Bipolar debt is frequently a problem for members of the bipolar community.
Manic episodes, bipolar spending sprees and reckless decisions can all result in serious financial consequences – and damaged credit.
Lack of money is the root of all evil. ~George Bernard Shaw
The following information is for people seeking to improve their credit, achieve credit repair, and get out of any debt that can be attributed to their bipolar disorder.
On our “Applying for bipolar disability” page we suggest it may sometimes be a good idea to hire an expert. This page provides more of a “do-it-yourself” approach.
This is because applying for disability is more complex with a lot of paperwork and “gotchas”.
Also, by the time a bipolar person feels they can no longer work, they tend to be agitated and stressed or depressed. Way too stressed for dealing with paperwork and angry creditors.
In fact, at this point the person with bipolar disorder may feel utterly overwhelmed. However, help with bipolar debt and credit repair is a less complex process.1
Not to mention that if you are already feeling financial strain we figure you may want to keep your costs down.
Consequences of bad credit
One of the horrible ironies of bad credit is that just when you need every financial break you can get, EVERYTHING will be more expensive:
1. Lenders will charge you higher fees, but folks with good credit will pay low fees, or no fees at all.
2.Higher interest rates – remember the principles of compound interest. Even a small rise in the number of points adds up to you paying a lot more interest over time.
3. Higher insurance costs – today insurers use your credit score as part of rating you as an insurance risk.
4.Lower income – now we are getting to some of the more personal parts which can really suck. Some employers check your credit and may not hire you if you have bad credit. This is increasingly a factor in promotions as well.
5. Sub-prime loans – if your credit is bad enough the reputable lenders will turn their backs, forcing you to the “lenders of last resort”. The current melt-down in the sub-prime market in the US has highlighted how expensive and unfavorable these sorts of loans really are.
For bipolar people who are already wrestling with shame, guilt or self-esteem issues, knowing they have a bad credit report and low credit score can be very demoralizing. Cleaning your credit up as fast as legally possible will boost your morale and is worth doing for this reason alone.
Also, credit repair is part of relationship repair. Your loved ones will benefit, and you will not have to feel bad about lost opportunities and added stress for them. Good credit contributes to your self-esteem and sense of worth as a person, as well as feeling that you are an asset in your relationship. Fix your credit and don’t feel like dead weight in your relationship.
The great thing about getting bipolar debt help and doing some credit repair is the chance to repair self-respect and relationships at the same time.
The Nuts and bolts of credit repair
This is a straightforward and methodical process. Just follow the steps and you will be fine. Right now it may <i>feel</i> as if your credit report and credit score are the enemy. Really though, these are your two best friends. Take care of them and they will take care of you.
1. The first and most important step in credit repair is to obtain a copy of your credit report. It will be necessary to get one copy from each of three big credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. The TransUnion monthly subscription service is also worth investigating. You get unlimited access to your report and your score and tools that keep your score up and protect you from identity theft.
2. You are legally entitled to one free copy from each bureau every year, under the 2005 Fair Credit Reporting Act (FACT). There is an official site to help consumers to obtain their free credit report: the Annual Credit Report Request Service.
3. Consider visiting the individual bureau websites as well, to check out the educational resources they provide. They offer some great services as well, but for a fee. We will talk about this a little more later.
4. Now for the big step – cleaning up. You will need to go through all three reports carefully. Look for anything that is wrong or out of date, and make sure all three reports are consistent. Verify that your name, address and Social Security number are all correct. Also make sure there are no accounts listed that you do not recognize. Another common error is accounts appearing more than once because of store or bank mergers.
5. Of course a major thing you are looking for is any negative information such as missed or late payments. Credit repair for bipolar debt is like all credit repair – it is all about eliminating the negatives and accentuating the positives.
6. If you have negative details like these and they are correct there is nothing you can do to have these unfortunate facts removed. Accurate negative information will stay on your report for seven years. Some things such as bankruptcy (10 years), a criminal conviction (forever), or a lawsuit/unpaid judgment (statue of limitations) can stick around even longer.
The best way to keep costs down is to do your own credit repair for free.
7. The good news is that if the information is inaccurate then you can dispute it. Contact the credit bureau or the creditor – they will have to investigate. Also, they will have to amend your credit report to say the negative information is in dispute. The source has 30 days in which to respond to disputed information. (Remember though, if it is correct, you are stuck with it, at least for a while.)
8. Make use of the 100 word statement. Your credit report has a section where you can insert a statement you write yourself. The credit bureau, TransUnion, will even help you write your statement. This can be a critical step in credit repair. It gives you a chance to tell your side of the story. For example, you can explain if missed or late payments were due to illness or a job loss or divorce.
