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!

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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!

To Move or Not to Move? That is the Question: $31,650.79 Paid, $53,657.28 Till Pay Off

To Move or Not to Move...Sup ladies and gentlemen! For eleven glorious months my wife and I lived with her parents. It was a pretty sweet arrangement, $400 monthly rent and even free meals. The best thing, we were never asked or pressured for money. We believed that as adults we should contribute when living with others, especially family. I really appreciate them for the sacrifice they made to make us feel at home.

But there comes a time a man must stand on his own and provide for his family. So we loaded up the U-Haul and moved once again. Before we moved in with parents, our last apartment was on the 3rd floor. Now we live on the first floor, which made moving less stressful for me but not for my wife who is still busy with school.

Not to complain, but this is a blog so welcome to my life. We are happy to be back on our own but it has come at the price of discomfort. Right after we signed our lease we noticed mold, faulty electrical outlets and a broken a/c unit lol. We took care of the mold with a little bleach and maintenance fixed the outlets and a/c after two months of our move-in.

Now, the two busted outlets weren’t too big of a deal. However, a/c is a must living in Texas. We had some hot nights as temperatures reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit. For two months we called maintenance who would send someone to our apartment to leave annoying notes. One note from maintenance read, “You must keep a/c on all day at 75 degrees to cool apartment down”. REALLY? I don’t know how to use an a/c unit? Whatever.

After much frustration and more sweaty nights we finally called the property manager. The manager was nice and got the job done the same day she heard from us. She even gave the maintenance workers a good talking to. Now with everything fixed, we are slowly getting back to normal and can finally sleep comfortably at night woohoo!

With the recent move, my wife and I have had to develop a new budget. It is available below for your viewing pleasure. Finally, stay tuned for the next blog edition, not sure on a title just yet.

 September Spent Budget Remaining/Over
Groceries $204.95 $200.00 $4.95 OVER
Gas $110.00 $190.00 $80.00 LEFT
Restaurants $50.00 $170.00 $120.00 LEFT
Fast Food $22.17 $90.00 $67.83 LEFT
Clothing $0.00 $70.00 $70.00 LEFT
Coffee Shops $0.00 $20.00 $20.00 LEFT
Movies $0.00 $10.00 $10.00 OVER
Student Loans $805.02 $805.02 $0.00 LEFT
Rent/Utilities $864.00 $1000.00 $136.00 LEFT
Cellphones $83.94 $100.00 $16.06 LEFT
Car Insurance $45.76 $45.76 $0.00 LEFT
Health Insurance $215.00 $215.00 $0.00 LEFT
Total $2400.84 $3138.56 $737.72 LEFT

The Run-Around: $30,711.90 Paid Off, $54,596.17 Till Pay Off

Rep Wheel

The Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program has been great in aiding my student loan repayment efforts. I have been enrolled in this repayment program for 4 years now. So I was ecstatic to receive mailed notice on Friday, March 27, 2015 of my approved Income-Based Repayment application.

Then on April 20th another notification arrived stating the servicer had not received an updated IBR application. To add insult to injury, my new monthly payment would be $301.99, an increase from $152.02. OUCH! So for three straight days I called customer service rep after another to get this straighten out. At the time I felt my servicer was performing their own rendition of Blues Traveler’s hit song “Run-Around”.

At the moment I am laughing to prevent myself from frustration. This is the same company (whom I will not name) magically added $600 to my account balance last year and thought I wouldn’t notice.

Another issue I have with this loan servicer is their slow process in updating account information. My total monthly interest is $72.13, I pay $135 bi-weekly for a total of $270 a month. So why am I being charged $110 in interest? Each time I’ve requested to speak with a supervisor or an account manager I am asked to be placed on a “brief hold”. These holds typically last for 30 minutes.

As of today 8/4/15, my servicer has yet to correct my account information. Through this I remain focused on my goal of paying what I owe in full. But in the meantime, I need to contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman. An ombudsman is an individual or group appointed by the government who helps resolves disputes. The ombudsman can oversee disputes within private companies, universities and non-profit organizations.

If you are having problems with your loan servicer like me, contact the U.S. Department of Education Ombudsman Group via the info provided below:

Postal Mail:

U.S. Department of Education
FSA Ombudsman Group
830 First Street, N.E., Mail Stop 5144
Washington, DC 20202-5144
Phone 1-877-557-2575
Fax 202-275-0549

Website:

FSA Ombudsman Group

Lesson learned, keep record of all paper and electronic correspondence with your servicer. If I hadn’t, this blog post would read differently. The next post will be titled, “To Move or Not to Move? That is the Question”.

