greater Dallas. ”They turn to Consumer Credit Counseling Service because they don’t know where else to turn.”
Mark said some 73,000 North Texans sought out the agency’s services last year.
And while out of control shopping is often blamed for mounting bills, Mark said there are a number of factors that can throw a wrench in family finances.
“Layoffs, a medical catastrophe, divorce, a death in the family … all of these things put people’s finances in severe crisis,” he said.
But, Kimberly James admits her crisis was shopping — more specifically, shoes. Her ‘day of reckoning,’ she said, came when her debts forced her to move back home with her parents.
So, she got serious about changing her priorities. She also got help through her church, Concord Baptist in south Oak Cliff.
A program through the church’s Faith and Finance Ministry helped her set priorities and learn to live beneath her means so she could pay off debt.
Now, five years later, James has paid off more than $20,000 in credit card debt, bought a house and raised her credit score by 200 points by paying her bills on time.
“I’m not going there anymore, that’s it … I’m done,” James said. “Every year I take a snapshot of everything I owe, down to the penny. Last year, my tax return? It paid off my car … that’s how I do it, now.”
So, how did she do it? James said she started by getting real about what she owed — listing every debt. She was honest with herself about what she was spending, she got help and then with that help, she said, came accountability.
And while she’s still a few years away from becoming debt free, James says she’s celebrating every step that moves her in that direction.
“It feels liberating,” she said. “I actually see a light at the end of the tunnel. Before, I didn’t see anything.”