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Plan #1: Pay Off Debt

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I truly appreciate everyone’s thoughtful guidance and feedback to my last couple of posts on my Current Debt Load and desire to Increase my Credit Score. I am still working through all my lists of tips and suggestions. And frankly, it is too overwhelming to me to come up with a master plan. Thus, I’ve come up with a few bite size plans that give me immediate action AND immediate gratification! The OVERWHELMING advice that stood out, as expected, is pay off debt.

Thanks to our mostly No Spend Month, I have some extra money sitting around here at the end of the month. And it is burning a hole in my pocket, let me tell you! That leads us to the first plan.

Pay Off Debt

I will be tackling three debts with everything I’ve got with the goal of $0 balances on all three by the end of this calendar year.  Here’s my plan:

  • Amazon (current balance $527) – pay in full November 3rd with $$$ saved through No Spend October. This will bring it to a $0 balance before the statement date for the month of November. Question: do I leave the account open or close it? Bearing in mind the affect on my credit score.  Guidance please.
  • Computers (current balance $2,655) – pay $500 the first week of November with $$$ saved through No Spend October. And review November and December budgets to see if I can find a way to bring it to a $0 balance before the end of the year. Maybe a modified no spend month…we’ve still got quite a bit in our pantry. This will drop the balance quite a bit before the statement date for the month of November (yes, I’m still thinking of my credit score, but only as a benefit of making wiser financial decisions.) Question: do I leave the account open or close it? Bearing in mind the affect on my credit score.  Guidance please.
  • Collection Acct (Apartment) – call and see if I can negotiate a 1) pay to remove arrangement and 2) settlement amount, effectively decreasing the amount I must pay. Again, I will attempt to close this account out by the end of the year.

What about my credit card?

For the time being, I am going to keep using my one credit card as a revolving line of credit, effectively paying it off every month so I do not accrue any finance charges and using it to pay all my regular budgeted items.

I think this plan is very do-able for me. It’s definitely trackable. And if I could eliminate these three debts over the next 2 months. Well, that would be AWESOME!!!!


Rock Bottom

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After our bankruptcy was discharged, I thought we were through with financial irresponsibility. We had two paid off cars, and no debt except a 40 year 7.5% mortgage of $130,000. On a house what once was worth $125,000, now was valued at $65,000. We said we would never go back to the way it was.

Our road started off with a bang, I decided I wanted a new car. I was tired of driving the small Chevy Aero, and wanted something bigger. By then my husband had gone back to work, so we had the income for a car payment. So I thought. Because we were so close after our discharge, the bank loan came back at 18%. Yet idiot me took it. Thankfully, I got our credit union to refinance it at 3.75 within 6 months.

The credit card debt kinda of snuck up on me. Again our local credit union started me off small, and kept raising the credit limit for me. I just kept spending and spending. Sometimes, it was for luxuries that we really didn’t need, but other times, it was for the necessities that we needed. We again were living outside our means.

The House

Last summer, my husband and I decided to move closer to our jobs and to a better school district for our girls. I took 6 months, but I found a house that is 2 miles from my job, 10 minutes from my husbands job, and a much better school district. It was a for sale by owner, and what we considered a perfect fit. I’m not proud to say this, but I promised to be 100% honest, so I will admit, we walked away from the old house with the 40 year mortgage. We were allowed to as the debt was discharged in our bankruptcy. We convinced the owner of the current house to do a lease to purchase, and moved in the beginning of February . We are paying her 5% APR (she holds the note) and have a refinance deadline of November 2019. Yes this stresses me out.

A few weeks ago, I finally hit rock bottom. I had convinced my local credit union to do a debt consolidation on some of our credit cards. I swore I would cut them up, and start living like a responsible adult. I failed. Two of the cards lowered my credit limit so they are not as high, but the rest are right back where they were. I am very ashamed to find myself in such a low place again however this time its different.We are not walking away from one red cent of what we owe. We can and we will pay down our debt. It won’t be easy, in fact, I’m sure its going to be very hard. But for the 1st time, my husband and I are on the same page, and there are no secrets.

The Future

The future is now. We are cutting everything we can to have more to throw at debt. I am working on a post explaining our income and expenses. We are signed up to start Dave Ramsey’s class in the middle of September through our local habitat for humanity. I’m excited because at the same time we have our class, they are also holding a kids class that follows Dave’s class for kids. Hopefully, that will give our girls the foundation to be smarter with money then their parents are. Its something I wish I had as a kid.