Budget Time: $29,269.81 Paid, $56,038.26 Till Pay Off

Sorry for the delay folks!  This post has been the most difficult to write, because my aim is to help others, but not disclose too much.  Private messages are welcomed if you have any questions.

PIggy BankI want to start this post by thanking God for his love and provision. Many nights I stayed up worrying about having enough money to pay bills, but God provided. After deciding to fully trust His promises (Matthew 6:31-34), my needs continue to be met.

Sure, there are things I desire to provide for my wife: a nicer car, better clothes, and longer vacations. Times when you can’t pay the mechanic to fix everything wrong with your wife’s car, or afford to live exactly where you want to, can be demoralizing. Yet we lack for nothing: not because we are deserving, but because He is merciful. Looking back now, I can see how God provided for the need before I knew it existed.

As for other credit due: I want to say thanks to my lovely wife and her ability to add a flavorful Trinidadian twist to meals.  And to my parents, for instilling in me values that I hold dear till this day.

To my father-in-law, for lending his mechanic skills in fixing mine and my wife’s cars. And also to my mother-in-law for always finding deals on clothes for us to wear. The care they both continue to place on our daily lives has allowed us to budget for things like an occasional dinner out or a short vacation.

And on that note, even in the midst of being “financially suspended” when focused on repayment, I would advise still taking time out to enjoy the spouse, family, or friends in your life. Don’t make the mistake of suspending quality relationships while “suspending spending”. Those people and relationships are irreplaceable…

Now, let’s get a rundown of the budget.

Monthly Budget

Spent-May Budget Remaining/Over
Groceries $232.60 $200.00 $32.60 OVER
Gas & Fuel $164.57 $190.00 $25.43 LEFT
Restaurants $93.43 $170.00 $76.57 LEFT
Fast Food $145.48 $90.00 $55.48 OVER
Clothing $31.37 $70.00 $38.63 LEFT
Coffee Shops $0.00 $20.00 $20.00 LEFT
Movies $48.10 $10.00 $38.10 OVER
Student Loans $805.02 $805.02 $0.00 LEFT
Rent $400.00 $400.00 $0.00 LEFT
Cellphones $73.94 $100.00 $26.06 LEFT
Car Insurance $45.76 $45.76 $0.00 LEFT
Health Insurance $125.00 $125.00 $0.00 LEFT
Total $2165.27 $2225.78 $60.51 LEFT

As you can see above, I have not been a very good boy this month following my budget in every category  But hey, we all need to enjoy ourselves sometimes right?  For two people living in Dallas with the listed expenses above, our financial survival to this point is a blessing, and frankly shouldn’t be possible.

By living with parents (not perhaps the most ideal living arrangement that comes to mind when thinking of a young married couple), we can further reduce costs.  Their help leaves us with only a $400 bill to cover for direct living expenses in a comfortable home.  Their incredible display of love makes this debt pay off project possible.

So to those that may be challenged by the incredible mound of debt in front of you, I’m here to say (and show) that it’s possible with help. Look around you and think of ways you can save money: start with what things are absolute priorities, then reduce or eliminate things that are not. Keep in mind that these adjustments are temporary, and don’t reflect what the rest of your life will look like. Moreso, by making those adjustments for a short time now, you’ll benefit from longer and more comfortable enjoyment later (without the looming fear of a visit from your local repo agent). Talk to your spouse/significant others, friends, and family and get them on board with your personal goals.

And most importantly, I encourage you all to accept help when it is offered (or ask when it is needed), because pride will limit the growth of ourselves and others. No man’s an island, and having the support of others can be the difference maker in your life.

Income-Based Repayment: $28,433.14 Paid, $56,874.93 Till Pay Off

My Repayment Plan

Grrr… Outrageous loan payments:

It was one of the hottest days ever experienced in my life. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Summer, 2011 was officially the hottest ever for Texas.  Sweat rolled down my forehead, over the bridge of my nose, and onto my laptop as I reviewed projected monthly loan payments.  My apartment’s a/c unit and ceiling fans were all cranked full blast to no avail, my living room was an oven.  I stared at the number slated to be my undoing and it stared back at me: $981.73, was my projected monthly payment.   Then something happened…

My wife showed her support:

In frustration, I swung my fists angrily in the air and exclaimed through tears, “I have ruined myself financially!”  To this my wife replied, “Boy, you are so dramatic” and let out a hearty laugh.  At this point, there were two things in the world I did not particularly care much for: her and those blasted loans.  She walked over to me said with a smile and said, “Your loans are my loans”.

