FACES OF TRUEACCORD
Faces of TrueAccord is a project seeking to take away the stigma and fear around debt collection by sharing customer stories. Here is an interview with TrueAccord customer Cynthia Beard.
Tell me about yourself
CB: I’ve always been interested in people, and their stories. I’m a writer and reader at heart. As a result of that, I’m into personal development, faith and what drives people in their everyday life. A few years ago, I decided to quit my job in the wedding and events industry to become a professional life coach.
What led you to that decision?
CB: Growing up, I’ve always been really close to my mom. Before adopting me, she lost two biological children…she went through all these things in her life, but she never lost her spirit for living. She was so excited and curious about what’s next.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
CB: In the course of one hour, I watched her deteriorate to the point of no longer being here. On a truly visceral level, I understood what my mother showed me her whole life—that life is a gift.
I started asking myself, here’s my mom who had such an exuberance of life! And here I am, healthy, in my 30s, and I’m living every day, miserable. I had these dreams but was too afraid to go after them. Her passing was the greatest gift because it became my catalyst.
So I made a plan to quit my job when I could and start my business.
How did you start setting up your business?
CB: I took out a few separate small loans, not all at the same time, to pay for everyday living expenses that I was falling behind on. Then, I would set up an automatic payment plan. But over time I found myself in a pattern where I’d have the income from my business to make my first 2 or 3 payments, but not for the 4th or 5th. So to solve the problem, I’d take out another loan. It was like this rolling avalanche, and I didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone for help.
Time went by, and those debts were handed over to debt collection companies. And as those companies started calling and sending letters through the mail, I responded by hiding because I truly didn’t see a way out. It seemed that any amount of money I’d earn would have to go directly to paying my rent and my debt. There’d be nothing left over. As it was already, I didn’t go to the movies, and I love movies! I very rarely went out to dinner, ever. I didn’t see a solution where I could feel like I would have any semblance of quality of life, so my response was to hide.
Then what happened?
CB: Debt collection calls became more frequent and I was eventually served papers to my home and to my place of business (at the job I took to earn some additional income). There’s nothing more embarrassing than to be served papers in front of your boss. I’ve only been served papers twice. When you set up a debt repayment program and fall behind, you’re officially in breach of that contract and can now be sued for that money.
How would you describe your relationship with money and with debt?
CB: The intention with my debt was to help keep things afloat so I could keep doing this business. It was never like, how much money can I take and never have to repay it. That was never my intention, and I would venture to guess that’s not for 99% of people. The narrative is around that 1% though and people think it must be everybody’s intention.
Debt has always been in the conversation with my relationship with money.
What was your turning point?
CB: Finally, one day, I decided to stop hiding. I remember I was sitting in the parking lot on a brick wall. For some reason, I was feeling brave enough to call the debt collection agency, knowing I had missed a payment.
After she hung up on me, I even tried to call back. But when I reached the automated call routing to hit the number to speak to a live person, I…I couldn’t hit it. I thought to myself, I can’t do this. So I hung up.
I couldn’t believe what happened. I felt I was trying and wasn’t getting anywhere. So why even try? In the end, they did serve me and took me to court. It was awful.
It solidified my belief that I was not a good person because I was in this situation and couldn’t pay back my debt. At that time, I believed that if you have debt, it means you’re not responsible and can’t take care of yourself. That situation is going to be part of your existence because that’s who you are.
What was it like when you first heard from TrueAccord?
CB: It was warm and personable. I felt the emails were coming from people—not an automated business. Most debt collectors are short and cold: “This is John Jacob Smith corporation, and you owe $20,000. This is the number to call.”
Even then, I watched TrueAccord emails come in over the course of a year. Sometimes I would click on them and look at the options and think “Oh, I would love to do that, but I can’t afford it yet.” But despite not committing to any of the offers or responding, the emails never became more harsh; in fact, it felt like they became more warm. The emails were direct, and of course, the goal is to help not just the person who’s in debt (you’re a business, after all), but also the people who come to you to get paid on what they’re owed. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but it made me feel like a human being. I even remember thinking, “Oh gosh, please keep this debt, I want to pay through you guys—don’t go away!” I don’t even think I ever called in—I don’t think I was brave enough. It was a “look from the safety of my foxhole” situation.
How did you get started on your payment plan with TrueAccord?
CB: Most of these debts were from debt repayment plans I couldn’t pay back. I did not want to get into that situation again until I knew I could fully commit. That I could, for sure, no matter what, make all those payments. So, that’s why it took me so long to sign up for something.
I was able to set up my monthly payment plan online.
I panicked for a couple of days, and went into my default mode of embarrassment and shame. But this instantly went away when TrueAccord followed up with an email. And unlike my experience with the debt collector in the parking lot, the TA email was kind, understanding, and supportive.
TrueAccord’s response to that last missed payment was “Hey, we know that last payment didn’t go through. How can we help? How can we get you back on track? Want to call us and figure out how to split that up?” It wasn’t like “What the heck is wrong with you?” TrueAccord’s response was once again so positive and affirming of the situation I was in. I was so determined to do right by TrueAccord and complete the debt repayment plan, that the first chance I could, I made that final payment.
How did your experience with TrueAccord differ from other collection agencies?
CB: I could feel the intention shift with every single communication from TA. The intention was “We are here to help” not “We are here to make money and maybe, in the process, that helps you out.”
I could tell the intentions behind what you're doing is to be of service.
What would you recommend to others?
CB: First, I’d say that you can trust your vulnerability to TrueAccord as a company. Be brave enough to make that contact. Even if you can’t make that payment today or in the next 6 months, reach out to them over a call, or reply to an email.
Second, be aware of the debt that you have, but not make it everything you are aware of. Don’t make it your story about who you are, what worth you have, what you deserve, how successful or not you should be based on that debt. That would miss the whole point of the life that we have to begin with. If there’s anything I learned from my mom, it’s that life is truly precious.
For me, I have spent more hours worrying about my obligations than I have spent making those obligations right because I was afraid. I didn’t allow myself enjoyment of many things—simple things! I live in California and I would go for a walk on the beach with the most beautiful views. The entire time walking on that beach, I would be in my head, seeing the world around me but not looking at it. And spending all my time thinking, “I’m so stressed out, I’m such a bad person. How am I going to pay this back?” I had this conversation in my head 24/7, all day long.
The minute you can be open and communicate with TrueAccord and make that connection, they will foster that relationship and help bring you to the point where you can meet your obligation.
What do you want to do now?
CB: In my coaching business, I’m focusing on how we understand the language that we have on repeat within ourselves and how that affects our reality. If you’re constantly saying to yourself “I’m so bad for having this debt”, that drives our intentions and actions, which, in turn, affects our relationships to ourselves and to others. Our relationship with money ties into our feeling of self-worth, and I want to help foster a more positive relationship between those things.