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Ashley’s April 2016 Debt Update + NEW Balance Transfer Loan

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Hi all!

Thanks for your patience with me as I was out of town and kind of absent (especially in the comments) for awhile. I only logged in a single time on our week-long vacation and then had to spend a few days playing catch-up with work-related obligations once I returned before really rejoining you here. LOTS of posts to come very soon, but for now let me get up this overdue April debt update!

Perhaps the first thing to note is that I initiated another balance transfer loan! I’ve labeled it in my debt spreadsheet as “Balance Transfer #2” (to distinguish it from the first balance transfer, which I paid off in full prior to initiating this new transfer). See my reasons for why I’m okay with using balance transfer loans to help pay down student loan debt in this throwback post.

I transferred $7,500 from my Navient student loans onto my Capital One credit card. I will have 0% APR for 12 months and paid a one-time $150 transfer fee. In my debt spreadsheet I list the new balance transfer debt as $7650 (which includes the $150 transfer fee). I also altered the “original debt” column of my Navient loan, reducing it by $7500 (since that debt has been moved to the balance transfer loan).

Here you go:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Navient$731686.55%$1476April$74218
ACS Student Loans$85966.55%$20April$8215
Balance Transfer Student Loan #2$76500% (through April 2017)$0transfer initiated April 2016$7650
Medical Bills$58360%$25April$9000
Balance Transfer student loan #1$00% -Paid off in March 2016$5937
PenFed Car Loan-2.49%-Paid off in January 2016$24040
License Fees-2.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Totals$95,250 (March balance = 96,175)$1521Starting Debt = $145,472

One thing you’ll notice is that nothing was paid toward the new balance transfer loan in April. I initiated the loan toward the end of the month, so I’ll begin making payments this month (May).

Also, I edited the APR for my Navient loans. It used to read 6.55%-8.25%. But the balance transfer loan covered the 8.25% APR loan in full, so now all that remains are student loans with 6.55% APR. Wahoo! Excited to be chipping away at those loans and to get rid of my last remaining >8% APR debt!

Also, you’ll see in an upcoming budget update post that we continue to save toward our Emergency Fund and the down payment for a new home. This impacts our debt payments, as we are prioritizing savings above debt for right now. We plan to begin house hunting soon-ish, and once that’s all locked away we’ll again return our focus to paying down debt with a vengeance. In the meantime, I’m still happy with our current level of debt payments. Not too shabby, especially considering all our savings! Look for the budget update post soon!

I hope everyone’s weeks are going well! I’ll be back soon! : )


Latest Student Loan Update

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I hate student loans. Like, with a fiery passion. I guess they serve a purpose (I would not have been able to get my degrees without them; at least not in the timeframe I did), but there’s just so much wrong with the student loan industry I can’t even start….

*Deep breaths*

Okay. Like I was saying. I hate student loans.

Where does this come from?

Well, my own foolishness, really. I graduated in August 2013. At that time, my loans began accumulating interest. I buried my head in the sand and worked on paying down my credit cards and other consumer debts but didn’t so much as touch the student loans.

And the balances grew, and grew, and grew some more.

It’s disgusting really. When I look at my student loan balances at the end of February 2014 to today, even though I’ve recently started paying more toward the dang things, the overall balance is still up. Of course it is. How could I touch nearly $100,000 of student loan debt when I was so focused on paying down other debts?

I’m not saying I was wrong in doing this. I needed to be consumer debt-free. Needed it.

It was just the motivation necessary to really focus and recommit to get rid of the student loans to begin with.

Let’s back up.

For any new readers, I have a long history of being screwed around by Navient (formerly Sallie Mae). I’ve documented it in what has now become basically a mini-series (see here, here, here). When I last left off, Navient had bought a large student loan I had with ACS. When it transferred over, Navient switched it from a subsidized loan to an unsubsidized loan. This is a HUGE deal to me because I’m on income-based repayment (IBR) and, under this plan, unpaid interest is forgiven on subsidized loans (but NOT for unsubsidized loans). All the electronic records at ACS disappeared and Navient claimed they were unavailable due to the transfer. I had NO proof (besides this little old bloggy) to show that the loans had, indeed, been subsidized the entire time I’ve had them (thus, why the balances had never grown in spite of my measley not-large-enough-to-cover-interest payments. I never even chipped into the principal balance, but since unpaid interest was forgiven, the balances remained exactly the same month after month).

Now Navient is charging me money for interest, claiming the loan was always unsubsidized (definitely not true).

You guys. It makes me so angry that my blood just boils! It’s hard to talk about without losing composure.

