— 30 Years old, unmarried, live with partner.
— Sold car last year to pay off debts, but ended up having to use the extra cash for emergency expenses.
— About $22,000 in unsecured credit card debt. Have been working on it about 10 years, but it has only grown.
— Approximately $43,000 in student loans (Federal, not private), currently deferred.
— Employed PT, rely on unemployment to fill in the gap.
— Teach college courses and workshops, but work is infrequent and unpredictable.
— No savings, just a 401k that was rolled over after I got laid off.
I’ve been at a stalemate for months and I desperately need some honest advice.
I’m 30 years old, and at the start of 2011, I was laid off from my full time job. Thankfully, I was eligible for unemployment and still had a part time job (that I held while working FT) as an adjunct instructor, but have been slowly going back into credit card debt again (reaching almost $24,000). Before I was laid off, I was making minimal progress (honestly, not much even though I sometimes payed double or triple the minimums) on my credit card debt.
Now, I am deferred on my student loans (unable to make any payment), and can only manage the minimum payment on my credit cards. I’ve had to drastically cut down on spending, and sold my car about a year ago. I have yet to be late on a credit card payment because I’m afraid of the default interest rates, but at the same time, I am further behind on bills like my phone and the gas. I find myself using the cards when I have to wait for a paycheck and need groceries today, or need something that I hadn’t expec ted.
I live with my boyfriend who has, thus far, been able to help with bills and some of my expenses, but now he’s starting to get further into debt and it’s really affecting us both. I feel horrible because he’s trying his best, but he can’t help me any more with bills and, because of my job, we are stuck in an area with a high cost of living. I feel so much guilt, shame, and despair that it’s not only affecting my relationships, it’s affecting my health (but I can’t afford insurance either). I keep putting off going to a doctor because I know I can’t pay the bill.
I talked to a credit counselor at a nonprofit, and she told me that my only way forward is to make more money. I have a couple of job prospects, but nothing concrete. A few months later, as the situation progressively has gotten worse, I talked to a bankruptcy attorney who said that I could try to hang in there and hope something that pays more/or more hours, or I could start filing. The choice was mine and he said I would know “the right thing to do.”
Well, it hasn’t been so easy. I’m having a tough time deciding if I should go through with filing, especially since it looks like I will have a temporary increase in work this summer (but still, not making as much as I used to)–but I worry that this work will only help in the short term and I will continue to struggle with my debts for another decade. I could wait and see, but in the meanwhile, I can’t sleep, can’t focus. I can’t make plans for the future (my boyfriend and I want to get married, but we don’t want to combine our debts even more). All I can do is think about how I will pay my bills in the short term. Is there any way to definitely know when “it’s time” to file? Will making more money this summer make me ineligible for filing? What can I do if I do need to file (how do I save up enough money to pay for it?)?
Thanks so much for this site and your advice. I truly appreciate it.
Thank you for reaching out to me. It’s amazing how the stress and strain of financial problems can invade your everyday life, isn’t it. You’re spot on that this unresolved situation is impacting your relationship, health, and even your self-confidence to find a better job.
You certainly seem like a smart, talents, and capable person. But you also seem to be stuck in that natural paralysis of analysis and afraid to make a definitive move.
Here is a video I made recently about the seven stages of debt and it will certainly strike a cord with you. I can see you passing back and forth in the stages just in your written question.
Based on what you’ve shared it seems the best thing to do would be to get your student loans consolidated on a Direct Loan and then placed on the Income Based Repayment program. This will result in a monthly payment of $0 or very close to that. In my book the IBR is a better approach to a deferment.
Also, based on the reality that your current income and any income in the next year or so is probably not going to dig you out of this hole I think you should go back to the bankruptcy attorney and file or click here to find a local bankruptcy attorney.
It’s probably unfair for you to keep asking your partner to help make ends meet for you since this path is not likely to result in eliminating the debt. It’s just dragging you both under.
I’d suggest you first read How to Get Out of Debt. The Honest and Unvarnished Truth and you can use the free How to Get Out of Debt Calculator to review your options.
And one last thing, if you drain the money out of the 401k to just limp along a bit longer I will personally come and kick your butt. In the most kindest of ways of course. Bottom line – don’t do it.
Please post your responses and follow-up messages to me on this in the comments section below.