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A Peek Into My Personal Debts

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Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done a full debt update post. It was interesting, as I was able to look back on my old posts while drafting this one to compare my debts and see how far I’ve come (and also where I’ve backpeddled). It feels vulnerable to lay out all my debts  for anyone on the internet to see. But maybe this is the exact thing I need to kick my rear back into gear and finally become debt-free once and for all!

So without further ado, here’s my July 2022 current list of debts:

DebtCurrent BalanceOriginal BalanceAPRMinimum PaymentJuly Payment
Carmax$16,084$20,539 (10/2021)3.45%$374$1,000
Aidvantage$26,561$96,020 (2014)0% currently$0 currently$0 paid; $1,000 saved
Total$42,645$116,559$374$2000

 

Notes and Explanations:

General:

The payment/amount saved is higher than normal. July is a 3 paycheck month so I budgeted for extra-high payments. Just wanted to give this general caveat so that when you compare to future debt posts, you know that the average month’s debt payments are typically lower than this months’ were.

 

Carmax:

I was SO EXCITED when I paid off my last car in 2016. If life had all gone according to plan, I would’ve been out-of-debt by now and would have paid for a new-to-me car in all cash.

Life did not, in fact, go to plan (does it ever?)

I loved my trusty Ford Explorer and vowed I’d drive it until the wheels fell off. Well, when exactly is that point? No, the wheels never fell off. But the car slowly started breaking down. Repeatedly. In the past three years, I was in-and-out of shops repeatedly. A quick glance through my budget shows the lowest I’d spent at these visits was $550. The highest was just over $1600. The average was close to $1200. I was spending about as much in car repairs per year as the vehicle was worth. I took my car to three different shops at different time points in the past 3 years, as I continued to have similar issues and I’d pay $1,000+ to get “it” fixed, only to have the problem return a few short months later. No one seemed to be able to figure it out.

Worst, I now considered the car to be unreliable. I didn’t feel safe driving out of town with it since it would randomly break-down on me (in fact, it did cause me to be stranded in El Paso at one point when I was trying to get back to Arizona). I stuck with it for a while because I was hardly driving once the pandemic hit and figured I could limp by. But the fact is that I like to visit Texas family once or twice per year (usually in summer and winter) and we drive to see them. I needed a reliable vehicle.

Let the car shopping begin…

And so in October of just last year, I traded in my old Explorer, just shy of 200,000 miles on the engine, and bought a new-to-me used car. Full disclosure – this is NOT a great time to buy cars. The costs are UP and there are almost no deals to be found. I didn’t end up with the car I really wanted (which cost another $20k than the car I ended up with!). Instead, I picked the car that fit all my “must haves” and that fit the budget. I was determined to stay at $20k or below (which is shockingly difficult, if you haven’t been car-shopping lately). Truth be told, this car was closer to $30k, but I was able to provide a down-payment and traded in my old car, so the amount financed was right at $20k.

I don’t “love” the new-to-me car. And it already had 50,000 miles when I bought it, so it probably won’t have the longevity that the Explorer had (which I owned for just shy of a decade!). My hope is to have it for the next 6 years, at which point my girls will be of driving age. Maybe at that time I’ll gift it to them and get myself a different vehicle. Hopefully with cash. Though I’ve learned that we make plans and God laughs, so we’ll see…

 

Aidvantage

Aidvantage bought my student loans (formerly owned by Navient). I doubled down on loan payments when interest was initially paused. I was making large monthly payments and was able to knock out my only student loan that was still accruing interest (most fell under the Covid-19 Loan Payment Pause and 0% Interest, but I had one federal loan that did not meet required criteria).

When Biden came into office and there was chatter of potential loan forgiveness, I wondered if I was making a bad financial decision by putting so much money into my student loan debt. I read financial blogs recommending to invest that money instead, for example.

So in February 2021, I decided to open a high-yield savings account dedicated to student loan savings. At this point, I am not making payments directly toward my student loans. Instead, I’m putting money into my savings account. My goal is to have the money sit, accrue some interest, and once I have enough to make a payment large enough to knock out an entire loan, I’ll transfer it over. At this point, I have four student loans in the approximate amounts of: 5k, 6k, 7k, and 8k (just using round numbers for ease).

Some months I save a lot (like this month – I saved $1,000!). Other months I save very little (e.g., $200). To be honest, I haven’t had a big focus on the student loans given that they are currently interest-free and I now have a car payment to contend with. I’d rather knock it and its 3.45% APR out before turning my attention back to the student loans.

