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Update to Plan #1: Pay Off Debt

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At the end of October, I revealed my initial plan to pay off debt after being so focused on saving since I started my new job this past March. It had been a long time since I could focus on that goal with so much of my energy focused on keeping us housed and fed during the time I was unemployed or at least under employed. This plan had three goals:

  • Pay off my Amazon line of credit
  • Pay off my computer line of credit
  • Settle one of my collections accounts (the largest one at the time)

Dec 1 Status Update

Amazon – As of Nov 1, I paid off the Amazon account and have not used it since.  Doing a happy dance for debt pay off and celebrating self control!

Computers – I have continued to pay the minimum due on most of my bills and we have focused on not spending unless it is a need (with the exception of our Thanksgiving trip to Orlando) and as a result, I believe I will be able to pay off this debt in whole the week after Christmas.  I will make my end of the year goal by the skin of my teeth, barring any emergencies. I will pay off this debt! I will keep you posted.

Collections – I made the call to this account to discuss a settlement or pay to remove situation and they were not willing to negotiate much. I got angry and hung up.  And to be honest, with the goal of paying off the computers, I am not sure I could have done this too.  BUT…the other collection account (several smaller bills held by one company) is willing to negotiate and remove the items from my credit report once paid.

Making Money

I mentioned recently about my W2 employer’s “notice of firing” for lack of a better description. I could write a really long rant on that situation, but I am controlling myself. Anyways, I have been applying for jobs like a mad person and spending a lot of time looking for freelance work as well.  I am happy to update that I have had several nibbles at freelance work, good work. I am in the middle of the interview process with several companies and am doing some introductory work for a couple as well.  I feel good, at least better, about the situation.

With that being said, if I can bring in some extra money in December my goal is to tackle goal #3 with the collection account, just not the one I originally planned.  With that being the goal and I’m hopeful I will be able to make it happen. I guess it’s time for me to come up with my next steps in my paying off debt plan!

I’ll get a debt update posted in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions on what my next goals should be.  I won’t be able to focus on anything else until the new year and will have to temper that with what my job situation is looking like, but right now, today, I’m hopeful and proud of the steps I am taking.

 


Ashley’s Bloated Budget

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I have to be honest. I’m totally nervous about this post.

When I first started blogging here back in early 2014, I experienced a lot of backlash. It’s tough to put your entire financial world out there on the internet for a bunch of strangers. And tougher, still, to take in the comments and criticism of very personal financial decisions.

But then the tides changed once I started experiencing some success.

Within 3 months of beginning to blog, I paid off over $10,000 in credit card debt. In total, I paid off just over $25,000 of debt in 2014, just over $26,000 of debt in 2015, and over $30,000 of debt in 2016!!!

Once I was winning with money, the criticisms mostly melted away. I felt more support and encouragement. Not as much judgement or negativity.

Then the summer of 2017 occurred. Poor spending decisions have been made. Income has been reduced. Outflow has increased. I’ve been struggling with some personal mental health issues which have prevented me from spending as much time and attention with our family budget as I should have. Things have just spiraled.

There’s no one single “thing.” It’s more like an avalanche of smaller stuff. Death by a thousand cuts. And all the sudden I look up and realize that our minimum monthly debt payments are so out-of-hand that I don’t know what to do. We’re nickel and diming ourselves to death. To the point that we have no money for food. We have to rely on credit to buy our groceries.

I tried to start over from scratch. I’ve been using YNAB, but I haven’t been able to make the money work for several months now. Our expenses exceed our income, no matter what I do or how I try to shuffle things around, there’s just not enough. So I opened a simple Excel spreadsheet. I wrote my monthly take-home pay at the top and started listing expenses in order of importance. Here’s what I got:

We’re down to $1264 to spend on all of our monthly needs in terms of food and clothing, savings, and/or additional debt payments.  It doesn’t feel like enough….especially since the debt figure ($1098) does NOT include any student loan payments, given that they’re in deferment currently.

On my post about increasing student loan payments, many people tried to give me encouragement that we COULD put $1,000/month toward student loans. That it was totally possible.

Well…..not with only $1264 at the end of the month. Not when we don’t have enough money to buy food or gasoline for our cars. Not when there’s zero wiggle-room because we literally don’t have a single penny in any emergency fund. Not when Christmas is coming up and we have no way to buy gifts for friends or families. Not when our property taxes are coming due!

Can we decrease our fixed bills? The “utilities” line item ($650) includes water, electric, HOA, cable, internet and phone. We can try little things to save on energy, but we’re in a contract with the cable/internet company and same with our phones. HOA is also “set.” So not a lot of wiggle room there.

