House Hunting: $42,701.83 Paid, $42,606.24 Till Pay Off

Hard At Work & Daydreaming

The past four months have been packed with stress. However, I am thankful the stress is due to new and exciting developments: new jobs, our daughter starting preschool, and house hunting. So far our jobs are going well, and our baby girl likes her school. House hunting on the other hand, has been less enjoyable.

The housing market is booming in the areas we are looking. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to afford a mortgage. I get excited thinking about my daughter playing in the backyard and hosting cookouts.

Reality Hits…

Then I realize not considering a means to an end got me into debt in the first place. Although home ownership is ideal, delaying it will improve my family’s financial situation. In addition, to be honest, we grew frustrated with the overall process.

While actively placing offers, our realtor went on a Caribbean cruise lol. That’s all I’m going to say about that. So we’ve decided to continue apartment living a little longer. Moving from one apartment to another sucks. On the bright side, we are enjoying the new neighborhood’s amenities, and check out the repayment update below.

A Change in Plans

Since we aren’t buying a house right now, I’m tempted to apply the house down payment toward student loans. I would love to reach my goal of zero balance sooner, but the money could be of better use elsewhere.  Besides, having money saved for a rainy day is usually a good idea.

Lessons Relearned

Looking to buy a house is an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve experienced the highs of coming within a nose hair of closing, and the lows of sellers rescinding late in negotiations.  Through the process I’ve reinforced:

  1. Happiness doesn’t last forever, because it depends on what happens.
  2. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
  3. Whatever happens, accept your lot graciously.

Questions for You

How long did it take to close on your first house? What was your realtor experience like?  Any helpful insights will go a long way.

Until next time, continue the fight until no debt is owed but love.

 

Busy, Yet Productive: $41,507.06 Paid, $43,801.01 Till Pay Off

It Feels Like Forever:

Hi everyone! This post feels long overdue. Work has been very busy and having things to do at work is job security. As stated in the last post, I’ve picked up another teaching job.

When I’m not advising students on career choices, I am grading, and replying to frantic emails at unholy hours in the morning. The emails and office visits from students energize me, so I’m happy to assist in any way possible.

In addition to job duties, I have made the decision to torture myself by returning to school. On top of this, my daughter is crawling now. While I’m studying, she gets into EVERYTHING; so it can be fun finding her, but scary when she hurts herself.

Student loan repayment hasn’t stopped. Check out the updated balances below.

Reminiscing On Love:

My wife and I just celebrated another year of marriage, pray with us for many more. As the years roll by, I realize the importance of not taking her for granted. We’ve been through so much in our little 6 years and can’t believe she has stuck with me this long. I’m awestruck when meeting couples who have been married for 20 years or longer. A long list of joys and sorrows are undoubtedly present when loving someone.

Love Isn’t Easy:

I remember fondly my first job out of college. The pay and benefits were great and the feeling of accomplishment swelled in me everywhere I went. Being recently married, next on the agenda were children and a house.

Then One Day…

I was given the ultimatum at my job, leave or be fired. Being young and dumb I quit voluntarily. Now thinking back on it, I would’ve allowed my employer to fire me, for unemployment benefits lol. Naively I thought having a college degree would exempt me from hardships.

I imagined my voicemail box full from employers offering even higher paying jobs than the one I left from. My next job wouldn’t be found until six months later, washing cars.

No Love Lost:

My wife loved me before I had the high dollar job and she loved me after it was gone. She remained consistent in her affection toward me, and for that I am thankful.

Student Loan Advice:

  1. Expect and plan for hardships along the journey- A friend once told not to worry. Citing a theologian he said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due.” So it’s best to do what you can when you can, don’t fret.
  2. Believe-To do the seemingly impossible you must believe in the impossible. Someone had to eventually create the first plane, then came breaking the sound barrier, next was space flight.
  3. Stay Consistent-Learn as much as you can and learn to fail. When you fail, never give up because it is your “First Attempt In Learning”. Things take time to improve, with each payment there’s less interest and hopefully less principal owed.

Feel free to comment below and share your warm and fuzzy memories. The next post will be titled, “House Hunting”.