 

What are your thoughts?

Now that its all laid out there, I’d love to know your thoughts, especially in regard to the student loans. Am I foolish not to be making direct payments toward the loans? Or should I take the money from my savings and throw it directly at my car loan, given that its currently accruing interest? Or some other approach all together?

I obviously don’t love the backslide here with gaining a car payment (especially after not having one for nearly 6 years!). But life happens. And I’m still pretty proud of where I’m at. No credit card balances or medical debts. No furniture store accounts or legal fee debts (all of which were things reported on my initial debt report when I started blogging back in 2014). I may have backslid a bit, but I’m still leaps and bounds ahead of where I started. <3

Why I Didn’t Go To College

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Why I Didn't Go To College

I have a confession to make—I didn’t go to college. I’m a bit embarrassed that my highest level of education is high school, so I don’t talk about it very often. I worry that people won’t trust a personal finance writer who isn’t college-educated. 

It was always expected that my sister and I would go to college. Because my dad was a first-generation college graduate, he strongly believed in the value of higher education and wanted us to pursue it. 

However, my parents didn’t anticipate how much the cost of college would rise over the years. They didn’t set aside enough money for our education, so my sister had to take out over $100,000 of student loans to cover tuition at her private college. My parents offered to pay off her loans and are still working on them today, eight years after her graduation. 

Watching my parents struggle under the weight of my sister’s student debt gave me pause. It made me rethink the concept of taking out loans to get an education and starting adult life with a negative net worth. Here’s an overview of why I didn’t go to college and a look at whether or not I regret my decision. 

My Parents Offered to Pay for My Education (But Clearly Couldn’t Afford It)

When I started my college search, my parents told me not to worry about the cost of college with promises that they’d pay off my loans. But knowing that they’d committed to pay off six-figures worth of loans for my sister, it was clear they couldn’t afford to send me to college. I didn’t want to put them even further in the hole and force them to delay their retirement. 

I continued with the college search to keep my options open. Unfortunately, my college counselor steered me away from state schools and toward more exclusive, prestigious private colleges. I went to a private all-girls high school with pretty expensive tuition, so he likely assumed money wasn’t an issue for my family. I was too embarrassed to admit I needed to look at more affordable schools, so I only toured and applied to the expensive private colleges he suggested. 

This was a big mistake and something I regret. I should’ve done more research and taken ownership of my college search process. However, I was only 17 and had no idea how the world worked, so I’m willing to forgive my past self!

I imagine this is how many college grads get into crushing student debt. They focus on finding the school of their dreams, ignore the cost, and end up sorely regretting it when they have to start paying back their loans after graduation. 

Why I Backed Out of School

With college decision day looming, I decided on a small private college that allowed students to more or less create their own curriculum. Tuition for just one year was $60,000. My dad went through the process of finding and applying for student loans on my behalf during the summer. 

All that was left to do was sign on the dotted line and get funding for my first semester. But looking at the huge amount of money I was promising to repay made me feel physically ill. I just couldn’t get myself to sign off on it, so I decided to back out of college at the last minute. 

Do I Regret Skipping College?

Instead of going to college, I decided to get a part-time job and take classes at a local writing center to hone my communication skills. The classes were all taught by pretty accomplished published authors. I learned a lot about creative writing and contract work through that writing center, which helped me start my freelance writing business a few years later. 

I’m happy with my career choice, and I don’t think my decision to skip college has cost me many opportunities. Some companies prefer to hire freelancers who have college degrees. But generally, clients focus on my portfolio and my education doesn’t really come up. 

Studies have shown that women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more during their careers than women who didn’t attend college. However, I don’t think I’d be earning much more if I went to college and majored in English. I decided I wanted to become a freelance writer when I was in high school and planned to pursue it after college. I would probably be earning about the same amount of money if I had gone to college, but I’d be buried in student loans. 

Overall, I don’t regret my decision to skip college. Starting work earlier allowed me to save up enough money for a down payment while living with my parents and become a homeowner in my twenties. My partner and I earn enough money to live a comfortable (albeit frugal) lifestyle and meet most of our financial goals. 

While we all wish we had more money, I’m content with where I am in my career. I’m sure my income will increase over time as I gain more experience and raise my hourly rate. 

Wrapping Up

I’d love to hear about your experience with higher education. Did you go to college? Why or why not? If you graduated with student debt, what strategies did you use to pay it off quickly? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below! 

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Hello, old friend(s)!