We do have some debt payments that have lower balances – once we knock them out we can reduce the monthly minimum. But we can’t just be paying minimum payments – we have got to be paying as much over minimum as possible in order to make any headway.

I’m preparing a full debt update so you can see a larger financial picture (give me a couple days to get it posted). But it seems pretty clear to me – we have to find ways to increase our income. $4880/month is not enough for us to achieve our financial goals.

My sister recently added me to a Dave Ramsey Facebook group. It’s been a huge motivational boost to see so many stories of sacrifice and determination. So many debt-free success stories, pictures of fully paid homes, etc. I know we will get there. Our path hasn’t been linear and I think that’s okay. Sometimes “life happens.” Sometimes you have to take a step back and focus on yourself or your family. But we don’t want to live in a state of debt like this forever. The only way out is to put our heads down and plow forward. And that’s just what we intend to do.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your constructive criticism. I’m back to square one here. Googling sample budget plans and just trying to figure out how to survive without taking on additional debt. I’m a little nervous and scared of the path ahead. Our first 2 years of debt-reduction were totally bare-bones. I remember the days well. That was back when I was working part-time from home so it was easier to cook from scratch, meticulously research and shop sales, etc. We’re in a totally different situation now.

It wasn’t easy then. It won’t be easy now. But nothing worth having ever is, now is it?

Give me all your tips! Link to web resources, give me book recommendations. Even just a word of encouragement is appreciated. Thank you all, especially those of you who have been around and seen my story evolve over the past nearly 4 years! It’s been quite a journey and we’re only half-way through it!

 


My Amazon Debt is GONE!!!

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My Amazon Debt is gone!!!  I moved the payment date up to today. I couldn’t resist. As of today, my Amazon line of credit is GONE! Paid in full.

amazon balance screenshot

Doing a happy dance over here and breathing a deep sigh as I set my sights on my other immediate goals.

New Budget = More Work

I spent a lot of time this weekend working on a new budget since I have voluntarily taken a temporary cut in pay. And I hate to say it, but we cannot maintain our current life without those addition hours or an equal amount of income. I am on the project hunt, applying through Guru.com and reaching out to past and current clients who might have some project work they need done.  I know from past experience I can either get really busy this time of year with one off projects or it will be really dry. Please send up a prayer for me.

New Sport = New Expense

Before I say this, I will admit, I am crazy and obsessed with providing my kids with every opportunity.  I get enough flack for that, so don’t think you have to tell me too (my attempt to stave off the whiplash I believe will come with this news.)  Princess recently tried out for a competitive volleyball team. She made it!  This team costs $1000 for the season. The fee includes all uniforms, tournament fees, training and so on. I reached out to her dad for financial assistance, we will see if he comes through.

Conclusion

I have one less monthly debt payment, and I plan to keep it that way – yeah!!!

I have a larger than manageable gap in my budget due to the cut in my regular 1099 hours.

I have a new substantial bill for the next few months ($300 due this week and then $175 monthly for the next 4 months.)

I’ve got my work cut out for me. And I would love some suggestions, specifically regarding making up the income as I really do not see anywhere I can cut in my budget, although I am still evaluating that.

Save

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Increasing Student Loan Payments

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Nothing like being kicked when you’re down, right?

Well, I’ve had a good run. After 3 years of Income Based Repayment where our student loan payments were only a couple hundred a month (it varied, but was never over $300/month in total), I knew there would be some changes in store after updating our income info using last year’s tax information (this update is required annually). What I did not know or expect, was that the change would be SOOOOOO extreme.

Overnight, we went from a minimum payment of $300….to a minimum payment of over $1,000. THAT’S MORE THAN OUR MORTGAGE!!!! My take-home pay is under $5,000/month, so we’re talking over 20% of our income!!! AHHH!!!!!

After my update, I was notified that we no longer qualified for IBR based on last year’s income. Unfortunately, this occurred during summer when all our finances just went straight to hell so I didn’t give it much thought like I should have.  No thought, that is, until the payment was auto-drafted and my account ended up being overdrawn.

To say I “freaked out” would be an understatement. It was my own fault for not paying closer attention, but I felt totally blind-sighted!

So I did something that maybe (probably?) messes up my credit. But I felt I had no option. I called and asked for my student loans to go into forbearance status for a few months. It was approved the same day. I’ve continued making smaller-sized payments (in the $200-$300 range), but no payment is actually due until January. I’m trying to reapply for IBR with our current income (since the update was based on our tax information from last year, it showed a much higher salary than what we have this year given that hubs no longer works and I dumped my part-time job, too).

