With two children, a small baby and $12,000 in escalating credit card debt, *Lien was extremely tired and “very, very stressed” when she was referred to a financial counsellor after multiple visits to emergency relief services for food assistance.
Lien, a single mother, had managed to make ends meet by working as a casual cleaner and using her credit card, which she managed to pay off through careful budgeting.
However, doing so gave her a good credit rating and an attractive customer to her bank who gradually, yet continuously, raised her credit limit.
“When I got the credit card my limit was $2,000. I paid this off then they raised it to $5,000 then to $7,000 then to $12,000,” Lien says.
With her card’s debt at its limit, Lien was struggling with repayments when she discovered she was pregnant. Her plan was to keep working until the baby’s birth but at seven months, she encountered problems with her pregnancy and had to stop. With no paid maternity leave, and the baby’s father unable to work or claim assistance as he is not an Australian citizen, Lien’s income was restricted to a government pension.
While she was able to put a dent in her credit card debt by paying the money she received from the Baby Bonus towards it, keeping on top of repayments left Lien with about $100 to pay for utilities and buy food for herself and her children for two weeks. At this point, Lien started applying emergency relief from social service agencies.
While already under significant stress, Liens’ landlord told her she had to move out the unit she was renting as he was putting it on the market for sale. With no money for a bond or to cover moving costs, Lien believes the additional stress this put her under caused her to stop producing breast milk and need to switch to expensive formula to feed her baby.
“I prayed to Buddha to help me find somewhere to live and a way to be free from debt”, she said.
It was while she was applying for emergency relief that Lien was referred to Thomas, a financial counsellor.
As a financial counsellor, Thomas has extensive knowledge about the credit reporting system and Lien’s rights, responsibilities and eligibility under the National Credit Code. He was able to review Lien’s financial situation and identify which debts were priorities.
One of the first things Thomas did was apply for assistance under the Emergency Electricity Payment Scheme, on Lien’s behalf, to help cover her electricity bill and alleviate some of the stress she felt.
He then successfully applied to the Wyatt Trust for a direct grant to help her with the cost of moving and to buy furniture for her new home, including mattresses, for each of her children, after Lien was successful in applying to SA Housing for an alternative rental property.
Now living in a unit with a bigger kitchen and a back garden for her children to play in, Lien has started to bounce back and is feeling stronger.
“The children each have their own bedroom now”, she says, “we are safe and I am able to sleep better”.
Thomas helped Lien create a detailed budget customised to her unique financial situation that helped her pay down the debt on her credit card to the point where it is more manageable.
Lien’s face softens as she holds her smiling baby boy who is clearly loved by his mother who is already planning to return to cleaning work when her son is old enough.
“I will earn money so we don’t need to have emergency relief anymore”, she says. But I will be very careful about what I spend it on. I won’t spend much on myself, I will only spend it on my kids.”
When asked how she feels about the help she received from her financial counsellor, Lien, a devout Buddhist, is philosophical.
“I am like the lotus who grew through mud.” “I have been reborn.”