Money, Money, Money (Oh, and a Depersonalization Lesson Too)

A few weeks ago, I contacted my bank about a personal loan. Some of my spending had gotten out of control — a bit of it personal spending but a bit more of it necessary things like car repairs and cat surgeries — so my credit cards were looking pretty full. Two of the three of them have low interest rates, which I can live with (and to be honest, I never use either one of them), but the third one has a higher interest rate, and that was the one I was looking to tackle. I could save over $1,000 in interest alone by getting a personal loan with a lower interest rate.

I’ve been with my bank since I arrived in New Zealand. In that time, I have had one (maybe two) loans which I paid back diligently and never defaulted on. The first loan was to pay off my student loan debt in the States (which wasn’t that much) so I could pay it off locally instead. The only other loan I remember getting was a home loan (mortgage) for our house. We are almost at the half-way point of paying that off as well, and, again, we have never missed a payment.

Our mortgage is now about 14% of our house’s worth. More about that below.

The Place Where I Work has all of their business with the same bank I am at, so we have quite a bit of business with them.

I also have an excellent credit rating.

So I was surprised when our bank relationship manager said that I couldn’t actually have a personal loan, or place that debt on our mortgage to pay it back. I never really got to the bottom of the personal loan part, but our bank relationship manager did some spiel about if I extended our mortgage to cover the debt — and we’re talking around 3% of the estimated value of our house, not taking into account it would probably sell at a lot higher price than that — it would create an imbalance between Noel and me in our ownership of the house.

I really should have fought back on that, because amazingly, after the quakes, Noel arranged a significant amount of bank assistance against our house for The Place Where I Work, and, despite me not owning a penny in that business, it seemed okay that I could sign my life away for that. (It has since been all paid back basically.)

She said I should approach the bank I have the credit card with and apply for a personal loan there. Basically, shift the debt to a lower interest rate to make it easier to pay off. I’m not a banker or even remotely great with money, so I took her advice.

The conversation left me in doubt about my relationship with my bank. If they didn’t really want to come to the party now — they’re happy enough to take my money, to store my money, but not lend me money — why should I be loyal to them at all? Loyalty is a two-way street.

Shortly after I hung up the phone with her, I went to the bank I had the problem credit card with, and I researched things a bit. I seemed to be eligible for a loan through them with a lower interest rate. The interest rates I had on my credit cards through other banks (including my own) were 0% (balance transfers) to around 13% (just under). This credit card was around 17%, and the loan was around 14%, so the reduction would help reduce the amount owing and payments.

I forgot to mention one area in the application itself, and this other bank didn’t send me a copy of my application in email (or even give me an opportunity to print a PDF copy), so I emailed them off the secure section of the banking site where I can look up my balances and transfer money.

The next day, I received an email back that the bank loan person I was dealing with had emailed me so the main customer contact center would let me deal with her. Problem was, I hadn’t received any email. I checked my inbox. I searched the inbox and all folders. I looked through the spam folder. Nothing.

I emailed back telling them I had not received any email from that person.

No response.

I waited a week, and finally emailed them again. I made sure that I reiterated that I wanted the loan to pay off their own credit card. (This is important for later in the story). The customer contact center got back to me with a cut-and-paste of the first email I never received; the bank wanted certain documents from me. I emailed them back to ask which email address to send them to as the customer contact center email took a while to respond (and I knew it wouldn’t be the right address). They emailed back the address. As soon as I got the email, I found the PDF copies of the documents, and emailed them back.

They also told me I needed to take a photo ID to a bank branch as my New Zealand passport on file (again, important information mentioned later) had expired.

My email reply was so quick that they called me after I had sent the email to reiterate which documents I needed to email in. I was in the car, driving to the branch to show my ID, so I didn’t pick up, but they left a message.

At the bank branch somewhat close to my house, traffic and parking is a nightmare, and there’s construction out the front of the bank itself. I managed to find a parking space in their parking lot (which is dinky and hard to get in and out of), ran in, and showed them my New Zealand driver’s license. The information I received said nothing about me having to show my current passport, just a photo ID, and since I didn’t have my passport on me, and we were now a week and two days into a process that I could had finished two days into it had I received the initial email, I thought it would be best to get it all in ASAP.

That was Friday night.

Monday, I got a call from the bank loan officer, but I was busy at work. She left a message on my phone and an 0800 number to phone her back on. When I had a few seconds spare, I called. And waited. And waited. And waited.

40 minutes later, someone finally answered. I let them know the bank loan officer had called me and I was calling her back. This man said he couldn’t help me, and the bank loan officer would call me back when she was free. At this point, I was like, “So she definitely is going to call me back? Because I’m not waiting on hold for another 40 minutes.” Yes, she’d call me back.

She called me back a few hours later. It ended up I did need to take a passport in. She told me that my New Zealand passport on file had expired, so I would need to take a passport with my visa in. I thought she meant a Visa card, like credit card, and I asked her why I would need a credit card. She responded that because I was American, I would need to show the residency visa in my passport too. At that point, I was super-confused. I asked her if I was a New Zealand passport holder, I must be a citizen, so why couldn’t I just take that passport in? You know, the newer version of the expired one? Oh, yeah, right! It made my confidence sink that much lower. Plus, originally I was told I needed only to take a photo ID in. Which I did. And I understand it’s not proof of citizenship, sure, but they already had proof of my citizenship. Would she have asked me for a passport had my accent been a Kiwi one?

