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Ignoring Bills Won’t Make Them Disappear

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This is one of my biggest financial mistakes. My failure to learn some basic skills and my willful ignorance of the trouble I was in cost me thousands of dollars and major inconveniences.

When I was younger, I didn’t have that much of a positive track record with cars. In high school after receiving my license and throughout college, I drove my parents’ car, but I drove infrequently and was never really responsible for maintaining the car. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music education and found my first teaching position, I needed a car. My parents were kind enough to buy me one as a graduation gift — a 12-year old Toyota Celica in good enough condition.

Well, I made a stupid mistake, though it’s a mistake that befalls many people who don’t take the time to learn about basic car maintenance when owning their first car. I never added any oil to the engine, and certainly never changed the oil. Even if the 3,000 mile “standard” for changing oil is too aggressive for modern cars, letting the motor run dry will quickly damage the car. The mistake of not learning the bare minimum for owning a car got me into trouble.

I replaced the motor after it was destroyed and the car ran well for another few years, but I made more mistakes. These were of a more financial nature. My car seemed to attract police, who seemed almost delighted to pull me over for speeding.

Although it had a rebuilt motor, the Celica was unreliable. Before it was completely undrivable, I used it to trade in for a slightly used car, a Honda Civic, and a three-year loan to make the purchase more affordable for me. I might have changed my driving habits, or the car might not have attracted police as much, but I was pulled over less frequently for speeding. But I continued to ignore the tickets.

Although speeding tickets are expensive and I had no money, it would have been more manageable in the end had I paid the fines and moved on. I was working for a non-profit, and I was broke. For some reason, I thought my life would be better if I stuck my head in the sand and ignored the tickets and fines. I was also moving around a lot in this period of my life, and I didn’t receive notices from the DMV letting me know my license was suspended for my failure to pay these fines. Since I didn’t know my license was suspended, I kept driving, blissfully ignorant of the situation I was in.

One day, soon after I left the non-profit job I had after my short stint teaching after college, a police offer pulled me over for speeding. Since my license was suspended, they impounded my car. My biggest concern was no longer finding a new job, it was determining if and how I could avoid jail time. Good news: I didn’t go to jail.

From this point on, I needed to redesign my life so that I could survive without a car. This was soon after I left the non-profit job I started after teaching, and I was in the process of looking for a new teaching position. My search was on hold because there weren’t many schools in New Jersey I’d be able to travel to without a vehicle. I did find a job, working for a financial company, and moved somewhere that would allow me to have a convenient commute using mass transportation. I gave up my Civic to a relative.

Eventually, I had my license reinstated and the relative returned the Civic. As a result of my problems, though, I still had large auto insurance bills that plagued me for years. Through this debacle, I learned a few lessons about responsibility. Today I can look back and be glad I’ve been able to make better choices this past decade.

Here are some things I’ve taken away from my earlier mistakes, and maybe they’ll be appropriate for you.

  • When you first get a car, learn how to take care of it.
  • When someone sends you a bill, don’t ignore it.
  • If police are involved, take care of the problem as soon as possible.
  • If you owe money to the courts, it’s not going away, and it could become a legal issue.
  • If you have no money to pay traffic fines, find the money.
  • Keep your address current and on file with the division of motor vehicles.
  • Don’t speed.

Updated August 20, 2011 and originally published August 4, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar SteveDH

Experience is always the best teacher – and apparently you were enrolled there for quite a while ;-) Seven more rules to live by ….. darn. Did you know a “well maintained” 2001 Dodge Intrepid’s cruise control will hold a car at 100 mph. Yep! Did it North Dakota. There’s nobody up there so I didn’t get caught. Don’t tell my insurance company – OK?

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avatar Eric J. Nisall

I couldn’t agree more. People are always dismissing even the smallest of bills, not realizing that one day it will come back to bite them. When I wrote You Better Sweat The Small Stuff Before It Is Too Late this was exactly the scenarios I was thinking about–believing that if you ignore a problem it will go away.

I’m glad someone else also advocates not letting things slide, and confronting them from the beginning.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

Ah, Flexo, I had the need for speed in my early years as well. When I got to the point of almost losing my license, I stopped cold turkey. Now I drive like an old lady. Speeding can be very expensive.

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avatar Cassie

It my experience the most ignored bill is the student loan. It seems many people just keep hoping it will go away, while like most ignored problems, it just keeps getting bigger.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

That is so true. I know some people who still have student loan debt to pay off…and they’re in late 30s to mid 40s. They just don’t seem to care about paying them back.

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avatar Apex

Flexo,

Your advice is prudent and has been well informed by experience.

My experience is that people who could benefit from advice will rarely listen to it. If you could have written this post to your younger self do you think you would have listened to yourself? If not, does your experience give you any ideas about how to present the message to someone who needs the advice in a way that they will listen?

I fear that most of the time the answer is that live and learn is usually necessary and that listen and learn rarely works. However I am always looking for new ideas about how to pass on prudent advice to people in a way that will increase the odds of it having any impact.