 

 

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017: $40,291.38 Paid, $45,016.89 Till Pay Off

Major Life Events

Since last post, two major life events happened: 1) my wife finished her graduate program, and 2) my Perkins Loan was paid in full. To aid in paying student loans faster, I’ve accepted an extra adjunct teaching position. Below is a loan amount update from my NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System) account.  Click on the image for a larger view.

nslds

 

Everything has gone according to plan until I got some bad news from ACS. When I logged into my account, I was greeted by the following image.

acs

Yes, you read that correctly. On the right-hand side of the image reads “Soon to be: Conduent”.

ACS has been the bane of my existence since graduating college.  This company makes the repayment process convoluted by closing and transferring loan accounts at a whim without notice. ACS has delayed adjusting my principal and falsely reported my account as delinquent 3 years ago. These discrepancies would occur even after paying double the monthly payments.

Mortgage Loans & Student Loans

I recently watched the movie, The Big Short. It tells the story of Michael Burry, a board certified medical doctor turned hedge fund manager. Michael essentially predicts the financial meltdown due to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Prior to the collapse, global sentiment to lending money to Americans was positive.

What happened in 2008 with subprime mortgages is reminiscent to what’s happening now with student loans. Many companies once saw student loans as a guaranteed route to increased profits, just like banks viewed mortgage loans. With the closures of for-profit schools and cancellations of debt, organizations are being more cautious with student loan offers.  Sadly, the damage has already been done: outstanding student loan debt is the second highest U.S. debt burden at $1.2 trillion.

Pieces of Advice

Like many of you reading, student loans were a necessity for me to pay for college– but if you must borrow, keep track of what’s owed and to whom.  One important detail left out of promissory notes is that your lender can sell and transfer portions of your loan amounts. Think of your student loans as a single piece of tissue paper. When you first start out, it’s typically one easily traceable amount with one company.  Over time, what often happens is your pretty little paper gets cut into pieces, over and over again.  Before you know it, your loan amount has become confetti, spread across different entities, in different amounts, and of course… with different website logins to remember.

Even in the face of “loan confetti”, I’m making it my party by paying these babies off. What helps is frequently checking your nslds.gov and studentloans.gov accounts. These websites give you running totals on what you owe, as well as contact numbers if you experience difficulty in repayment. I must admit to reviewing my loan accounts daily– once in the morning and once more at the end of the day. It’s simply part of my routine.

My 2017 Resolution

I will keep my eyes on the prize of one day seeing my loan balance reading $0.00. My 2017 resolution is a prayer for improved leadership skills and good stewardship of resources given to me. Here’s an excerpt from an excel spreadsheet detailing the loan accounts.

loan-accounts

Look there! You see that? It’s progress. No matter how big or small, I’m happy with simply giving my absolute best in this thing called life.

Share some of your resolutions for this year below- here’s hoping we achieve a few!

Pressing Forward: $39,333.96 Paid, $45,974.11 Till Pay Off

Thankfulness
Hey folks! Thanksgiving is almost here and I am thankful for the veterans of this great nation.  Regardless of who’s in office, the responsibility of changing my life for the better is mine.   I am also thankful for my education.  It has exposed me to opposing thoughts and opinions, stretched my view of the world, and equipped me with tools to solve problems.  Student loans are one of my problems, let’s address it together.

Financial Advice
The best financial advice I’ve received was to “Act Your Wage” by Dave Ramsey. This means to only spend what you can afford. I have to admit– it’s pretty difficult living this way, when I want to make my first home purchase, take extra vacations, or frequent the barbershop.

To me, purchases represent the time we spend on jobs, toiling for things we are privileged to enjoy. Had student loans not been as easily available, the prospect of years of repayment would have directed me to other less costly schools. It is no one’s fault but my own. Making purchases beyond my financial means is a mistake I don’t anticipate doing again.

Improved Outlook
Things continue to improve and I anticipate continued growth in 2017.  I resolve to have at minimum $10,000 of principal balance paid off.  This goal will not be easy given my current salary, but anything is possible coming from $85,308.07. So far this year, I’ve repaid $5,038.35 in principal.