Thats our full financial story. Like I said, I am working on an income and expenses post that I am sure everyone will help me whittle down. I do promise to be 100% truthful in my posts, and I have thick skin to read the responses to them.


How it All Began

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How it all began……

I was never good with credit. When I was 16, Lane Bryant sent me a credit card. I had ordered from there catalog for several years. I don’t remember filling out a credit application, just this very pretty purple piece of plastic coming in the mail, and I then could order clothes and pay a small $25 a month until they were paid off. Easy, right? I had my first charge off on my credit report at 18.

I was a single mother at the time, and on welfare. The next step was to go back to work, and I needed a car. But with a new job and a small awful credit file, I needed a co signer. I don’t know how I did it, but I talked my Dad into it. I bought a 1990 Ford and went to work 3rd shift.

I behaved at 1st, making payments on time, and then I moved out on my own. I lived in an apartment with my son, and my soon to be husband. (now my ex husband). Living on my own was hard, and things started to slide. First my car insurance didn’t get paid, then it was canceled. So the finance company added their insurance to the car. Then I fell behind in the payments. Eventually I had to give the car to my Dad, and borrow his paid off car to drive back and forth to work. He was nice about it, but swore he would never co sign for me again, and he never has. Not that I would ask.

When my ex and I got married, we moved south with the military. He then took over the bills. I had given my Dad his car back when we moved, so we were down to one vehicle. We decided to trade his truck in and buy 2 cars, one for each of us. His credit was good, so it was no problem.

Fast forward a few years, and we are out of the military and permanently living in the south. Thing are tight, and my ex and i fight about money a lot. Eventually we end up splitting the bills 50/50, and each of us have to pay out of our own paychecks. He doesn’t care about any credit cards, just that if they are in my name, I have to pay them myself. Me, having no self control with money, rack them up. We split in 2001, and he walked away with a paid off truck. I was left with 10,000 plus in credit card debt, student loans, and a single wide mobile home with a 20 year mortgage.

I then decided that I wanted a new car. The one I had was with a credit union, and I was upside down a lot. But it was in my ex husband’s name. So, I let it go back, and bought a car on my own. Took out more credit cards. Move to a rental house that was $250 more a month and let the single wide trailer go back to the bank.

Are you starting to see a trend?

Don’t get me wrong, I was making it, but by the skin of my nose. By then I was at my current job but a single mom of 2 kids. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have collection agencies call you at work, while you are a bill collector for your job? One time, they even faxed my boss about my debt. I blamed my ex husband, and prayed that they would stop one day.

Then the rental house caught fire. Thank goodness I had renters insurance. I had a ton of cash, and a spending habit that I had not fixed.I found a new place to live, a rent to own house. I had one year to rent, and I had to get the mortgage in my name. I did it in 6 months. That was the height of the housing bubble, and I got a 11.75 % variable APR mortgage on a $125,000 house. But I had a ton of money from the insurance, that made it easy. My spending habits didn’t change. My kids and I had more stuff then we knew what to do with.

I then met my current husband. He is 6 years younger than me, and still was living at home. We has a speedy courtship, 4 months from our 1st date to our marriage. The money from the fire had run out by then, and he didn’t have a well paying job, so I robbed Peter to pay Paul to pay for the big wedding we had. The mortgage company did the 1st loan modification on the mortgage within 6 months. They lowered my payment and my interest rate to 7.5 % fixed. I thought everything would work out.

Traded and bought a few vehicles, and racked up more debt. Was kinda of keeping my head above water, then my husband got sick. We then had huge medical bills that included a bill for a cornea transplant. Everything got past due, even the house again. We went and filled out the paperwork to file chapter 13 bankruptcy but didn’t have the filing fee until we got paid on Friday. Thursday, I went out my front door to goto work, and my car was gone. It had been repossessed in the middle of the night. So, I borrowed the filing fees to file a day early, and the next day, the lawyer got my car back from the bank.

Again, things were fine for about 6 months then hours were cut. My husband had to find a new job, and took a $2 an hour pay cut. That hurt. Our Chapter 13 payments were self pay, so we stopped them. And our plan was dismissed.

We went back to the attorney, and asked what to do. He said to keep the house, we would have to file chapter 13 again, but reduce what we were paying in the plan. We gave back my car, but kept my husbands truck. I went out and found a mini van on a buy here pay here lot and got that for transportation as our family by then had grown by our twins and we didn’t fit into the truck by then. This time my pay was garnished for the payments, and my take home was about $250 every two weeks. My husbands was about $600 every two weeks. Everything else went to bankruptcy. It was very tight. So tight, that I even went behind my husbands back and got 4 credit cards while in bankruptcy. See the trend.

