Special Snowflake Tired of Being Blown Around
March 5, 2018 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I got angry at the bank today, but the situation is not entirely their fault. Came home upset enough about my financial situation to get it into real order, but this is a subject that triggers my anxiety disorder harder than just about anything, so I struggle at time to find the best way to proceed. I also know there are entities out there who like scamming desperate, confused people, so I'm hoping some Hivemind guidance will get me started on the right track. Details after the cut bcs every attempt to escape American poverty is unique!

I'm tired of being poor. I'm tired of being tired. I have an acute generalized anxiety disorder which is currently untreated because I can't afford insurance. Among the main triggers of this condition are financial matters, or things where there's a lot of complexity and pressure and long term consequences. I get overwhelmed to the point of shutdown when presented with everything that has gone and can go wrong, which of course leads to more things going wrong, which tightens the anxiety, all of which just tightens the overall spiral, and I'm sick of it. This is no way to live at all, I want to change my life.

But, I don't know how. I'm so ashamed to have this problem that I struggle to look at it directly. I've requested my ChexSystems report because it appears there is a mistake on it, but I know that most of what that report will have on it about my past mistakes will be all to accurate. I'm going to feel like a real piece of shit once I have it in front of me, but I also can't ask friends or family for support in going through it because I can't stand them knowing how badly I've messed up. It will have to be me who goes through it to find the error I need to dispute. But I know that handling this will be just the beginning if I'm serious about straightening my life out. I know the road out of poverty is long and difficult even without my added mental health challenge. I'm feeling additional dread about my situation because so much of the process ahead of me is unknown to me.

My immediate goal is to close my account with the Big Bank I currently do business with, and start one with a local credit union. I've attempted this in the past, and been thwarted by what they saw on a ChexSystems report - that's why I came home from this awful run to the Big Bank and somewhat impulsively requested a copy of my ChexSystems report for myself. I want to see what's on there, and see what I can do about it. Realizing that maybe I had some momentum to work with following Awful Bank Morning, I started Googling various questions about potential next steps. Almost immediately, I started struggling to tell the scams, dead ends and legit advice apart. I began to feel the all too familiar Shutdown Clench which usually presages and total disconnection from reality because I can't handle how shitty and hopeless it makes me feel to think about this stuff. But it'll never get handled if I never handle it, so I mean to, but I don't know how.

So I came here because to me, MeFi has always been Better Than the Internet. What steps does someone ready to get their financial life in order take? What are the scams and deadends I need to be watch out for? Are there good programs for people in a tight spot that I should be seeking out? Are there known scams I should be watching out for? I'm in Washington State, if that's at all relevant. How best does someone bring up their credit score, and correct their past money mistakes without collapsing into feeling like a completely unworthy asshole because of those mistakes? I'm sorry if these are dumb and obvious things to ask, but I really need some kind person's help and insight with this.

(If you feel tempted to respond to this question with advice you might describe as "tough love" or "brutally honest," please just skip it and move on. My Dad thought that kind of thing worked too, and now I'm like this. Also, I've thought about and decided against seeking this advice on AskMe in the past bcs I have an ex on here who likes hearing about things being tough and shitty for me so if that's you reading this right now, congratulations and have fun writing the mean tweet about it later I guess?)
posted by EatTheWeek to Work & Money (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to write a longer more detailed response later but I didn't want to wait to tell you that you should not be ashamed of any of this. Under late capitalism, poverty is designed to be self-perpetuating. The tiniest lapse can cascade into financial catastrophe if you're unlucky enough. And mental illness can make it extremely difficult to deal with such complex and fraught issues. Take heart. Don't blame yourself. And I suspect that many of your friends and family would tell you the same thing.

(Also, you are smart enough to sense that this space is infested with scams! Already that puts you way ahead of the general populace.)
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on March 5, 2018 [28 favorites]

Shame is really horrible and it gets in the way so much. Seriously question why you can't share anyone. I would imagine that if your friend came to you and said "I've really messed up. I know I've messed up. I don't need you tell me I messed up, I just need you to be with me while I try to figure my way out", you would say "yes, of course! I'm your friend!" The hard part is to allow someone to be that friend to you. You only need one but the difference between keeping a corrosive secret that no-one can know and being private about things that most don't need to know is having that one person who knows the secret and still cares about you anyway.
posted by metahawk at 3:25 PM on March 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

My practical advice is to start with just one specific goals. It doesn't have to perfect, just something that moves you one step closer. It sounds like you already picked one - changing banks. And you even know the next specific step to get you there - reviewing the ChexSystem report and finding the error. It sounds emotionally hard but what is involved in actually doing it? Can you push yourself to completely ignore everything on the report that isn't the mistake No beating yourself for other problems, no moaning about all the things are wrong - just focus on the "is this the mistake? if not, move on" If all you have to do is just find the mistake, can you do that one thing?