This will be accomplished by sticking to the family budget below. Childcare is now $400 instead of $680. A family member has graciously volunteered to keep our baby girl during the day, and we are in turn blessing them. Needs for the baby are significantly less going forward.

november-budget

Also, as mentioned in the last post, we were waiting on the final delivery bill for the baby. Our initial out-of-pocket expense was $1,500 and could have been more after filing with the insurance. Thankfully, we were recently informed that everything was covered under that fee. Although family health coverage of $798 per month is a significant portion of the budget, I remain happy with the benefits.

Perkins Loan Repayment
It gives me great joy to announce that I am weeks away from paying back my Perkins Loan. Perkins loans are offered to students with financial need, with the school serving as the lender. The original amount owed was $8,200. Needless to say, I can’t wait to type in “0” in the place of the fourth loan account! You can see the updates for all the loans below.

loans-update-november-2016

Contentment
After 5 years of repayment, I am beginning to learn the true meaning of contentment. To get ahead in life we must start with an attitude of gratitude. There will always be someone we perceive as possessing more talent, resources, or influence than us. We need not exhaust ourselves chasing after other folks’ blessings, look in the mirror and see what you have been blessed with.

You guys have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday. Until next time, continue the fight.

It Takes A Village: $38,125.17 Paid, $47,182.90 Till Pay Off

PhotoGrid_1472670834765

With A Heart of Thanks:

I want to start this blog entry by saying thank you. I am at a loss for words to describe the generosity my family has received from many people far and wide. Thank you to the ladies who encouraged my wife during the pregnancy, ensuring her she would be the great mother as she has turned out to be. Thank you to the guys who prayed for me, offered Godly wisdom and parenting advice.

My Baby’s Arrival/Health Benefits:

My daughter arrived on Sunday, August 7, 2016.  The experience of witnessing the birth of your child is life changing (and expensive too lol). Right now we are awaiting the final delivery bill to determine how it will impact our budget. One thing’s for sure: I don’t want to add any more debt.

With that said, healthcare in America is costly.  Initially, it was cheaper for my wife and I to have our employer/school provide insurance separately.  With the addition of our child, it has become less pricey for the three of us to be under my employer plan.  Thus, our health coverage will cost $798 a month, but the benefits will be well worth it.

Daycare, Baby Needs & New Budget:

On another note, diapers, wipes, baby clothes, car seats and cribs may cost you little, or it may cost you lots, but it’ll cost you.  Thanks to the gifts of friends and family, there were only a Baby Budgetfew baby essentials needed.  All my little girl needs is a loving home and I’m sure my wife and I can manage that.

To the left is my family’s updated budget, click on the image for a larger view.  You will notice two new items: Daycare and Baby Needs.  The $2,894.13 featured in Baby Needs is not our monthly budget for her, but is the amount spent for the month of August.  As months go by, we expect to be able to assess a fair budget for our child.

My wife hates giving one thought to daycare, but she understands it’s necessary given our busy schedules. In her own words, “I love having our daughter near and on me”. Sweet huh? Seeing through the warm fuzzies, she understands we must do our best to: 1) pay off my student loans and 2) ensure her graduation this December.

To wrap up this post, below is an update on my student loan accounts as of 08/23/2016. Thanks for following my journey to student debt freedom thus far.

Loan Update

Once again, thank you to those who have shown love to my little family.

 

The Sacrifice of a Father: $37,197.54 Paid, $48,110.53 Till Pay Off

Why So Happy?
Waking up Monday mornings is always a drudgery for our house. But this Monday morning, as I groggily walked to the restroom to wash my face, my wife wore a beaming smile and greeted me cheerily. Her greeting was contrastingly returned with a slowly motioned wave and mummified growl, “Morning.”

Baby PicDespite my groggy state, I couldn’t help but be suspicious about her extra energy boost. While reaching for a washcloth, in the corner of my eye, was a pregnancy test leaning against the wall. I tried to delete the image of the pregnancy test to shield myself from fear and pain.

My wife and I have been married for 5 years and were coming to terms with the possibility of never being able to conceive. I assumed the pregnancy test would read negative, but out of hope, I took a peek at it anyway.