9. Fixing your credit report is not just about getting rid of inaccurate or hurtful
information. You may also want to add helpful information such as accounts in good standing that for some reason are not being recorded yet. Sometimes there is a fee to add an account from a creditor who does not routinely report to the credit bureaus. Paying the fee may be worth it to improve your credit.
10. Although this sounds weird,
opening more credit accounts can also be helpful. For example, the credit bureaus give you a better credit score if you have a variety of types of credit. Ideally you will have both “revolving” credit, which means credit cards, and installment credit such as car payments.
11.Try to get the balance of your accounts down to 30% of the credit
available or less. Your credit looks healthiest if you have credit available instead of “maxing out”.
12. Don’t fall for the scams from the so-called credit repair and debt consolidation companies. there are no magic tricks – not legal ones anyway. You can do exactly the same things and save the fees to pay down debt. The FTC has a warning page about these companies here: Click for FTC Credit Scam warnings. (This page also has a great example of a dispute letter.)
The all important FICO score
As well as cleaning up your credit report, credit repair requires doing all you can to improve your FICO score. This will get better rates for life and help you stay free from bipolar debt.
I use Trans Union to monitor my score and I have found that a credit monitoring service has been a huge help in raising my score. Trans Union actually explain how you can get your score up. I also like the protection from identity theft.
FICO scores are calculated based on a 100 point system, divided into 5 areas of major interest to lenders:
1. Paying your debt obligations on time = 35%
2. Your credit to debt ratio = 30%
3. Frequency of applications for new credit = 15%
4. What types of debt you are carrying, for example installment, bank credit, credit cards = 10%
5. How old your accounts are = 10%.
This means the two most important things you can do for credit repair are (1) pay on time, and (2) keep your debt below 30-50% of the total credit available to you.
An application for a new card may hurt in the short term, but may ultimately help by improving your credit to debt ratio and providing you with a greater variety of credit types. Welcome to the contradictions in how how our credit scores are calculated. I am sure you can see now why it helps so much to know the details – and good luck with your credit repair.
How bipolar debt happens
There are many ways bipolar debt occurs. The typical ones are:
1. Excessive spending as a form of mania.
2. Poor financial and career decisions due to impulsiveness and poor judgment.
3. Overspending when depressed as a form of self-medication.
4. Overspending when manic as an expression of grandiosity.
5. Medical bills from treating bipolar or high expenses from untreated bipolar – for example substance abuse or hypersexuality.
Part of what makes bipolar debt so terrible is the effect it has on the bipolar person’s self-esteem and the damage bipolar debt can do to relationships with loved ones.
Some couples handle the delicate matter of bipolar debt by using a bipolar treatment contract. A bipolar treatment contract is an agreement a bipolar person makes with their loved ones when they are well, to handle any bumps further on down the road. The folks at Real Mental Health provide excellent information about bipolar treatment contracts and a free downloadable sample contract.
Bipolar debt precautions
This is very similar to the material on our Bipolar Excessive Spending and Bipolar Infidelity pages. Have a look at both of these as they contain additional relevant material.
Agree to some precautions with loved ones ahead of time. The bipolar person and their supporters need to have a plan to prevent bipolar debt in place BEFORE an episode hits.
1. Monitor and restrict net access in order to avoid bipolar debt through online shopping or gambling. Also, this is critical if pornography or cybersex are an issue, and is very helpful in preventing isolation and withdrawal.
2. As far as possible, put cash, credit cards and ATM cards out of reach. Also consider taking the car keys away for safekeeping in an extreme situation.
3. I have a close friend whose spouse is a very sweet and gifted bipolar musician. My friend manages their money by giving him a monthly allowance. He has an ATM card to access this account at all times, but if he goes off his medication or seems to be getting hyper, she cuts off all other access to their finances. This way he always has some autonomy and dignity but can’t get them into financial trouble.
4. I have heard some advice that the credit cards should be chopped up. To me this sounds like a problem – how will bills be paid? How will the groceries get shopped for? Sometimes a credit card is necessary. My advice is find a way to divide finances, like my friend did with her musician husband.
5. This sounds snoopy but it can be a lifesaver. At the moment the banks and credit card companies seem to be on overdrive. They are constantly sending out credit card offers, and those dangerous little checks – so watch the email and snail mail.
And please – don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t like these precautions either, but can be very helpful in saving whole families from the nightmare of bipolar debt.
Bipolar life insurance
Another important aspect of prudent financial management is bipolar life insurance.
If you have bipolar disorder, it will be difficult and more expensive to get life insurance – but it is NOT impossible. Look into term life for the protection of your loved ones and get your entire financial circumstances in order. The peace of mind from resolving debt and insurance issues will greatly assist your recovery and help prevent bipolar disorder relapse.
“Money can do anything.” Charles Dickens