So do you have any thoughts on what type of message would have gotten through to your younger self in a way that would have prevented some of your problems?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,500 (Platinum)

It depends on how the advice was presented to me. For dealing with things like cars, I think it would have been helpful for someone with more experience to provide more details about what needs to be done. I don’t think I would have been irresponsible if someone had related a similar story to me and said, “The car will die if you don’t put oil in it, and it’s really, really easy.” For dealing with the bills, that’s another issue. I felt helpless in my financial condition, and it was more psychologically rewarding in the short term if I pretended these things didn’t exist, and I don’t think “advice” would have helped that so much as some long-term guidance. I’d have been open to this but many young people may not be…

Living and learning is how the lessons really hit home, though. Being allowed to make mistakes is helpful, too.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Now, Flexo, be honest with yourself. A young man who loved to speed would not be inclined to listen to any advice. LOL Cops love young male drivers. They’re easy prey!

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avatar Apex

Thanks for the comment Flexo. It makes a lot of sense. The oil thing is just an ignorance thing which should be easy to correct with advice.

The psychologically rewarding comment is a real insight I think into why persuasion often fails. If you can’t replace the psychological reward with something else or contrast it with something psychologically more fearful then it will likely fail.

For some people, that consequences while they may be painful are still not psychologically scary enough to offset the psychological reward of the behavior and for them, even living and learning often doesn’t help.

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avatar qixx ♦1,895 (Half-Dollar)

I’d add that a radar detector can be your friend. Sure not speeding is the safer option. Some won’t do it though. The radar detector can at least help.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

good tips to live by. Here in the land of photo radar cameras also known as Arizona, I drive the speed limit, pay my car insurance bill without fail and do proper maintenance on my car because it’s just not worth getting a ticket because different cities have their own absurd fees for photo radar violations.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I, too, had the need for speed as a teenager, and I had a 280ZX to feed my need. Much to the chagrin of my parents, though. I was going to college in southern Calif. and having the time of my life, just paying off my speeding tickets and not thinking about the bigger picture. Then one day, I get a phone call from my mom, the maddest I’ve ever heard, informing me that if I didn’t get my @#$%&-ing act together, she and my dad were pulling the plug financially. “What did I do?” I asked sweetly…

Seems I didn’t know that if you rack up 4 points on your license in Cali, that it would be suspended. I had three in a year’s time. The DMV sent the letter to my parents’ address, since I didn’t changed the address on my license when I left for school. On the same day, they also received a letter from my university (San Diego St.) stating that I had been placed on academic probation (because I didn’t go to class half the time). Again, never thought to change my permanent address from my parents’.

I learned my lesson fairly quickly. Ultimately, I did get my college degree, and kept the 280ZX until after I married and was pregnant with my first child. I had to keep moving the seat back to accommodate my growing stomach until I couldn’t reach the gas pedal any more. So I traded it in for a Chevy Corsica, and have been driving mom cars and mini-vans ever since. I think I cried harder the day I traded that car than for anything else in my life.

Both my driving daughters have radar detectors in their cars and stern warnings from their dad and I about the consequences of stupid decisions. I never was a listen-and-learn type of person, but I’m trying to get my kids to be that way. LOL!

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avatar Cassie

That’s a pretty good story, Shellye. I was a bit of a lead foot too in my younger days. When my son was driving age he bought himself a cool car on the matching funds plan (I matched what he had saved). At the time, we owned an old Volvo wagon that he hated be seen in. My deal with him-first speeding ticket we trade cars. We never had to make the trade!

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avatar jim

First speeding ticket, we change cars – ha! That’s brilliant. Sure wish I had thought of that.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I need to remember the Don’T Speed rule since I tend to have a lead foot. Since my father was a mechanic I always had my car looked after as long as he was alive. But my baby brother neglected to take care of a letter that said he had no insurance and if not solved within XX amount of days they would revoke his license. Well they did revoke his licence and he said he never knew so recently he was stopped for some minor infraction and his car impounded. About $500.00 later he has his car back. The initial problem was not that he did not have insurance but that he had changed insurance.

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avatar Dave W.

Sometimes you just have to state the obvious

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

…and sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it still does not matter.

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avatar Randy Barnett

Good story. When in college I got a phone bill in my PO box. Since I couldn’t pay it, I pushed it back through the back of the PO box. My idea was that if I didn’t get the bill, I didn’t owe it.

Next day, it was back in. I pushed it back again. After about 3 days of back and forth, the postmaster got wise and taped cardboard over the back of my PO box. I eventually had to pay the bill.

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avatar Steve Dupree

I would replace “to the courts” with “to the government.” If you owe money e.g. to the IRS, it’s just going to get exponentially worse if you ignore it. My parents once took too long to get around to dealing with a disallowed $500 deduction; by the time the IRS started forcing the issue (confiscating bank accounts) the debt had grown to many thousands of dollars.

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