To my amazement and disbelief the test read positive. Then I thought, wait, this is an April Fools’ joke, why would she do something so mean? But this was in November, April was 5 months away. Then my attention was drawn to sticky notes my wife placed above the pregnancy test where she wrote, “We prayed and God answered.”

Still half-conscious, it clicked.
“Wait… we’re pregnant?!”
Almost instantly, the sleep fell from my eyes.
She grabbed my hands and excitedly screamed, “Yes, we’re pregnant!”
I can’t explain the joy in knowing that my little girl will be here in August; I feel alive again!

Sacrifices of Parenthood
Once the initial elation surrounding my little girl’s arrival wore off, the reality of newfound responsibilities rose to the surface. We will lose sleep, time, and maybe even some friends. And of course, as we all know, raising a child can come with a considerable price tag. Half of me is joyful in anticipation of my child’s arrival, and the other half is anxious. I still have student loan debt to repay and sometimes wonder if waiting longer before starting a family was the better option.
But I am proud to have the opportunity and privilege to raise a child.
Fatherhood is the best gift imaginable, especially since for us, the seemingly impossible became possible. Two little eyes will be looking to me with love every day from this point on, and a little mouth will call me “dada”. Why would I not want the gift I have been given after being blessed with it?

With that in mind, I now prioritize savings over debt reduction in anticipation of the costs of raising a child as well as any birthing complications. Although I want to get rid of student loan debt faster, it would be a pity not to provide for my family first.

New Debt Payment Plan
My student loan accounts are paid bi-weekly, totaling initially $425.51 every two weeks as shown below. I have since reduced the amounts made on the debt to an updated amount of $248.76.

Bi-Weekly Payments2

The principal paid bi-weekly has decreased from approximately $304.99 to $137.31, due to reduction in repayment. It’s a little disheartening to see my momentum slow a bit; but one thing’s for sure, my debt is decreasing.

Bi-Weekly Principal Payment 2

What matters most is my beautiful wife and daughter are healthy and strong.
For all the parents out there, how have you tackled the financial responsibilities of student loan debt and parenthood?

Until next time folks, fight on.

Almost Halfway Home: $36,487.04 Paid, $48,821.03 Till Pay Off

I am finally “under the hill”–I now owe less than $50,000 in student loans!  Bring out the bubbly!

Here’s a snapshot of my current loan accounts:

4-6-16 Updatechampagne

If you were to meet me 5 years and told me where I would be today, I would either deem you a lunatic or a liar. Because 5 years ago, my loan balance was nothing to celebrate…

Holiday Blues 2011:

My heart felt heavy with guilt and shame as I drove home from work one week before Christmas in 2011.  The holidays are some of the worst times to feel blue, especially due to job loss.  It was my third time being dismissed from work in two years.  I walked into my apartment without a word after cheerful greetings and a kiss from my wife.

Know How Much You Owe:

Thoughts rushed in at once, “Who gets fired a week before Christmas? How are you going to pay rent?” And the scary one, “How are you going to make your student loan payments?”  I can happily say it has been 4 years, 8 months since I have started this journey.  What helped reduce my student loan debt was knowing how much I owed.  It is possible to track student loan amounts using the National Student Loan Data System’s website.

Taxes & Payment Plans:

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, his famous quote would read, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and student loans”. Fortunately, for today’s college graduates, Income Driven Repayment plans exist to make repayment easier.

The federal government offers four repayment plans known as: Repaye, Paye, IBR and ICR. Under my current repayment plan, the first three years of interest was waived, and all payments went to principal.  To remain in one of these repayment programs, however, you must submit tax information annually (the processing of which can (surprise!) be incredibly inefficient, but I’ll save that episode for another time).  Thankfully, this documentation can be submitted electronically through Studentloans.gov.

Being enrolled in an “income-based” program made repayment possible during times of unemployment.  In addition, many are eligible to receive up to a $2,500 tax deduction.  This interest deduction has saved my wife and I lots of money, especially since she is now a full-time student.

For more details about the federal government’s income-driven repayment plans, click here.