Unlike me, my wife has $0 debt.  She is currently in her graduate program and owes loan companies and the federal government nothing, I am very proud of her.  Her educational background is also in sciences (Biology and Chemistry), she’s been blessed to have scholarships.

How I’ve tackled repayment:

I soon researched different repayment options through my loan servicers and applied for the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program.  In 2011, the maximum payment was 10% of your discretionary income; presently, it is 15%.

Below are tables displaying my monthly payments under IBR with each loan company.  The first table below shows the initial monthly payment of $535.90 calculated for repayment.  However, I decided to be more aggressive and pay $402.51 bi-weekly, bringing my monthly total to $805.02.

IBR Monthly Repayment.jpg

Less interest accrues on the principal loan balances with bi-weekly payments as opposed to monthly payments.   This is because there is less time for interest to accumulate.  This is a well known method used for paying mortgages, so I thought to myself, “Why not use this method when I have the mortgage without the house?” lol

Remember, my initial monthly payment was forecasted at $981.73, with complete repayment scheduled after 10 years.  Actual Bi-Weekly PaymentSince I’m currently paying a total of $805.02,  one would assume I’d end up behind on the “standard” 10-year schedule for repayment.  But God blesses me throughout the year to make additional payments whenever possible.  My current progress still slates me to be completed before the 10 year mark.

 So this is my repayment plan.  The next blog entry will discuss my wife’s favorite… our personal budget.  So I have questions to ask you.  Are you currently taking advantage or ever even heard of the IBR program?  Have you found creative ways to speed up your repayment process?

The American Dream: $85,308.07 In The Hole

Okay, so we have all been told the American Dream is a life of luxury.  We’ve also been told that a college education is the only way to financial freedom.

Man P-L-E-A-S-E…

In 2008, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Abilene Christian University and immediately expected a chance at the good life.  You know… lots of money, nice vacations, cars/clothes, boy was I ready.  Welp, the Great Recession was starting and feamerican flagw graduates were able to secure jobs.  It felt like my resume was being used to wipe posteriors.  So I returned to ACU for graduate school for more qualifications.  Mainly to make the companies “sorry” for not hiring me in the first place.

Two years later, I found myself in the same recession, no job prospects and one expensive master’s degree in Organizational Communication.  It was a sad time, no one, not even the university’s career services could help me.  “Why did I even go to college?” was the question I asked myself.

From 2011-2013 my professional career was nonexistent.  It was difficult to remain employed past six months.  I heard excuse after excuse as to why my “services” weren’t needed anymore lol.  The worst time I’ve ever had on a job was working for a retailer as a service clerk during the holidays.  Shortly after Christmas, supervisors would conduct “performance evaluations” on me almost daily.  These “evaluations” would last at the most two hours to explain my incompetence as a cashier.  For a college graduate with a master’s degree, this was a slap in the face.  As I understood the company was overstaffed and desperately needed to lay off workers, but unwilling to pay unemployment.

My pursuit of the American Dream became a nightmare.  To add insult to injury, I knew that I borrowed money to fund my education, but did I really borrow $85,308.07 !?  Why did I choose to pay such a high cost for higher education?  Limited job prospects, minimum wage earnings and debt are the polar opposite of expectations for college graduates.  Follow me as I take you along my journey of paying back student loans and reversing the effects of chasing the American Dream.

Why? -$27,281.44 Paid, $58,026.63 Till Pay Off

As of February 17, 2015, here’s the damage I have caused myself financially:

student loans.jpg

So why am I disclosing my financial situation on social media? Well, I’ve been inspired by another blogger, Joe Mihalic who accomplished the incredible feat of paying off 90k in student loans. He displayed a great amount of discipline and financial prowess while budgeting. You guys should check out his blog, it is called “No More Harvard Debt“. I have also failed to mention that Mr. Mihalic paid his debt in full after 10 months, awesome right!?

Not exactly… being a Harvard grad who earns six figures plus bonuses annually won’t make many sympathetic.  He described his salary in his own words as “modest” in comparison to his peers in banking lol. In my opinion, he deserves everything he has gotten out of life. To have a degree from Harvard, Joe is undoubtedly very intelligent and driven. Please understand everyone, I am proud of him and not the type to sip on Haterade.

However, I am someone who may never see a six figure salary. I have also worked minimum wage jobs for the first two years of loan repayment while significantly decreasing my loan principal balance. This blog will serve as encouragement to the “Average Joes” out there, no pun intended, who struggle to find gainful employment as I have.