Last week, I was taken aback when I went to pay my power bill. I’d been so busy that I’d forgotten to pay the darn thing. The day I paid it was the day it was to be disconnected, but it had not yet been disconnected. Much to my surprise, there was a $50 non-payment fee. Keep in mind, it had not been disconnected, so to the best of my knowledge, no extra work was created for anyone due to my forgetfulness.
I take that back, because there was a letter sent out telling me of the non-payment fee. The letter stated the fee would take effect if payment was not received by July 25. I received the letter on July 26, when I returned home from making my payment.
I thought my “punishment” was the late fee, which according to the letter is “$5 or 5 percent of the amount due, whichever is greater.”
The whole situation had me steaming. I had the money; I just forgot to pay. I began to empathize with those who don’t have the money. I’ve been there. In fact, I grew up with nothing and have most of it left.
In 2002, between college graduation and Officer Candidate School, I got behind on bills. The army kept telling me I’d be gone in two weeks, but that two weeks turned into a year. Who is going to give you a job when you tell them you might have to leave in two weeks? Fortunately, I had friends who were small business owners help me out. I dug ditches and cleaned carpets for months. I did what I had to do.
I had to make choices between which bills to pay and which ones to let slide. Of course, I paid the utilities first. One time, I went to pay my telephone bill after it had been disconnected.
“My phone was disconnected this morning, so I need to pay it,” I said as I handed her my check.
“It appears they are just doing some work on that line, so it’s not been disconnected,” she said.
“Cool. Can I get that check back?” I asked.
She gave it back. My phone was disconnected the next week.
People find themselves in financial turmoil for a variety of reasons. There are times the blame falls solely on them. Other times, it happens due to situations truly beyond their control. While other times, it’s a combination of both.
Again, I empathize with the poor. I had the money; I just forgot. What about those who do not have the money? If they can’t pay their bill, how is adding a $50 non-payment fee going to help them? I understand the need to have a deterrent for late payments, but why not “$5 or 5 percent of the amount due, whichever is less?”
The same thing can be said to the banks that charge exorbitant fees for insufficient funds. Again, I understand the need to have a deterrent in place, but one of my banks charges $36 for insufficient funds fees. Does it really create that much more work to justify that kind of fee? The easy answer is to not write bad checks, but sometimes life happens, and if you’ve never found yourself there, then good for you. For us normal folk, life sometimes throws us curve balls. Bo Jackson is the greatest athlete of all time but struggled mightily with a curve ball.
I know throughout my life, throughout my struggles, I’ve always had my faith, family, and friends in my corner. I just don’t know where I’d be without that trifecta. I’m grateful they’ve always been there to throw me a rope of hope when I’ve found myself in a hole. Institutions should want to drop a ladder. Instead, they drop a shovel. Let’s help people—not help them dig their own hole.
Jody Fuller is from Opelika. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at