I got a third party group involved, the Ombudsman Group. In the meantime I also wrote all my legislatures about my experiences. I’ve spoken with several representatives inside Navient. I’ve jumped through hoops to try to prove these loans were subsidized. Navient had me call the loan guarantor, I had to track down an original master promissory note from my old university (this was a loan from my Master’s degree back in Florida). The list of things goes on, and on, and on. But all of it was pointless, as even the original promissory note does NOT list the type of loan (i.e., subsidized versus unsubsidized).

Ombudsman Group conducted an investigation and after literal months, I got the call. They are siding with Navient. Because apparently the loan on the government’s website is called Loan 07 Unsubsidized.

Let me repeat.

THE NAME OF THE FREAKING LOAN IS ‘UNSUBSIDIZED.’

To me, this is proof of nothing. Any dummy could have labeled or misnamed the loan. Where is any paperwork proving that the loan was unsubsidized? Why can Navient not furnish any of the past paperwork and history of this loan (that was originally through ACS)? Why does ACS simply delete every trace of the loan as if it never existed so I cannot retrieve old records from them either? I’ll mention, also, that I do have some old ACS statements, but they ONLY provide the payment due. They say nothing about subsidized versus unsubsidized, nor do they even provide the loan balance. It literally only gives the payment due amount.

Because of the name that someone typed up for this loan I’m now out hundreds of dollars in interest. The name, which I don’t trust, nor do I believe, lest the government has screwed itself out of interest from me for the entire time the loan was housed through ACS and I’m SURE they’re not just giving me free interest for over half a decade – the loan is from 2009 – unless the loan REALLY IS A SUBSIDIZED LOAN. Only I can’t prove it.

So there you have it. Chapter closed.

The loan is too high of a balance for me to do a full balance transfer on (my limit for the transfer is $7500 and the loan is nearly $18,000). But I’m seriously considering halving the loan by doing a balance transfer on half. This one specific loan (out of my long, long list of student loans) is EATING ME ALIVE. I want to slam my head into a wall over the injustice that is occurring to me and, undoubtedly, countless others in the student loan world. The scary thing is that this could be happening all the time. Before I really started getting out of debt I didn’t monitor my student loans AT ALL. I had a budget for day-to-day/routine spending, but student loans were not a part of that discussion. They were buried away until the day I wrote my first debt update here (that was literally the first time I’d added it all up, as naive as that sounds).

Suffice it to say, I’m awake now. My head is out from under the sand. But I’m still partially buried beneath the mountain of student loan debt. Luckily, I’ve just received a battery re-charge (from becoming consumer debt-free) and I’m furiously clawing and pulling my way up from the depths of the debt-hole.

I know better now. And I’ll pass it on to all who will hear me.

Don’t go into student loan debt. If at all humanly possible, just don’t do it. I wrote about ways to avoid student debt here.

I’ve had a couple people ask about what’s happened with the student loans, so this is the answer. Nothing good, that’s for sure. Time to go into attack mode. I’m still trying to build our savings a little more, but very soon I will be WAGING WAR against my student loans. That’s really how it feels, too. Like I’m about to walk into battle. I hate these things that much. So let me build up my reserves. There’s never been a better time for a relaxing vacation (see: Cruise 2016). Upon my return….I just hope Navient is ready to take the figurative beating I’m about to impart. I want them out of my life and gone. It’s about to go down. Join me on my quest to kill my student loans? While we’re at it, lets kill yours too!

Anyone else have student loans that have been hanging around for a half decade or longer? Anyone else with nearly triple-digit student loan debt? I know I’m not the only one. Let’s join forces (figuratively speaking) and beat down on our loans together! Strength in numbers!!! : )


WE DID IT!!!!!!!

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I thought we’d have to wait until the end of the month, but hubs’ month has started out on an upswing, which gave us the extra leeway to make the call.

Actually, I’d tried to call yesterday but I called at 3:40pm Arizona time (=5:40 EST), and they closed at 5:30pm EST. Rats!

But that didn’t dampen the mood any this morning when I called bright and early and made the request:

Customer Service: Thanks for calling PenFed, what can I do for you today?

Me: I WANT TO PAY OFF MY CAAAAAAAAAAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!

I think the representative got a bit of a chuckle out of my excitement. He even gave me a hearty congratulations and “Wow, good job!” after looking at my payment history.

It takes 2 days to clear and then they’ll start the process of getting the title mailed out to me. He said it can take up to a month total. But that doesn’t stop the excitement from growing inside me.

IT’S MINE! IT’S MINE! THE CAR IS OFFICIALLY MINE!!!!!