Then the layoff. My health insurance at the time was 100% paid by my employer, but my husband carried the girls and himself. To add him and the kids to my heath insurance was $300 a paycheck. His unemployment was $115 a week, and I only was clearing $250 a paycheck. The bankruptcy payments had to stop. My attorney got the trustee to stop the garnishment, and I put everyone on my health insurance. We saved up and filed income taxes, and converted to a chapter 7. We bought 2 salvage titled cars, and let the truck and van go back to the banks. We did another modification that included stretching the mortgage to 40 years from 30 years, and kept the house. We were discharged from chapter 7 in July 2013.

Stay tuned for part two…


Ashley’s January 2017 Debt Update

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First, thanks for all the great comments and advice on my Medical Debt Collector Dilemma post!

If you haven’t read the comments, then I’ll give you the update:  I was able to negotiate our medical bill down into 3 equal sized payments to be paid across the next 3 months (February through April), and then the medical debt will be GONE and nearly $2,000 will be forgiven. Some commenters noted how this will ding our credit, but seeing as we’re unlikely to be needing any new lines of credit anytime soon, I’m not too worried about the ramifications. I feel like we’re pretty well “set” with our current debts (great mortgage rate, good credit card balance transfer options for paying off student loan debt) – we won’t be adding any additional debts, hopefully EVER!

I’m kind of excited about being rid of this medical debt. We prioritized it below everything else so far simply because it was at a 0% interest rate. But with the offer to forgive $2,000 of the debt, it had to be bumped up to the top of our priority list (which will change the “debt payment” proportions that I had just posted in our 2017 budget. Oh well, budgets need to be flexible!).

I know there are strong feelings on both sides of the fence regarding whether it is morally “okay” to negotiate down debts as opposed to paying the bill in full. We would have paid the bill in full. That was always our intention. But we also weren’t in any hurry about it with so much student loan debt racking up in excess of 6% APR. The offer to settle for less than was owed was solely initiated from the medical debt collection agency, itself. So I feel like it was a fair transaction. The medical company will receive their payment (much sooner than they would have otherwise, at that), and we will soon be able to cross off one more debt from our  list of debts!!!

One other thing I wanted to mention was regarding credit card balance transfer options. When I realized I would be unable to refinance my student loans away from Navient with one of the big/respected student loan consolidation companies, some of you recommended continuing to do credit card balance transfers. So I applied for a new credit card and promptly transferred another student loan away from Navient. Again – a super controversial thing in the world of debt repayment. I wouldn’t recommend this option for everyone, but I’ve been doing it a couple years now and have had great success with it. I literally only use the credit card for balance transfers (it’s not even in my wallet – it would otherwise be cut up and destroyed because it serves no purpose otherwise). So now I’ve got TWO credit cards designated specifically for doing balance transfers. The balance transfer fees have been low (between 2-3%) and I receive 0% APR as long as balances are paid in full by the due date (which I closely track and monitor and have never had a problem with). So….it works for us. Unconventional? Yes. Would I recommend it for everyone? No. But it’s working for us.

And so with some explanation of our debts (and, specifically, the new credit card balance transfer debt you’ll see), I present to you January’s Debt Spreadsheet:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Navient - Federal 2 (unsubsidized)$110985.8042January82433 (all school loans, combined)
Navient - Federal 3 (subsidized)$86245.8025January
Navient - 2 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 7 (subsidized)$72266.5521January
Navient - 8 (subsidized)$63986.5519January
Navient - 9 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 10 (unsubsidized)$97726.552018January
Balance Transfer Student Loan #2$22000% (through April 2017)$800January$7650
Balance Transfer Student Loan #3$45940% (through October 2018)
Medical Bills$55860% (must be paid by April)$25January$9000
Balance Transfer student loan #1$00% -Paid off in March 2016$5937
PenFed Car Loan$02.49%-Paid off in January 2016$24040
License Fees$02.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
BoA CC$07.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
Mattress Firm$00%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC$013.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
Capital One CC$017.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Totals$72,560 (Dec balance = 75,171)$3000Starting Debt = $145,472

When I first started blogging back in April 2014, I had $145,472 total debt.

As of January 31, 2017, with a margin of under $200, we have finally hit our half-way mark! We now have $72,560 in debt.

