Army Veteran Conquers Insidious Debt Invasion
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Army Veteran Conquers Insidious Debt Invasion

Sergeant First Class Bill Schildt, who taught soldiers at Fort Lewis how to read maps and safely patrol enemy territory at night, the man who provided security for convoys of ammunition moving to the front lines during two Vietnam war tours of duty, didn’t notice as debt slowly began to overtake his financial life.

“You raise two kids, you’re moving around, you get a new place, some furniture, at some point you need a new washer and dryer, and you start to depend on credit cards,” he remembers of the almost silent way it all began. “You pay some parts off and then it comes back again, you pay it off and it gets up again.”

Recently, when he realized he was getting “closer to the cliff,” he sat down and made a column for all the principal he’d paid in the last year, and one column for all the interest he’d paid. “The interest almost makes you want to go to the toilet and vomit,” he says.

Bill comes from a military family. His father was a POW in World War II, and his brother was disabled in Vietnam. He was born in Fort Totten, in New York City, and grew up at military bases around the world. Both his sons were born in Germany, near the American bases where he was serving.

He met his wife, Barbara, in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and continued the relationship when she served at Fort Meyer and worked at the Pentagon. After he served his first tour in Vietnam in 1965, he returned to marry her. Both sons, William jr. and Marcus A., were born in Germany, and then in 1967 he went back to Vietnam for another tour. While it did get “hairy” a few times, he was fortunate to escape injury in both tours. “You’re just happy for every day you wake up above ground,” he says.

He trained soldiers at Fort Lewis until he left the army in 1985. That’s when he and Barbara built their house in a rural area outside Burlington, Washington. Their peripatetic lifestyle quieted down. His older son was in high school and the younger one was in middle school. Barbara returned to school to become a paralegal.

Bill first worked as a manager at a lighting fixture store, but when that closed, he became a commercial truck driver. For 26 years Bill drove up and down the West Coast, working for Skagit Valley Trucking, the shipping partner for Ocean Spray cranberry juice. In a typical run he would drive 6,000 gallons of raw juice to the processing plant in Henderson, Nevada, and then return through California back to Washington with a load of wine or vinegar.

Now that he’s slowing down, he does part-time security work at the Port of Anacortes, keeping track of foreign crews. “Not working is not in my DNA,” he says.

But despite the work ethic, and Barbara’s paralegal income, the debts began to creep up. As the debt accumulated, he was able to pay less and less of the principal. “You get down to where you’re only paying the minimum payment, and all you’re doing is supporting those companies,” he says of the credit cards. “Sometimes you need to get kicked in the butt to get a wake-up call.”

Despite a house that was worth $450,000 and a shrinking mortgage, Bill had never seriously considered leveraging his home equity to tackle his debts. On the few occasions he had inquired as to the process with banks, he was shocked at the complex process. “Ten tons of paper, what color you pooped when you were twelve,” is how he remembers what was asked of him. The banks’ indifferent attitude didn’t help either. “You’re just another digit in their calculator,” he says.

The Figure mailer arrived right around the time he realized how interest payments were swallowing up his monthly budget—in particular, several store cards with around 30% interest rates.

Defaulting on his debts was out of the question. “Military people are your best people for loaning money to,” he insists. “We’re mission oriented, it’s like an order, you’re going to get paid.”

“I called Figure and I liked what I heard,” he remembers. “I’m a very skeptical person but we took a chance. It went so fast the next thing we knew the money was in the account.” He still sounds surprised. “I’ve never seen anything like that. My wife is a paralegal, she’s never seen anything like that.” His credit score quickly improved and is now at 850.

Bill understands that the debt is not gone, just that the interest payments have been slashed. The key is to keep new debt from appearing as he pays off the old debt. “I’m not going to buy more on credit,” he says.

He still seems to marvel at how his life has changed. “My visa card is now zero and hasn’t been that in many, many, many years,” he says. And the other credit cards? “I cut them up and threw them in the fire,” he says. “My wallet is so much thinner now.”

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