Actually, this was our last consumer-related debt (only remaining debt is medical and student loans – see latest debt update here), so really EVERYTHING we own is officially ours!

No more monthly payments for furniture loans (see here), vehicle debt, or license fees (see here). Everything we own is OURS! Not a payment owed to anyone! No one can come and take anything from us.

It’s a glorious feeling, friends! So freeing! About 100 times better than I’d even expected!

Hubs had to work today so he wasn’t here to witness the actual moment of pay-off. But you can bet I did a happy dance around the living room and made the girls give me repeated High Fives all around!

I can’t stop smiling! It feels so, so, so good!

I know we still have a long way to go (I just want to acknowledge the obvious), but for today let me just soak up the feeling. Feels so freeing! If you’d asked me two years ago, not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be sitting here today! In fact, my original goal was just to pay off our credit cards (a measly $10,000 compared to the over $50,000 we’ve paid in the past 2 years). Seriously – the power of this community is incredible! The support and the accountability it provides! I just. I can’t. I’m so happy!

Hugs and high fives all around! I feel like this is as much an accomplishment for YOU as it is for me. You’ve pushed me along and gotten me here, after all. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful!

Hope your Mondays are as INCREDIBLE as mine has been! : )


Ashley’s Year In Review (2015)

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I know we’re now a full week into the new year, but I always like to look back and reflect on the previous year around this time. So indulge me in a week-late review of some of the big highlights of 2015.

Personal and Financial Goals

The year began (or really was preceded by) setting some big goals. We had one list of financial goals, and a second list of goals related to “growing up” (in my mind this meant doing things like getting wills, life insurance, etc.). By the end of the year we hadn’t quite met all of our financial goals, but we’d made incredible progress. In all, we paid off over $26,000 in debt!!! We did even better on our “year of becoming an adult” goals. We fully accomplished 3 of our 4 goals and are well underway on the 4th goal (see update here). We’ve set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2016, too!

Budgeting

In early January, we made some pretty big changes to the way we did our budget. This eventually lead us to using YNAB for budgeting (we’d previously used an Excel file). I still can’t say enough great things about YNAB. I really think it’s made a huge impact on how well we’ve been able to stick to our budget and, therefore, how well we’ve done with paying off debt (see my full review here).

One of the categories in our budget that we really struggled with this year was our grocery budget. I talked several times about our efforts to make cheap meals, saving money by making homemade yogurt (super easy and so tasty!), DIY-ing pumpkin spice coffee (a personal fave), and trying my hardest to meal plan (which was much easier when I worked from home compared to an office-setting, and I’m still learning to balance competing needs).

I also saved a lot of money on self-maintenance this year. With the exception of 2 professional cut/colors (which I did prior to big job interviews), I’ve saved money in our budget by cutting and coloring my own hair for the past 21 months (but who’s counting? hehe). I’ve even received compliments on my self-maintained hair and really like my new darker color. To be transparent, I did just barely receive a professional cut/color from my Mom as a birthday gift, so this totals 3 professional jobs (only 2 that I personally paid for) in nearly 2 years.

Employment

I interviewed for 3 separate jobs in 2015:  one in January (recap), one in March, and one in June. I was offered the third job (third times a charm!) and accepted the position soon thereafter. I started the position in July and have been very happy in the job ever since (though I have plans to try to negotiate for a title change and more money).

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Gift-Giving

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Before I started our debt reduction mission we really spent a ton of money on gift-giving. Since starting to blog here, I’ve drastically reduced the amount spent on gifts. I now try to spend an average of about $15-20 per gift (though hubs and I set a $50 limit on gifts to each other). I talked about a cheap classroom gift here and waxed poetic about the impact of a hand-written thank you note (as opposed to an expensive flower delivery). I also talked about a cheap going away gift basket, a cheap Mother-in-Law (or grandparent) gift, an inexpensive alternative wedding gift, and relatively inexpensive ($50 limit) anniversary gifts.

Kids Crafts

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The kids did lots of fun and cheap crafts this year. A sampling of crafts include: a  Valentine’s craft, a Mother’s Day craft, and an Easter craft. All of these doubled as cheap cards/gifts for family, too!

Entertainment

Our entertainment budget was really bare bones this year as we tried to funnel all our extra money toward debt. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun! I talked about a free family activity here and a free painting class (courtesy of Yelp Elite) here. I also shared how we got cheap Halloween costumes for the kids and had fun with a cheap-ish birthday day date for hubs’ 33rd birthday.