The End In Sight:
I constantly review my repayment schedule, and in doing so, keep myself motivated as to the finite nature of this “student loan phase” of life. One of the most concrete ways to accomplish this is through using a repayment calculator. A simple, yet effective calculator can be found through FinAid.org.  The website can print a repayment schedule based on your loan amount, interest rate, and loan term. It is a tailored picture you can always revise to help envision your expected payoff date, and gives you the ability to play around with your payment budget and see the effects.

I hope this information has been helpful in providing motivation, goals, and vision.  You, too, can make progress in your repayment journey by:

1) Knowing what you owe,

2) Taking advantage of tax and repayment options, and

3) Seeing the end.

 

Feel free to post any specific questions, or additional advice you have gained on your journey, below!

Until next time, continue the fight, friends.

 

Murphy’s Law: $35,237.09 Paid, $50,070.98 Till Pay Off

The past few months have greatly tested my ability to laugh in frustrating moments. I have fallen victim to “Murphy’s Law” in the areas of technology, vacation, transportation and homestead.

Murphy's Law2

Technology:
I work in the field of education and one of my roles is an adjunct professor. I love what I do and sometimes it is best to follow by the same advice we instructors give students, “Never start work at the last minute.” I had to learn this the hard way as I decided to rest a few days before submitting final grades.

All hell broke loose, my laptop had fan issues, causing overheating and shutdowns. I also downloaded a virus that randomly blocked Wi-Fi internet access. However, I persevered and submitted grades hours before the deadline. The laptop saga ended, it was repaired for $50! SWEET!

HAHA

Vacation:
My wife and I love Christmas vacations, so much so, we invited two our closest friends for a Christmas cruise. Before we could fully enjoy the exotic sites, people, food, and fun; a four hour drive to Galveston, Texas stood in our way.

We had great friends along for the ride, so we anticipated the 4 hours flying by with laughs and occasional rest stops. Little did I know my ability to laugh in frustrating moments would be tested again…

Have you ever felt like you forgot something important at home while on the highway? Can you guess what my wife and I forgot to pack? You guessed it, we left our passports. We eventually made it home to retrieve them, delaying our arrival time by an hour.

HEHE

Transportation:
Car troubles always happen in the most inopportune times. My wife affectionately nicknamed our Honda Accord “Purple Rain” because it always needs repair. Annoyed with the constant breakdowns, we bought another car.

We viewed the new car as a bargain until discovering an electrical problem; causing issues with the turning signals, windows and locks. Around the same time, my truck at times would overheat and leak engine coolant.

In the end, the repairs cost us $200 in parts with free labor from my father-in-law. Thank you very much sir, you are a great mechanic.

HOHO

Homestead:
After repairing the laptop and cars, our washing machine breaks. My wife calls the apartment manager and is told we will receive a new washer. GREAT! Yet, we become victims to “Murphy’s Law” again.

While replacing the washer, the maintenance worker put a hole in the washroom’s wall and soaked our living room carpet with dirty water. We guess the worker made an attempt to mop up the water, as evidenced by wet bath towels in our dryer.

FACEPALM

Issues we have in life take time to address. While I felt inconvenienced by my circumstances, these same circumstances led me to people. It was neat spending time with my wife and father-in-law working through frustrations. Until next time folks, press on and God Bless.

Credit Crunch: $34,531.56 Paid, $50,776.51 Till Pay Off

Happy Belated New Year folks!
It is a blessing to be alive and in good health. So much has happened since the last post, so as promised here’s a personal account about credit.
This story starts on a relaxing August evening while visiting my wife’s parents for dinner in 2011. While everyone conversed and gave thanks for the meal being served, my mind raced with questions. What if I lose my job? Will my marriage end in divorce? Is it even possible to pay off $85,308.07? These thoughts were in stark contrast to my outlook on life in December 2010: I was a recent college graduate, landed a great job, and was soaring with feelings of invincibility. After a few short months unfortunately, 2011 arrived with my impending financial doCredit Crunchom. As I sat at the table that night, I felt like the chicken on my plate…DONE.