My other credit cards were discussed, and I had to give my numbers over as the statements only had the last four digits. I made the assumption they needed the entire account number, like they needed that for my regular bank account numbers, so they could check those details if required. I gave that information over. I did state again that the loan was to pay off their own credit card because the interest rate was higher.

She told me she’d call back on Tuesday afternoon to check in with me about the application.

She didn’t call me back on Tuesday afternoon to check in with me.

Meanwhile, I had made my way down to the same hard-to-get-into bank branch to show my New Zealand passport. So they had all the documentation they needed.

Wednesday, I received a call from the bank loan officer. The loan was approved, and she read out all the information associated with the loan. There was talk of “releasing the funds” but no talk of where they would be released to. Since an additional account showed up in my online banking, I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the money would be released there and then I would transfer it to the credit card as a payment.

At that stage, all I had to do was sign the documents she’d send me, scan them, and email them back to her. All good.

I got the documents, printed them out, initialled all pages and signed and dated the last ones, corrected the mistakes and initialled those, then scanned them, and emailed them via replying to her email.

An error came back. Whoever entered the “reply-to” address in the email account mistyped it, so it would always bounce back. Email error number two. Hm.

I forwarded the email to the correct address, and let her know there was an error. No response.

Last night, I got an email back. Everything was sorted out, and this other bank would be paying off the credit cards from the other banks with the loan payment. This is despite them knowing the interest rates were lower on those cards, the amount owing on those cards was significantly less than the amount I borrowed, the amount I borrowed being the same amount as what was owing on my credit card with them, and, oh, that pesky little detail that I’d told them a few times (and in the initial application) that the loan was to pay of their own credit card.

Panic mode. My mind went straight into depersonalization mode, and in those moments, I discovered something extremely important about my depersonalization; it felt numb and slightly euphoric at the top — that I knew, that I have always known — but underneath was chaos. Thoughts and emotions tumbling over one another in an absolute hot mess.

It scared me. A lot. I felt like I was falling uncontrollably through this jumble of thoughts and feelings, all pelleting me before rolling away, before I could get a good grasp on any of them.

It was a very unpleasant feeling. So unpleasant, actually, I spoke to my counselor about it today in our session. It seems the depersonalization has revealed its ugly true self at last. And I didn’t like it one bit.

Somehow, I managed to grab on to sadness, and I clutched on tightly. Suddenly, the depersonalization cleared and the storm of chaos dissipated.

There was me, in the night, on the couch, YouTube blaring on the TV, clutching my sadness.

Noel saw something was wrong and asked me, so I told him what was going on. Basically, I now would be in a worse financial position than I was before because what was increasingly looking like a huge fuck-up of a bank had done a half-assed job on my loan application.

I didn’t cry. But I sat with the emotion of being upset.

Basically, I’d had enough. This was the final straw in life. One more big fucking mess that wasn’t my own to clean up.

Then the thought came to me: why should I clean it up? Not my circus, not my monkeys, not my elephant’s shit steaming in the middle of the ring.

The sadness turned to anger, and as I’ve discussed in previous blogs, using that anger as a tool instead of an agent for anxiety can be a powerful thing.

I wrote the bank loan officer. I told her I’d let them know in my initial application about my intentions for the loan. I told her that this loan being put towards my lower interest rate bearing credit cards would significantly disadvantage me financially, and that I had never, ever told her that was my intent with the loan, and I gave neither her nor the bank the authority ever to pay those credit cards with that loan. And I finished by saying if the bank was unable to help me, I wanted the loan cancelled.

By bedtime, I was still furious. On the final paperwork I submitted earlier in the day, there was a clause about making a formal complaint. I got on my iPad and navigated to their Web site for more information. Finding the email address, I drafted up a letter basically outlining all these issues I had had from day one, and how very dissatisfied I was with this all.

I also expressed that, if they were unable to recall the loan from the other banks (if it had been paid out), I would expect them to lower the interest rate on all the balance owing on my credit card with them to a rate lower than the loan itself, refund the application fee, and also reimburse me for damages. I also let them know I would be taking the case to the Banking Ombudsman too.

I’m angry and frustrated and sad and upset.

I’m angry because what should be a straightforward A to B process has become an A-to-C-to-R-to-I-to-Q-to-maybe-B process, and this keeps on being repeated in my life.

I’m frustrated with everything always going pear-shaped in my life instead of straight-forward, or even easy, for a change.

I’m sad that I can’t cope with this all as well as I used to cope with it, and I feel like a sliver of the person I used to be. I’m upset because the old Scott was able to gather the energy and strength to fight back with logic and facts but the old Scott is gone and the new Scott feels befuddled and questions himself all the time now, even when he knows he’s 100% right.

Yes, I learned an important lesson about my depersonalization, and yes, it has made me more determined to beat it, but no, I’m not comfortable with having it any more, and yes, that chaotic underbelly of it scares the shit out of me.

There’s a monster in the fog in my mind.

And I hope I have the strength and willpower left to slay it.