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Successes

In April we celebrated kicking hubs’ license fee debt to the curb! That left us with only the car loan, some medical debt, and the monstrous student loans to contend with. That same month I did a balance transfer of a higher-interest student loan (8.5%) to a 0% APR credit card to pay off one of my Navient student loans at a lower rate (just paid a 2% initiation fee). I also celebrated when we paid off another of my Navient student loans back in October. It’s no secret that I freaking hate Navient, so I can’t wait to rid them from my life!

Personal

In June I let you know something I’d been keeping a bit of a secret. I have a very close family member experiencing a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. I later told you all that the “close family member” is my father and divulged that his diagnosis is frontotemporal degeneration (a type of dementia). I had a rough time in regard to processing this information. I was painfully honest about the scary feelings and emotions experienced knowing that his health is quickly declining and my siblings and I will be tasked with becoming his caretaker and all of the other financial implications of the situation. I also discussed prioritizing the costs of therapy so I could take care of myself. I never updated, but I did in fact search for therapists but there was only one person who really stood out to me as a good fit. Of course, that person was not accepting new clients at the time and, feeling overwhelmed by life, the new job, etc., I never pursued any other options. To be honest, I do think I’ll try again to find someone to talk to in the New Year. I feel like I am in a much better place mentally than I was when I first wrote this post (or this one, too), but I know my Dad’s health issues will continue to be a HUGE deal in my life and I would like to see someone at least occasionally to help me process everything as his disease progresses.

Summary

2015 was a wild year! Lots of great successes – Can I get a high five for that $26,000+ of debt that was paid off!?! and some tough times, too. In 2016 we plan to split our priorities a bit between saving for a house and continuing to pay off debt, but I know that we’ll continue to make great progress along the way. I’ve admitted before that I may loosen up the purse strings slightly. I think it’s important to have more regular date nights and such. But I also can’t wait to make some big dents to our debt this year. This will be the first full year of me having a full-time job and income (in addition to my part-time job & hubs’ job). With the additional money we really hope to do some crazy things in 2016. A house, a car (not a new one, but our current one being paid off), punching Navient in the nose, and so on. Great things ahead, friends! Thank you for joining me on life’s wild ride!


Just Sayin’…

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After sitting steady in the $15,000 owed range for my auto loan debt (as you can see, from February through April), it feels pretty awesome for these debt payments to have kicked into high gear in the past few months. Seeing the balance dip just below $7,000 = priceless! It’s going to be gone quickly now!

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Hope you’re all experiencing some fun wins, too! It definitely helps keep motivation high and the momentum rolling!

Happy Thursday!

 


Skating on Thin Ice

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Since I’ve started working full time (and having the steady full-time paychecks that come along with it), I’ve noticed one BIG change in hubs’ and my mentality toward debt payments:  We’re a lot more eager than we used to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We’ve always been eager to get out of debt! But what I mean is that we aren’t taking as many precautions and have a little bit dangerously low safety net in place currently.

Prior to landing the full-time job, we had extremely variable income. In hubs’ job, alone, he’s had months where he’s made nothing and months where he’s made nearly $10,000! That’s a huge fluctuation! While my income was always a little bit more stable (in terms of the same amount of money almost every month), it was an adjunct position so there was no stability in terms of long-term job security. I sign a semester-by-semester contract so I only ever have a guarantee for just a few months at a time.

My full time job now fills that void. It offers safety and security. I know that, no matter what, I’ll be getting a paycheck every two weeks for $X amount (of course, this is assuming I fulfill my job duties…I’ve never heard of anyone being fired mid-semester but I presume it could happen if one were to just drop off the face of the Earth or something drastic happened). But you get my point. This steady money provides a bit of a safety net that, otherwise, we had to do ourselves through savings.

So, although I don’t like how thin we’re running on money right now, we’ve been making some much riskier financial decisions than we have in the past.

All of our savings accounts are dangerously low. Under a thousand in our emergency fund. Only a couple hundred in our car repair fund, a couple hundred in our health/dental/vision fund, a couple hundred in our annual expenses fund. All of our savings are grossly under-funded right now. Plus, we’re slipping into a limbo of living on last month’s income. Basically, I still use my full-time paycheck to live on last month’s income, but all of my part-time pay I’ve started using toward the current month to boost up our debt payment figures. Same thing with hubs. He had a no-income month in August and, since then, I’ve been using his pay for the current month simply out of necessity! It’s a slippery slope and I know that we’re sliding a little bit.

I know all of these factors combined (very small EF and other savings, smaller safety net through “last month’s income”) can come back to bite us in the butt. But my thought process is this:

I really want to pay off our car. Like….I really, REALLY want to pay it off.