Once you've done it, then you'll have to figure out the next step but wait until you get there to worry about it. If you start thinking now about how to fix the mistake, you will trip yourself up - stay focused on the specific narrow task in front of you, worry about the step after when you get there. Take this on in little tiny baby steps until you get enough positive momentum to taker bigger steps.
posted by metahawk at 3:33 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

For practical steps, the report you get from ChexSystems should include information about the dispute process for errors/incorrect information. The ChexSystems website has a video about the dispute process here. Here is a NerdWallet article with some of the same info.

You may also want/need to request credit reports and dispute any errors you find on your reports. The process is probably similar-- request the report and then follow the specific reporter's dispute process. It's usually a hassle (because they don't want to make it easy for you to clean your records up), but it's not _hard_, it's just annoying.
posted by Kpele at 3:36 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

My immediate goal is to close my account with the Big Bank I currently do business with, and start one with a local credit union. I've attempted this in the past, and been thwarted by what they saw on a ChexSystems report - that's why I came home from this awful run to the Big Bank and somewhat impulsively requested a copy of my ChexSystems report for myself. I want to see what's on there, and see what I can do about it.

Hi, I am a mentally ill person who also managed to get myself reported to Chex for letting a checking account get overdrawn and then closed. That's all Chex reports on, overdrawn and then closed checking and savings accounts. If you have a checking account with Big Bank, and you don't know if you still have a flag on Chex (I think they hang around for five years), then keep your Big Bank checking account open until you have successfully opened a checking account at your preferred institution.

You can still move all of your other business to the credit union, but keep the checking account. You don't want to end up with no checking account and no ability to open one. That's my only concrete advice.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:52 PM on March 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Can you find ONE PERSON to help you with this? That one friend who never seems judgey, who ideally has dealt with their own financial issues before but is pretty good with money? Can you tell that person "hey, I am really ashamed of this but I need some support" and maybe invite them over for an (inexpensive) meal in exchange for them walking through the report with you? I totally get the shame (even though you have NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF, OUR CULTURE IS SO FUCKED UP ABOUT MONEY ARGH) but if you can trust one friend with this, I bet it will be easier, and maybe even help undo some of the shame.

If that seems impossible, is there a nonprofit near you that helps low-income folks with money issues? NOT one of those scammy "debt-counseling" places, but a community organization that provides these types of services along with other services for the community? They will have seen it all and your debt/money issues will seem bog standard to them. If even just searching for this is too much, memail me with your location and I will see what I can find.

You are ok. You will be ok. This is nothing you can't handle, and there's nothing wrong with you for being in this situation.
posted by lunasol at 3:57 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Howdy, friend. My credit is somewhere in the neighborhood of 420. A few years ago, I went to the smartest savviest money-knowing-about guy I know - my Daddy - and asked him for advice on budgeting and getting out of this mess. Know what he told me? He's never made a budget, wouldn't know how to start, and I should just earn more money. Not easy when you're not only physically disabled, but also crazy. (Bipolar, panic disorder, OCD, social phobia, agoraphobia, et. al.)

Screwed up finances suck. Very much bad. But you're not alone. And you're even a step ahead because you know there are a lot of scammers out there. But here's the thing - if you don't know what's broken, you can't fix it. That's why your ChexSystems is important. That's why your credit report is important. It's like if you broke your arm, but your doctor didn't know it was your arm that was broken. They might put a cast on your ankle or your leg.

My latest strategy has been to ignore all my existing debt. I know it won't go away. But right now, it's all I can do to keep the lights on. So I focus on keeping the lights on. I know the debts are there. But right this second, I can't do a blessed thing about them. So I put them out of my mind.

I had a bad ChexSystems report for a long time. I still might; I don't know. But I was able to open an account with Simple a year or two ago. And I take every earning opportunity I can get my hands on to make sure my bills stay paid. Clickwork, surveys, website testing, paid emails, freelance work, the whole nine yards.