Oh my gosh, guys! I can’t tell you what a huge milestone this is for us! I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 years and we have JUST NOW hit our half-way mark in terms of debt reduction. We likely have another 2.5 years to go (maybe less), so we’re over half-way in terms of the time spent in debt reduction mode. I just cannot even believe it. All the changes in the past three years, all the sacrifices, all the splurges, all the savings and the spending and the analyzing numbers over and over and over again. It just feels fantastic.

I know some have commented that the second half of debt reduction would just fly by. That as soon as we hit the half-way “tipping point” things would start snowballing and debt would just melt away.

I’ve got so far still to go, but I am hopeful and excited about the future!

And I want the debt gone sooner than our projections have it. I want it gone yesterday. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of ways to reduce savings categories (temporarily) in order to throw more toward the debt. And there’s still some work stuff up in the air that will impact this whole process. I’m optimistic. It’s hard not to be. I may not be able to quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but at least we’ve crested the top of the mountain and are about to make our descent. I can’t wait for the journey downward!


EF Refunding Update

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Hey everyone. I hope you are all having a great day.

On Friday, I gave a short update on where I stand on refunding my EF- I’m currently at $1,300 with my goal being over $2,000. There’s an item on the horizon that have me worried about keeping my EF any lower- I have a state inspection for my car on November 9th. After talking with the mechanic over the summer, he let me know that to pass inspection, I’m going to have to have a bunch of work done. In the range of $500-$1,000 of work. Depending on the cost, I’ll most likely just pull this money from my EF.

In the meantime, I did get a credit card to help me if an emergency arose. Thankfully, at this point, it hasn’t. I’ve owned credit cards in the past (those terrible mall store cards that give you 10-15% off when you sign up. Never used them but the one time. I’ve since cut the cards up, but the accounts are still open) but never a card with a sizable limit. Not only did I read many articles and see the ill effects of poor credit use for myself, but the cards I had in the past only had a limit of $100 and $150- not much in an emergency, hence why I never used them; they just weren’t worth the trouble. Anyway, I had a meeting with my bank a few weeks ago (the same meeting where the person inquired as to who Navient was), and since I could see and feel my EF dropping, I acquired about a card I could use to get me through any tough times while I built my EF back up. They sold me on the fact that the card is tied to my checking and savings accounts, which would make payments instantaneous, and I could pay off the card as soon as I bought something with it. I experimented by buying some gas to see if this were true, and it turns out that it takes a few days for the purchase to post. While it’s great my payments can be transferred from my accounts instantly, it doesn’t matter much when my purchases take a few days to appear. The card has a 1.75% cash back bonus, but I don’t intend on using it now or once my EF is back up.

This past week, I manged to seal the windows and doors I wanted to in hopes that this will help make the winter a little more bearable. I used the Duck Tape brand, which was fairly inexpensive.

I have 2 more weeks until I will begin paying down Sallie Mae 01- I can’t wait!


Financial Ups and Downs

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We already know that this month is tough – emotionally and financially!

Here are the latest happenings in this roller-coaster called life…

Good: I got called to do a campus visit interview for the job I recently talked about. It’s really kind of odd. They told me to pencil in 1-4 on a couple different days and they’d get back to let me know which day works for the committee. Very different than my other interview experiences where I’ve had a full day worth of meetings and activities, complete with detailed itinerary and dinner with faculty. I’m hoping this has more to do with the last-minute nature of this job posting and is not a red flag of a potentially low salary (no salary range was listed in the job posting, it just said DOE. I’m very nervous about a surprise super low salary offer, where we might be too far apart to even negotiate).

Bad: Hubs’ truck was making a super scary noise and not braking correctly so he took it into the shop. We were hoping brakes were the issue (they were recently replaced and are still under warranty), but nope. It was related to power steering (he told me more specifics, but I can’t recount the issues here because I’ve already forgotten the names of the leaking/broken parts). Price tag = $1350. Could not have come at a worse time.

Good: We had nearly $900 in our car repairs saving account! I’m going to pay for the repairs on a credit card so I can buy myself an extra month until it has to be paid (note: I still use the credit card for large purchases for the extra assurances and to earn some credit card rewards points, but I always pay it in full when the bill is due). I’ll be able to put $900 toward it from the money we already currently have and the other $450 will come from next month’s budget (since the bill won’t be due until next month). Wiping my brow, thankful we have that savings to cover the majority of the expense!

