Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Past Due Bills

My kids will be horrified at this post. But it's confession time and they need to realize that even dear old dad was once young and foolish. Time takes care of the first, it's debatable whether the second has changed.

When I was in college, the only bill I received was for long distance phone calls. We had something like a calling card, you'd dial the phone number then enter your "secret" code and the call would go through. At the end of the month, you'd get a bill. In the days before the break-up of AT&T, long distance was expensive. A typical five minute call might cost $2.06 (or $7.33 in today's terms). So a short call home once a week could result in a $30 (in 2008 dollars) phone bill. Remember that I was working in a below-minimum wage job and wanted to spend my hard earned dollars on things of value (mostly beer and comic books).

The bills were delivered at the post office on campus in my box. Truth was, that was about the only mail I received. But seeing that phone bill made me cringe as I often didn't have the money to pay the bill.

When money was short, I'd simply push the bill back through the other side of the box. My theory was, if I didn't have the bill, it wasn't due. (Of course AT&T didn't see it that way). Some nice person in the post office would see it on their side of the wall on the floor and put it back in my box. One month was especially tight, so I pushed it back through a second day. And a third. Maybe even a fourth.

Some nice person in the post office would put it back each day. However, as nice as this person was, their tolerance wore thin and their creativity won out. On the fourth or fifth day with no money, I went to push it back through and found they had taped cardboard over the back of the box. No amount of pushing would get the letter through and my I couldn't reach to push it out manually (I tried). I could have gotten a stick to push the cardboard out, but by then I had learned my lesson. Well maybe. But that's for another day.

What I SHOULD have done was to call the phone company and explained my financial situation and worked out a payment plan. Of course this would have meant living within my means, something that is hard for all of us. Eventually I did catch up and I made less calls to home (sorry mom). But I wanted to explain that I do know some of the problems with past due bills.

Now a word about the picture. It may be hard to see, but this is a past due water bill from 1982. Seems I wrote the check for the wrong amount. The letter says I owed them 6 cents and I would have to pay the past due amount plus a $2.25 delinquent charge (a whopping 3,750%). Had they turned off my water, I would have had to pay a $10 fee to restore service.

Trouble was, I received this letter about 5:30pm (after the office closed) and was supposed to have it paid the next morning before the office opened at 8:30. I made an irate phone call and found a very busy woman who told me "no one is getting their water cut off today". Seems a glitch in their system caused all these letters to go out late and she was fielding numerous calls. Next month I paid the late 6 cents and everyone was happy.


Anonymous said...

"My theory was, if I didn't have the bill, it wasn't due."

That sounds like something Homer Simpson would say ;-). Glad your financial prowess has grown so much!

Randy said...

I think there's a little Homer in all of us...