Re-doing our current income paperwork is a whole process, as you can imagine.  I haven’t completed it yet but my hope is that this voluntary forbearance gives us the time to get all the paperwork submitted and processed and – fingers crossed – maybe we can get approved for a more reasonable-sized payment. It will still likely be larger than in the past. But we just cannot afford $1,000/month right now as a minimum payment. We’d be much more comfortable in the $300-ish range. I did talk to a representative who said there are other programs available, too (e.g., I was told we could apply for the “standard extended payment”). I’d love to get back on IBR if we can qualify but, if not, I’m glad other options exist. The one problem is the TIME it takes for all that stuff to be processed. I felt backed into a corner with the forbearance because I needed a lower payment NOW and didn’t have time to wait a month (or however long) for a new application to be processed and approved (or potentially rejected).

So that’s where we’re at with my student loans. Another piece of the messy financial puzzle.


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!!!!


IRS Frustrations

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The IRS is currently working its way to the top of my list of most hated organizations to deal with.

My current Top 3 List of Organizations I Hate Dealing With include:

#3. Social Security (I am the representative payee for my father so I have to deal with them in reference to his disability payments, and it suuuuuucks the life out of me!)

#2. IRS! Read more below.

#1. Navient. Oh Navient, you know how much I hate you.

(Side note: Hmmmm, interesting how 2 of the 3 are government organizations and the third is also backed by the federal government. Inefficiency, much???)

Nothing like calling the IRS, sitting on hold for half an hour, and then having the line disconnected. Only to call again, sit on hold again, and have it disconnected again. I think there might be a 30-minute time hold limit and then the IRS system automatically disconnects??? I’ve been sitting on hold while working at my desk so I’m not out and about with poor cell service or anything like that. Grrrr!!!!! If you can believe it, I’m still trying to set up a payment plan from my 2016 back-taxes!!!! AGH! In April we sent a huge payment and tried to initiate a payment plan at that time. Thought it was all set up, but it turns out it was never accepted. I’ve tried calling multiple times but have been thwarted every time (to clarify, I’ve been able to speak to people, but they can never help me – they have to mail me something to sign, or transfer me to another department. It’s a whole cluster-f over there)! I’ve been making payments online through their online system just so they’re receiving something, but it hasn’t been officially set up yet. I was just able to (fingers crossed) finalize everything today, but they still deal with 1983 technology so the official agreement has to be mailed out, signed, and returned. Sooooo, still not completely set up but at least it’s progress compared to the past 7 months of nonsense. The issue, if you’re curious, is that when we did our 2016 taxes we also had a small amount they claimed we owed from 2015. We had an accountant help us with everything and agree the 2015 charges shouldn’t exist. So everything was on “hold” with 2016 stuff because we’d refused to sign an IRS agreement of taxes owed for 2015. I guess they couldn’t move forward with any payment plans unless and until the discrepancy was resolved, which took a long time and a lot of snail-mail back-and-forth. (Who doesn’t use internet these days??? I mean, I know it’s secure info but there are lots of ways to encrypt email, right???)

Anyway, it’s been a pretty shitty past couple of days. A lot of stress with work drama and some nonsense going on at our kids’ school in addition to the ever-present financial stress we have in our lives currently. I’m glad to have this minor “win” on the IRS front. Not that it’s even been officially completed yet. But I think we’re finally on our last step. Supposedly, the papers will come in the mail, we sign and return, and everything should be set for our first OFFICIAL payment starting in December. We’ll be paying $283/month, which is significantly LESS than what I’d been paying previously through their online system. The reduced payment means we’ll be paying for a much longer period of time (ummmm, approximately forever???) But with our serious budget shortfall going on right now, we really can’t afford to continue making larger payments. So it is what it is. And we keep moving forward.

My motto the past few days has been: Make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today. My husband thought it sounded a little pessimistic, but I think it’s optimistic. Looking forward to a better tomorrow! 🙂


Credit Repair – Help Me Find the Best Methods

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Last year, without consulting the BAD community, I moved forward with a paid credit repair place to the tune of $400….over a year later and nothing has changed. In fact, it has mostly gotten worse.

$400 down the drain!

Now, I am wiser, I hope, and way more cautious. But I desperately need to make progress on my credit score. With that being said, I have been doing quite a bit of research.  That’s where the Self Lender loan idea came from.  I am looking at 609 letters, goodwill letters, paying things off and so on. But I want to make wise decisions and use my time and efforts wisely.

Credit Warriors

One place I have found particularly helpful, and no, I have not spent a dime, is Credit Warriors. I especially like their Facebook group. It’s good to hear about other’s successes in traveling the path I am just now started. My number one goal is get to my credit score up significantly. And in learning more about it, I want to teach my kids more about it.

So BAD Community, here I am asking for your best tried and true guidance for credit repair: links, first hand stories and so on. I am game to hear it all.

 


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