Bad: I cannot get my husband into the dentist. Cannot do it. Does anyone have any tips on this? From a logical perspective, he totally agrees he needs to go and should really have better oral hygiene – taking more preventative measures instead of waiting until things hit “crisis” level (aka: root canal) and being hit with a much larger bill. So – that’s not the issue. He “gets” it and he agrees. Part of the issue is work-related. Especially with the lower income he’s been drawing he really wants to focus 100% of his energy on work and not take time off for dental appointments. The other part is more psychological. He hates the dentist. I want him to go to a new dentist (an awesome local family-run office who has cut me deals for paying cash and works with me on price), but he refuses to get another dental x-ray. After his health scare in late 2013 when he had a million medical procedures performed, he’s very aversive to any additional procedures. He’s especially reluctant to have new x-rays done because he thinks he’s going to get cancer from all the exposure. He did try to call and have his dental x-rays transferred from his old office, but they send some file format that can’t be opened by the new dentist. The new dentist would even do it for FREE, so it’s really not a cost thing. It’s all about hubs’ fear of dentist/x-ray/dental work and his reluctance to take any time off work. Suggestions? I’m at a loss.

Good: We were officially accepted to a new preschool starting in mid-August! I will be very sad to leave the JCC. They truly have an incredible program! But I really like the new school too and I will LOVE the close proximity to our house and the lower cost! One caveat is it only operates during the school year (not year-round), so I may still enroll the girls in summer camp at the JCC next summer (which, of course, means summer months will be more costly for childcare since JCC costs more). I do like that as a possible compromise though.

What are some good (or bad) things that have impacted your finances lately?


Don’t Copy My Lucky Escape

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I always wanted to travel from a very young age. Even though color television was relatively new there were plenty of movies at the cinema and color magazines with articles on faraway places to feed my mind. I was never quite sure how I would realize my dreams. After all commercial passenger flight was not like it is today. As time passed it became obvious that many of these places were indeed in reach. An uncle actually spent some time in the Merchant Marine. He crossed the Pacific many times visiting lots of countries in South East Asia though he was rarely in port for long enough to actually explore many of those countries in depth. I didn’t see myself as a seaman, but his stories reinforced my desire to travel. It would be all about earning the money and finding the time.

Not without Problems

Years on I have pretty much fulfilled my dreams, but it has not been without problems along the way. There is plenty of temptation which sometimes manages to push common sense to one side. As the real estate market grew common sense should dictate that the equity created should be used sensibly; retirement is an obvious thing to consider. I must confess that at times remortgaging funded travel which although immensely enjoyable brought no financial return.

Credit Cards

Most people have succumbed to credit cards. They offered readymade credit limits. They should really be used for convenience. Instead, I managed to build up some core debt; balances on a range of cards and each of those cards were costing me penal interest at the end of each month.

Fortunately, I saw the problem growing and was able to rectify the situation before it got too serious and beyond control. The danger is that credit card balances can somehow escape being regarded as real debt because until the recession came many didn’t feel they would have to be paid back in full. The recession ended any feeling of complacency because as people’s finances crumbled demands often poured in. I had managed to negotiate a consolidation loan before the recession struck. I cut up all but two of my credit cards immediately and paid off every outstanding balance incurring such high-interest rates. It did mean for the next five years I had a fixed monthly payment to make; 60 months and all that money I had used to travel was paid back at a realistic interest rate.

Lessons

I’ve learned a few lessons in this exercise. Certainly I have enjoyed my travels and hope to continue to do more as retirement approaches. I’ve been fortunate that my income justified the consolidation loan because I certainly lacked some financial self-discipline at times. Credit card companies were perfectly happy to issue cards to anyone who wanted them. Indeed, they seemed to offer them without being asked. It is a trend that seems to be returning today even though the recession has only just receded. If anyone asks me now about cards I would certainly say that they should only be used for their convenience, and not a way to get a loan. Every monthly balance should be paid off in full; I do this now although it took me a while to realize its importance.

There is nothing wrong with borrowing money responsibly. There are loans available for those with the ability to pay the loan amount in full, and the interest rates can be less expensive than what you are paying on cards. That was what I found in my case. I was fortunate to have both a full-time monthly check and money made part-time with my online writing. I write on a variety of subjects based on what my clients want. In addition, if anyone invites me to write about finance, I volunteer advice for nothing. The recession produced many casualties. A huge proportion of them were not as complacent about borrowing as I was. Circumstances brought them down.

I think back and feel relieved that my complacency did not cause me more problems. I’ve seen most of the world and intend to continue to see more in the coming years. Credit could have been my downfall, yet borrowing solved my problem with a sensible consolidation loan. If you look at your own situation and see some of the warning signs that I have alluded to then seek advice. If you have the time and patience, you can do the research on your own, and you can end up apying a lot less on your debt over the long run as you pay it off.


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