I don't know if I'm helping at all. I just wanted to make sure you knew you're not alone. I grew up in an upper middle class home, and last year I earned a whopping $4k. The whole year. If I didn't live with friends, I'd be homeless. And I'm absolutely, utterly ashamed about it. But I'm telling you so you know, you're not alone.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:59 PM on March 5, 2018 [17 favorites]

Also, the reason you are seeing a bunch of scams may be because you are googling how to improve your Chex report, and there isn't really a way to do that. Chex is more like a background check than a credit score. It reports some event (a closed checking account) that happened in the past. Even if you pay off the old checking account fees, the event (the bank closing your checking account) still happened and still gets reported. It's not like paying off debt to improve your credit score.

Disputing whatever is on your Chex report might not be the best use of your time and energy right now; can you post more about what you are hoping to achieve?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here's a directory of financial assistance nonprofits in WA state that might be helpful: https://dfi.wa.gov/financial-education/financial-education-services

I'm also kind of obsessed with the FTC's financial literacy publications. They are so brightly colored and informative! You can read the PDFs on their website:

Struggling with money management is very common and does not make you stupid or bad or weak. I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by toastedcheese at 4:29 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

What steps does someone ready to get their financial life in order take? What are the scams and deadends I need to be watch out for?

When you are ready to look at your credit score, you can request one free copy of your credit report from the 3 main agencies every 12 months. Other websites (including the credit reporting agencies) may try to get you to pay for this, so don't get tricked into paying when you don't need to. (Here's a page at FTC.gov confirming that the link I gave you is legitimate.)

Once you have your reports, you will be able to see if there is any inaccurate information that needs to be disputed.
posted by belladonna at 4:31 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi everyone, and thank you so much for your kind, helpful responses. I'm feeling a little better just reading these. In answer to a couple of the followup questions which have appeared:

Can you find ONE PERSON to help you with this? That one friend who never seems judgey, who ideally has dealt with their own financial issues before but is pretty good with money?

I don't really have anyone in my life who checks all those boxes, I'm afraid. My local good-with-money friend is extraordinarily judgey unfortunately, and I try not to discuss anything financial with her. Just, I dunno, I think about what friends I might have that I could come to with this and everything goes white. I really like the idea of linking up with a non profit credit counseling outfit though. I'm in Seattle, and just Googled up what appears to be a promising list - are these the sort of outfits you mean?

the event (the bank closing your checking account) still happened and still gets reported. It's not like paying off debt to improve your credit score. Disputing whatever is on your Chex report might not be the best use of your time and energy right now; can you post more about what you are hoping to achieve?

Oh dang, I didn't know this! In fact, this is pretty much the opposite of what the guy at the credit union told me (fair enough I guess, he doesn't work for Chex). What I have right now is this jacked up prepaid card account thing, not a checking account. The big bank that I get it through really makes sure you feel that second class status every time there's a problem, and I don't want to do business with them anymore. I'd also like to have a proper account, preferably with a local credit union, as part of an overall shift to a more responsible and stable financial life. Last time I tried signing up at one was about 2 years ago, which is when ChexSystems and this flag they had on me entered my awareness.
posted by EatTheWeek at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2018

Take a look at this list of community development credit unions (CDCUs) and see if any are near you. They usually have an explicit mission of serving lower-income people who are not well served by the big banks and often have extensive financial counseling services available. They are also sometimes more flexible about opening accounts for people with negative items reported on ChexSystems than regular credit unions and banks.

Also, if you want a handy resource for finding credible, free help with this stuff, lawhelp.org is a great resource (they link to non-profits and often have self-help/educational materials too).

Also, please don't feel ashamed, so much of the U.S. financial system is designed to extract as much money from people as possible--the banks make more money when they can say you've "messed up" and can now be charged more for lower quality services. It's not a reflection of you, it's a reflection of how messed up our economic system is.
posted by snaw at 4:53 PM on March 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hey there EatTheWeak. I remember briefly meeting you in person back in...2010, I think it was? You were kind and friendly toward me at a time when I was miserable, broke, grieving, and struggling hard with untreated depression. I'm doing better these days. I'm in downtown Portland, OR. If you're willing and able to come to where I am, and can bring any relevant bank statements and other financial documents with you, I'd be happy to schedule a time to sit down with you for tea, and spend an afternoon walking you through as much of this as you can handle. I'll make phone calls to financial institutions for you if it's necessary and you find it too anxiety-provoking.

I can't promise I'll be able to help you fix anything, but I've got a post-bac in accounting and am a former licensed tax preparer. I've got strong enough professional skills in dealing with financial institutions that I've been hired to help people with various mental health challenges handle 401k rollovers, bank reconciliations, and various other personal finance matters. I've also been poor ever since my divorce, despite my financial savvy; I know what it's like to feel shame about it, and my former clients will attest that I'm non-judgey and trustworthy when helping other people handle their finances. Poverty in the US is designed to be self-perpetuating, as praemunire wrote above, so please try to let go of the shame as much as you can.

