Normally, my personal finance angst isn’t a huge topic here. However, something very disturbing happened to me yesterday. I opened my mail, and Scholastic’s Beginning Readers’ Program was threatening to turn the $15.96 I “owed” them over to a collection agency. And report me to a credit bureau!
So, here’s my cautionary tale. A few months ago, a fast talking and friendly woman phoned me. She said that my little boy could have a free backpack and a fabulous anniversary version of a Dr. Seuss book. I said, “sure.” After all, the boy does need a backpack. The goods arrived. Only then did I fully realize that I had signed up for the Beginning Readers’ Program.
Things to learn at this point:
- “Free” nearly always comes with monetary strings attached.
- Don’t agree to something someone on the phone is giving or selling you.
SO, with my free gifts were two books that we already had and a bill for nearly $30. I wasn’t happy. I sent the books back, and wrote “please cancel” across the bill. When more books arrived, with an even bigger bill, I sent those back and even returned the free gifts (which I hadn’t actually let my son use yet). When the third group of books came, with a likewise larger bill, I called.
Through some meandering process, the books had taken more than a month to register as returned. Finally, though, they were all listed. I found the account was cancelled, and I just needed to send back the third shipment. Which brings me to the horrible note from yesterday. Happily, when I called, I found that the books had just been marked as returned in the system, and my account was down to zero. The nice lady on the phone assured me that my credit score would remain intact.
Yes, if you don’t pay a bill for something like the nearly $16 I “owed,” it can be reported to the credit bureau. And the amount doesn’t matter. It will hurt your credit score just the same. So it is important to keep track of what you are doing, and have a place for bills you need to pay. Set up schedule to pay bills regularly so that everything arrives on time. And remember that signing up for those “free gifts” and “offers” can result in more payments and headache than they are really worth. Simply spending $20 on a backpack for my son would have been much easier in the long run. After all, my time and stress is worth more than that.