The American Economy, Explained

So, you know how when you get a credit card bill, on the little slip they give you to send back there’s a place to write in your change of address? I made the mistake of relying on those little slips to update our address with our creditors when we moved. It worked in exactly zero percent of the cases. PRO TIP: Nobody looks at anything you write on those little slips. They take the check out and throw the rest away with a quickness. I’m not even convinced that there are human beings removing the checks from the envelopes. I think it may all be done by robots these days, or maybe by small children in China.

Anyway, so, there was some confusion with our bills for a few months, but we had mail forwarding and so most of the statements reached me. When I got a statement that had been sent to our old address, I called them up, which was a pain because it always involved navigating a dumb automated phone tree system, but eventually everybody had our new address.

Everybody, that is, except for the people that have my student loan debt. I never got a statement from them, and so, because I was preoccupied with things like moving and having a baby, I forgot about them. A few months later they managed to track me down by phone to inform me that I was behind on my payments. “Oh, right,” I say. “We moved, let me give you my new address. Can you send me a copy of the latest statement?” Sure, they say. We’ll send it right out. Meanwhile, would I like to make a payment by phone to bring my account current? “Okey-dokey artichokey!” I say, at which point I am transferred to an automated system that demands my account number. My account number? I have no idea what my account number is, on account of I haven’t seen a statement in six months. I actually tried calling back, to ask if I could give the payment info to a living person, but after waiting around on hold for forty-five minutes I was informed that the automated system is the only option for payments. So I threw up my hands and figured I’d just pay the bill when it came in the mail.

A few weeks go by, no statement, but I do get an e-mail from the student loan people! The e-mail tells me that apparently my contact info needs to be updated and will I please go to their website to put in my new address. So, I try this, but of course the first thing they want is my account number. Without much hope, I try replying to the e-mail and including a brief description of the problem as well as my new address.

No response to the e-mail, but meanwhile, the student loan people are starting to harass my parents, wanting to know my new address. “Should I give it to them?” my dad wants to know. “You’re not on the lam from these people or anything?” I assured him that I want them to have my new address, and expressed the hope that they might actually believe in it coming from him.

I got a few more phone calls, but they were all automated. Eventually there was a living person on the line again, and I asked her for my account number, so that I could pay online or via their automated system. No sirree! she tells me. We can’t give out account numbers over the phone! “Um, can you e-mail it to me?” Oh no. But we can fax you a form that you can fax back in order to request that information be sent to you by mail.

“Uh huh,” I say. “Well, let me give you my new address…”

She goes tappity tappity tappity, and informs me that this address is not valid. When I assure her that it’s where I get all my other mail, she only repeats that “It’s marked in our system as invalid.”

A few days later, my grandmother sent me a letter. Enclosed was a form sent to her by the student loan people. Apparently they want to know my new address.

Meanwhile, it seems that the various credit bureaus have been informed that I’ve defaulted on my student loans. Now the first clue I had about this came when I started receiving a rash of letters from banks, offering me credit. I was a bit mystified by these letters at first because they all made reference to “your financial struggles.” The message was: “You’re struggling, and we want to help! Please let us extend you credit!”

So for anybody who was confused, this is why the American economy is the way it is.

Epilogue: I finally figured out why they had our address marked as invalid. The statement was addressed to “Jo S. Cochran,” and since all my other mail comes to “Shannon Phillips”—and because we get a lot of mail addressed to previous inhabitants of the house, which we always mark Return to Sender and give back to the postman—our friendly neighborhood postal delivery dude had taken it upon himself to bounce back the student loan statements along with the other misaddressed mail. After spending a lot of time on the phone I convinced the student loan people to send another bill, still to Jo Cochran but this time marked “c/o Phillips.” (They couldn’t just update my name, you see, not over the phone: they’ll need to see a copy of our marriage license and my California ID before taking such a measure. Why? WHO KNOWS. Our banks and our credit cards were happy to update my name on my merest say-so, but these people are obviously lunatics, so.) Anyway, I finally got a bill and I finally paid it, and even though my credit score will suffer a lot from this whole debacle, it doesn’t actually matter as we’re not going to be making any big purchases on credit any time soon. THE END.

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