Nicole pressed her tongue against her back tooth. Another bolt of pain. But she couldn’t go to the dentist right now. She couldn’t afford to.
Nicole did the math: she had $1,400 in her checking account. Her biweekly paychecks totaled roughly $1,100, and payday was seven days away. Her $350 electric bill was due in three days, and her $900 monthly rent was due in five. A dental exam to figure out what was going on with Nicole’s tooth would cost $150. Dealing with it could cost ten times as much. She was still paying off a $1500 crown she’d had to finance at 12 percent interest a year before.
She felt sick. Just then, Nicole’s boss Kevin appeared at her cubicle. “Feel like grabbing a macchiato?” he said.
Nicole smiled at him. “Not today, Kevin,” she said. Her tooth was throbbing now, and she lifted her hand to her face as though to soothe it.
“You don’t know how to live,” Kevin said, tapping along the walls of Nicole’s cube as he walked away.
Nicole went back to her math. If she paid her electric bill and rent on time, she had $150 to last seven days until payday.
But the pain. It was relentless. As each minute passed, Nicole swore she could feel it getting worse. There’s no way I can make it seven more days, she thought.
Now it was break time. Betty and Danylla appeared at Nicole’s cube. “Ooh, you look in pain,” Danylla said. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, no,” Betty said. “You think you’re going to have to go to the dentist?” Nicole, Betty, and Danylla all knew dental visits meant huge expenses. Often debt.
“I’m going to have to,” Nicole said. “I don’t have the money to even get in the door, but there’s no way I can live like this until payday. I’m going to ask Kevin for an advance.”
Betty and Danylla looked at her like she’d grown another head. “You’re gonna what?” asked Betty.
“Ask for an advance,” Nicole said. “I’ve worked thirty-three hours this week. Why shouldn’t I be paid for them?”
“You know that’s not how it works,” Danylla said.
“But why not?” Nicole said. “Did you ever think about that?”
Nicole heard Kevin come out of the elevator. She stood up and cleared her throat. The pain in her tooth was stabbing now.
“Kevin!” Nicole called out. Betty and Danylla headed for the break room.
“You missed your chance,” Kevin joked. “Don’t even ask for a sip!” he said as he made his way to Nicole’s desk.
“The coffee’s all yours,” Nicole said. “But Kevin, I need something else.”
“What is it?” Kevin said. His expression was open. Sympathetic.
Kevin was quiet for a moment. His face had become a stone wall. “You’ll have to dig into your savings,” he said.
“I . . . I don’t have enough right now,” Nicole said. Her face grew hot. She pressed her tongue against her tooth.
“You know,” Kevin said. “I don’t understand people. Every two weeks, part of my paycheck goes straight into my 401(k), and another part goes into my savings account. Why is that? So I’m prepared for emergencies. How do you have NO savings?”
Nicole started to explain. But when Kevin began shaking his head, her courage faded. Her cheeks burned. Fifteen feet away, Danylla stood watching from the doorway of the breakroom, wincing as if at a car wreck.
“No one wants to save these days,” Kevin said. “Everyone wants everything right away. Then they expect other people to lend them money so they can bail themselves out of a jam.”
Where Nicole found the grit to say what she said next she didn’t know. “Actually, Kevin,” she said, “I’m the one doing the lending. I’ve worked a full week, and the company owes me my wages. I’m the only one lending anything to anyone.”
For a moment, no one said anything. Then Kevin said, “So, you want me to go to management and say what, exactly? That they should reprogram the company’s entire payroll system because you live beyond your means?”
“My wages are my means, Kevin,” Nicole said, confident now. “And I’m not asking for anything beyond them.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Nicole,” Kevin said. “That’s just not the way it works.”
She turned away from Kevin and sat down at her desk.
“Once you get used to saving, it feels really good,” Kevin said. “You’ll pick up the knack.”
Nicole kept her eyes on the computer in front of her.
“Nicole,” Kevin said, and she looked up at him. “There’s ibuprofen in the first aid kit in the break room.”
“Thanks,” Nicole said and turned back to her computer.
“No problem,” Kevin said as he walked away, sucking down the last of his macchiato.
About PayActiv Inc.
PayActiv, a public benefit corporation, is an award-winning holistic financial wellness platform for employees to get on-demand access to earned but unpaid wages. Businesses that partner with PayActiv see significant cost reductions through increased recruitment, engagement, and retention. Employees love PayActiv because it eliminates the expensive between-paychecks tolls of payday loans, bank overdrafts, and late fees. PayActiv also offers a suite of financial services that includes savings and budgeting tools, bill payment, and financial health measurement. PayActiv has won best-in-class awards in both fintech and HR tech and is the provider of Earned Wage Access to Walmart.
In June 2019, PayActiv released a short film titled It’s About Time. The documentary looks at pay timing and its correlation with epidemic financial stress experienced by millions of working Americans.
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