Sibongile Mafu

Give me some credit

2013-02-20 13:30

Sibongile Mafu

I’ve always been fascinated by credit. Why humans borrow, get into debt, why they stay in debt, and their struggles to get out of debt. When people talk about it, I always feel the need to add my two cents (if I can afford it) and enjoy the inevitable debates that go with it. It’s become easier and easier to live beyond our means.

There was a show that aired on SABC 1 last year on Saturday evenings (possibly the worst timeslot for a show of its nature) called In Debt. It was one of the few times I was proud of SABC programming. I’m still patiently waiting for the second season. In Debt is a show that identifies people who are heavily in debt, connects them to a debt counsellor, Summit’s Thoko Nchabeleng, affectionately referred to as the Debt Doctor.

Sis’ Thoko would request that those who wanted to commit to solving their debt woes sign a contract which would then take them on a journey of financial freedom. She would give them the tools and information they needed to start the road to debt relief and empower them to make sure they do not end up in the similar situation again.

The show would document their ups and downs, their struggles to let go of the luxuries that got them into heavy debt in the first place and the dynamics of their relationship with their families as their lifestyles began to change. It was exceptionally informative not only for the people going through the process, but also for the people watching. The cheesy term “edutainment” started to make sense to me while watching that show.

The thing about credit is that is so readily available, which has always disturbed me. It has become worryingly easy to live a life that is not truly yours. For the most part, you’re paying to have and not to own. I understand the importance of borrowing. People need to study. People need to furnish their homes. People need to just get by, but is there enough education around it? I certainly feel there isn’t.

As a young person, who has only really been working for a few years, the day the bank offered me a credit card was the day I truly believed the world had opened up to me. I was finally being given permission to have nice things. I was entering a shiny new portal to a fabulous world of stuff. I politely declined and told the bank I wasn’t ready. I’ve talked to people who are now in their thirties and forties who said that if they could turn back the clock, the one thing they would change is the recklessness manner in which they swiped and spent.

An article published in Forbes recently titled "How I How I Paid Off $90,000 In Debt In Three Years" did the rounds about a month ago. This woman had funded two degrees via student loans, was living on credit during her studying years, and paid off the bare minimum when she started working. She got to a point where she stepped back and realised she had got herself into $90 000 worth of debt over the space of several years. She decided to fix it. She made several cutbacks in her life, took on a second job, budgeted and critically looked at the money coming in and out of her account. From there she was able to work out the best way to pay the loans off over the shortest possible time.

More stories like this need to be told. Because right now the ones that are told the loudest are the most depressing. Perhaps the problem isn’t credit itself but credit education. How many grown people who have taken out loans can truly say they were empowered with all the information they needed?

How can you help? Arm yourself.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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