There are two ways that this could go:

  1. We have a super small safety net until the car is paid off. Then we bulk back up our savings and everything is fine. No big deal.
  2. We have a super small safety net and something happens that requires immediate money and attention (e.g., big car repair, unexpected health issue, etc.). We divert the money we WOULD have put toward car debt toward the new issue. The car isn’t paid off as quickly, but we all survive.

Maybe I’m missing something, but this is how it seems to me. Even if (knock on wood) we suffered some unforeseen financial blow, we have the funds to deal with it…it would just require us to put less toward debt. So it would blow the goal of paying off the car by December, but we would still be able to weather the storm.

To try to make sure this is the case, I’ve been putting off debt payments until late in the month when I know, for sure, exactly what hubs’ income is for the month, how much money we’ve got for the next month (from our now modified living on last month’s income fund), etc.

It certainly feels risky at times, but my hope is that this is only for three months. By the time the new year rolls around I hope and pray that we’ll be consumer debt-free (meaning, the car has been paid off). If that’s the case, then we may take January “off” of debt-payments (aside from minimum obligations) so we can re-stock some of these savings that really should be funded at a higher level.

That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see what curves life throws our way.

Have you ever lived with a super-low financial safety net for a period of time in order to try to meet some financial goals? If so, did it work for you?

We’ve done this once before. Back when we paid off our Wells Fargo credit card (in May 2014), I made a a giant payment (like $3500) to pay off the card in full before I even knew if we had the money available. To clarify, that’s when we had a 100% variable income (no steady pay), so we literally had the money in a checking account but I didn’t know if we’d have enough money coming in to cover the rest of our bills for the month! I made a giant leap and just paid the bill in full and crossed my fingers that it would all work out. Thankfully, it did. We earned enough to cover the rest of our bills and all was fine. I’m hoping for a repeat situation now. I want this car loan debt gone NOW!


Oh Happy Day!

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It’s such a happy day for me today, friends!

After many months of slowly chipping away at larger debts (last one paid off was in April 2015, but whose counting?) am able to finally announce that I’ve paid one (albeit small one) off in full!

TODAY, I am cleared of Navient loan 1-06.

The first time I ever broke apart my Navient loans for you was back in March 2015. At that time, loan 1-06 was sitting at $860.80.  For months now (really the whole time I’ve been blogging), I’ve only been paying minimums to this account which has only paid the interest (no reduction in principal). I paid a little extra on my unsubsidized federal student loan (which is not even listed in my Pandora’s Box spreadsheet – that spreadsheet only accounts for my Department of Education loans).

But then I’ve been having some SERIOUS drama with Navient. (mini-update:  there is no update. I was contacted by the mediation specialist who gathered some information and said it would likely be a full month before I hear back again. My loan that was transferred from ACS is still incorrectly classified as an unsubsidized loan and continues to accumulate interest when, due to my IBR status, the interest should be forgiven).

ANYWHO…..all the drama and frustration with Navient just makes me want them out of my life that much sooner! So I decided to also start chipping away at loan 1-06, as its my smallest loan (even though it is also a subsidized loan; I felt the small balance made it a good candidate to knock out quickly). So over the past few months I’ve put an extra $100 here and there toward it. Nothing huge. But then this month I logged into my account and saw the balance due was less than $500. And I just decided – I need this. Let’s go for it!

I talked to hubs (this required re-allocating some of our money a little bit differently than what we’d originally planned), and he was on board so I made the call and paid off the loan in full.

Logging in today I am THRILLED to see that big “No Payment Due” next to loan 1-06.

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I cannot wait until they all read that way!

Just as a reminder, I’m seriously on a mission now to pay off our car. It’s our last remaining consumer debt and my goal had been to have it paid in full by December. In this previous post I admitted defeat on that goal and settled for having it paid as early in 2016 as possible. Well, friends, I take that back again. It’s going to be tough. TOUGH! And we’re planning to travel in December, which makes it twice as tough (since hubs isn’t salaried he only gets paid when he works, plus we’ll be incurring travel costs, etc.). But I’m on a mission. It’s like back when I first started blogging and I was hell-bent on paying off my credit cards. I managed to pay off over $10,000 in credit card debt in three months! I still can’t believe that was me! It’s not like we were rolling in dough and had nothing better to do with it. That came about from a lot of hard work, careful budgeting, sacrifice, extra hours, etc. etc. etc. I’m on the same mission now. We have about $10,000 left on the car. 3 months worth of debt payments between now and the end of the year. Is it likely? Probably not. Is it possible? Maybe. Just maybe. I plan to give it a hell of a shot. I’ll let you know. ; )