It takes my neighbor hours to pay all her bills while being debt free keeps me from that onerous chore, saving me valuable time. The same neighbor taught me about another time saving aspect of being debt free. This neighbor requested her free credit report from AnnualCreditReport. I had mentioned it to her some time ago as something she should do to make sure she wasn’t the victim of fraud and she finally got around to it. It was her first ever look at her credit report and she was having trouble making sense of it so she asked me to come over and help her.
I thought after the bill paying exercise that nothing about this woman’s finances could surprise me. But her credit report sure did. The thing was the size of a small phone book. I quickly looked at the end and it was forty-three pages long. Forty-three pages of mortgages, student loans, personal loans, defaults, repossessions, credit cards, inquiries, and credit pulls. This for a woman in her mid-30’s. I knew we were in trouble and that this was going to take a while.
I had her look through it quickly the first time, checking off the things that she was sure were correct. Then we started on the hard part. There were many entries that she either didn’t remember or that she remembered but thought were inaccurate. We looked at all of those and matched up the entries with her records. Turns out, she had about nine debts that she didn’t even remember but which were legitimate, and three that had been paid off but never marked as such by the banks. She’ll be making some phone calls to have the paid debts removed and to get statements from the forgotten debts. After much trekking through her disorganized files, we were finally able to isolate eleven problem entries that she just couldn’t come up with any sort of records for. I suggested that she might be the victim of identity theft and that she call those creditors and find out exactly what they had her down for. Some of them are likely debts that she has simply forgotten, but some might be malicious. Either way, it’s going to mean more time on the phone trying to solve the problem.
I spent all afternoon at this woman’s house. Between going through the actual report and working through her files to find all the records, I was there for six hours. Six hours to work through forty-three pages. (At least she baked me some cookies the next day to make up for it.) And she’ll be spending several hours I’m sure on the phone and in phone tag land trying to sort out all the problems. Getting her credit report sorted out is going to be like having a part time job for her.
In contrast, my credit report is only three pages long. One page is mostly personal information, the next lists what few credit cards I have, and the last page shows the inquiries made by my credit card and insurance companies. That’s it and it never changes.
There are two advantages to having such a short report. The first is the obvious time savings. Unlike my neighbor, I spend next to no time reviewing my report. I know every entry on there by heart so it takes about five minutes to review it and I’m done. It takes me longer to access the thing and get it printed than it does to read it.
The other is the ease of knowing immediately when something is wrong. If one day I open my credit file and discover that it has ballooned to ten pages, I’m going to know right away that there is a big problem. Because my report is so short, it’s also very easy to see whether the information about me or my accounts is correct and to fix any inaccuracies. It all makes for a very simple process.
Once my neighbor gets her report straightened out it will take her less time to review it because she’ll know what should be there. But unless she seriously cuts down on her debts she’ll never be truly free of that long report. Helping her through that ordeal made me realize that the time I save by being debt free is even more substantial than I first thought. I used to wonder why so many people complain about not having time for themselves and having no free time to do fun things. I figured they were just blowing it watching TV or that they worked too hard. Now I understand that, at least in part, carrying a ton of debt not only sucks up your money but also your time. My neighbor spent hours paying bills and will probably spend close to three whole days by the time she’s finished sorting out her credit report. That’s just not the kind of time I want to waste in my life, not even for a house-load of fun toys and cool cars.