MeMail me if you'd like to take me up on my offer. No charge.
posted by velvet winter at 5:07 PM on March 5, 2018 [120 favorites]

Step zero: you can't just tough your way through anxiety, not indefinitely. You need to find a way to get treatment or it will take you down in the end, every time. That might feel like a luxury or something you don't deserve, but it is seriously affecting your life. You wouldn't try to just grit your teeth and ignore diabetes, would you? Please google for sliding-scale mental health treatment in your county. Even if you have to wait a while, even if the services available to you are limited, that would still be better than nothing.

On to finances. It's a little hard to give you specific enough advice without knowing what your other issues are. Dealing with the immediate one you mention:

ChexSystems keeps a record of people who have problems with checking accounts--fraud, too many bounced checks, unpaid overdraft fees. As with the credit reporting agencies, there certainly can be errors, but it's not always the case. If you find an error, you can dispute it via their website, although you should not pin too much hope on that--getting errors corrected in these kinds of systems is very difficult. Definitely don't pay anyone to do it.

Now, the ChexSystems flag lasts for five years from whatever the negative event was. So when you have the report you should be able to determine how much longer it may be a problem. If you first learned about the issue two years ago already, it may possibly be near enough the time that your record clears that it might be preferable to tough it out with the prepaid card. This is because it may or may not be cheaper to stick with the prepaid card than to try one of the "second chance checking" options, which also may be at obscurer credit unions or banks that may not be convenient for you. (See also: article discussing national bank options which may or may not work for you.) If the fees look acceptable to you, looks like Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and Capital One are all worth trying. As far as I know, it doesn't count against you to try and get rejected, though of course it may be emotionally challenging to be physically in the bank and get turned down.

Ultimately, though, if it's not cheaper/getting you some service you really need to use one of these options, your mode of banking may not be the thing to invest your limited mental energy in. Setting up a budget, dealing with delinquent credit, addressing student loans...all these might be better uses of your time.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have no specific advice but I just wanted to chip in and say that ever since switching to a credit union in 2005, dealing with the people who are watching over my money has been so much nicer and so much less stressful. I have yet to find a grumpy, unhelpful credit union employee in the decade-plus of going in with weird questions, they answer the phone within a few seconds of me calling, they're open on the weekend, I never get any junk mail from them - and I'm a shareholder just by being financially engaged with them. There have been a few extra charges put in over the years, but it's definitely been far, far cheaper than being at a bank. Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 3:03 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm in Seattle, and just Googled up what appears to be a promising list - are these the sort of outfits you mean?

Maybe. But you would really want to vet any organization you went to, because there are a lot of bottom-feeding "credit repair" groups that prey on people with financial trouble and get them into even worse debt. I would check any org with the Better Business Bureau. You might also try calling the Attorney General's office - we have a great AG who is really committed to consumer protection (hey look, his website has a guide to credit counseling services!).
posted by lunasol at 2:16 PM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm in Canada so things might work a little differently - I love my credit union.

During grad school I kept getting overdrawn (triggering fees) and and failed automated payments (which trigger additional penalty fees).

My credit union loan officer bent over backwards and got me a $10k line of credit (on a grad stipend of $30k). The interest was very low and it really evened out the jags and even though I continued to dip into "the red" I didn't have to pay all those additional penalties (which made it easier to get back into- and stay in- the black).

I still have that line of credit and it continued to save me some grief a couple of times even after finishing grad school (late reimbursement on big purchases on my personal credit card, rental refund/deposit shenanigans).
posted by porpoise at 2:29 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's very web 1.0, but when I went through much of this (and I have been there with all of it) I pored over CreditBoards.

I wanted to chime in specifically because you mentioned scams. I agree that it is very hard to tell who has your best interest in mind online, and Google has gotten worse to the point where, at least for me, it's borderline unusable for things like this that truly matter and are life altering. But CreditBoards is mostly just people who have been through it trying to help other people who are going through it.

The downside is that it's a message board with all that entails: it's not neatly presented and you'll have to do a lot of reading, which may not work for you, but I wanted to at least give you the option. It worked for me during an extremely stressful financial time.

Please free free to message me anytime, like I said, I've been through just about every personal finance situation.
posted by imabanana at 5:54 AM on March 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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