The warning signs were there four months prior, as I noticed my credit score would fluctuate by as much as 25 points. I created a credit monitoring account and set up text message alerts through Experian. I investigated reasons behind the score changes on Experian’s website, and read that score fluctuation was a normal occurrence, so there was no need for alarm. I dismissed my concern and figured everything was okay, forgoing any further investigation.

Experian is one of the major credit report bureaus, along with TransUnion and Equifax. These guys monitor and report credit scores used to determine your ability to pay back debt. Typically scores range from 300-850. Your chances of being approved to make big purchases on credit (like houses and cars, for example) improve with higher scores. The higher your credit score, the lower the perceived risk for the lender. The lower the credit score, the less likely you are to be trusted with a loan, as you are perceived to be more likely to default on your end of the deal.

After a couple of months of occasional text alerts gradually becoming more frequent, I started to feel something was actually wrong.  I ran over to the nearest computer and logged into Experian’s website. In bold red letters read, “Payment 30 days Late”.  In shock, I realized that it was a student loan company owed. In angst I thought, “I’m already paying over $900 a month, and now they want more?! This has to be a mistake!”  Sadly, it was an oversight on my part, and not an error as I so hoped.

From this experience I’ve learned:
1. Never assume everything is okay.
I ignored the many warnings that I had not kept current with all my student loan accounts.  After discovering the additional obligation, I had to fork up another $90 a month.  For the next seven years I have a late payment attached to my credit report, which lowered my credit score.  Sometimes making that extra call or sending another email can properly inform us of what’s really going on.

2. Keep Calm. Don’t panic.
I worried about insolvency and divorce as a result. Well, I’ve lost jobs and every time the Lord has provided.  My wife is still by my side, and we will celebrate 5 years of marriage next month. The sleepless nights have all proven futile as they did not improve my ability to keep jobs. Nor did stressing about the future make me a better person; ask my wife, it made me grumpy at times.

3. Goals take time to be reached.
Earning degrees don’t happen overnight, neither will paying back the student loan balance. Education taught me to plan and break monstrous goals into smaller tasks.  Graduating from college took focus through each class and each semester before realizing the dream of walking across the stage.  Now the year is 2016, my goal is to one day be debt-free.  I can smile knowing that 85k is not my loan balance anymore.

4. Enjoy life.
We all have places to go and things to achieve. We stop living once we lose hope and have nothing left to live for. 2011 marked a time for me where I didn’t enjoy watching movies, practicing guitar, or playing video games. Taking breaks to discover and engage in hobbies helps relieve stress. So while it is important to work hard, be sure to never forget how to play hard.

That’s all I have for my credit experience. Thanks for stopping by, the next blog post will be entitled “Murphy’s Law”.  See ya!

Happy Holidays Ya’ll!: $33,211.73 Paid, $52,096.34 Till Pay Off

Freshly baked cookies, sights of poinsettias and strings of lights everywhere. One thing’s for sure, the holidays are upon us. It is so hard to stay on budget as friends and family make plans to visit you during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is more difficult for me as my birthday falls in the month of November and my wife’s in January.

Adding to my wallet’s cries for help is my wife’s pleasure in giving gifts. It’s difficult telling your wife no, as the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life”. So at this wonderful time of year, our family must first address necessities then desires. Below is my holiday budget with a few updates.

Holiday Budget

The most noticeable updates are the items listed under “Christmas Vacation”, “Rent” and “Utilities”. I know, I know, I realize a vacation is a desire and not a necessity. I figured my wife could use a nice vacation after a grueling year of grad school. Rent has increased after my wife and I decided to live on our own again.

We certainly miss the voluntary $400 rent payments, free washing, drying and electricity. Now our rent is still modest at $675.00.  Utilities average out at about $155 monthly which includes internet, water, sewage, and electricity.  We stream all our favorite television shows and use a digital antenna box for local news.

Another change to the budget has been an increase in health insurance.  We always feel warm and fuzzy inside after insurance premiums increase, while actual services provided decrease.  Lastly, we receive a nice discount off the cell phone bill through my employer.

Well that’s all for this post, on to enjoying the holiday festivities.  Leftover pumpkin pie is calling my name to get in my belly.  The next blog will cover my personal experience with credit.  Happy Holidays to you and yours!