20-Something, Hipstercrite Life

How to Handle Debt: A Personal Story


The other day, I posted on Hipstercrite’s Facebook page that I had just finished paying off my car, and in a several months, my credit cards too.

I’ve written about debt before; like many twenty-somethings, I’ve been strapped with school loans, credit card and car payments for most of my third decade.

When you’re facing debt, it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, many mornings you wake up in a cold sweat, suffocating from the heavy blanket of your finances.

I was raised by a fiscally conservative mother who always paid her bills on time. When she pushed me forth into the world that was the only advice she gave me. Fresh out of college, I landed a salaried position in Los Angeles and thought I was set. Boy, was I dumb!

My debt was established in several steps: 1.) I often used my credit card to go out to eat (I was very sad and lonely in LA and didn’t want to be at home) 2.) I foolishly put the down payment of my new car on a credit card and tied myself with six years of monthly payments 3.) I had two credit cards and applied for a third in hopes of condensing my balances down to one card, but the third card would only take part of the balance and I ended up with three credit cards 4.) At 25, I left my salaried job due to being burnt out, made less money working temporary “soul-searching” jobs, fell slightly behind and was afraid to communicate with my creditors about falling behind.

By the time I moved to Austin, Texas to reexamine my life and career (with $500 in my pocket), the creditors had slapped me with 29% APR and I couldn’t make the minimums payments. That first year in Austin was a challenging one. I’ve managed to push this out of my memory, but I now recall working two jobs totaling 70-80 hours a week to try and catch up.

Listening to your heart instead of your brain doesn’t bode well for your finances. I compared myself to my friends who had gone a more traditional route, who acquired good-paying, salaried jobs and stayed with them. Why couldn’t I be more like that? Why was I so restless and had to leave my career and fall behind? Getting multiple phone calls from my creditors a day didn’t help my already suffering self-esteem. I felt like a huge loser and I was frustrated that my career confusion was making it difficult for me to catch up.

Tired of feeling like a turd and being harassed by creditors, I got serious and researched ways that I could get my finances under control. I discovered a non-profit credit counseling service that helped me get my credit cards under control. They were able to negotiate with my creditors lower APR rates and put me on track for an affordable four year pay-off plan. I’ve religiously made payments and by the end of the year all my credit cards will be paid off.

Within five years, I will have paid off my car and credit cards and owe less than $5,000 on my school loans. After that, I will be debt-free (until I want to buy a house or maybe go back to school…sigh). The point of this post is that I know how terrifying debt can be and I know many of us have it. What I didn’t realize back then is that all my friends who took the “safe” road, the road I envied, still suffer from debt. Their excellent educations often equated to costly price tags and some pay upwards to $1,000 a month for school loans. Though I became disillusioned with my career early on, many of them are becoming disillusioned at thirty, but are terrified to leave because they have debts that their current job can only afford.

We’re all in this boat together. If you have debt, you are not alone. You are not the only person getting multiple phone calls from creditors and sending them to voice mail. You’re not the only person who is having their car or house threatened to be taken away. You are not the only person in this current economy facing pay cuts and job loss that may affect your finances. You are not a failure. Everyone, rich and poor, are faced with debt and foreclosure and bankruptcy (except the rich can get by a little more easily). Instead of ignoring your debts, take the action you need to wipe it away. Five years ago I never thought I would see a debt-free day, and now it’s right on the horizon.

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  • Reply Leigh Ann April 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Lauren, this is huge! Debt control and finances are something that should be taught in high school. I know all of the students wouldn’t take it to heart, but there’s got to be a few that would.

    We stupidly put a down payment for my husband’s truck on a credit card years ago, because we truly did not see that it was debt either way. So dumb. The APR on the truck was so high that when we were finally able to refinance a year later, the loan amount was about the same as when we bought it. We paid $450/month for a year for nothing. How we did it I have no idea because neither of us was making squat.

    But 12 years later he is still driving that truck…we’re on a plan to pay off our house much earlier than planned, so I hope we can make it stick. Oh, the equity!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 3, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Leigh Ann, you are so right! I wish they taught it in high school and college! Remember Home Economics class? Ha! Good for you on paying off the truck and your house quicker.

  • Reply Benny April 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    So many people who have just gotten out of debt say “Don’t ever do it. Sure, I took risks and learned a lot, but you shouldn’t.” Most advice out there amounts to “Get a time machine. Don’t go to college. Don’t leave your parents’ house.”
    Nice job providing some *real* advice!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 3, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks, Benny!

  • Reply Lauren April 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Due to me being kinda irresponsible in my 3rd decade, I have been saddled hardcore with debt in my 4th decade. New car, $9k to go.. One measly $300 credit card paid off with my tax return (yay for finally being responsible once) $1300 on the other, and a Mercedes Benz(maybe?) worth of student loans to pay back. I know this feels, HARD. Thank you for reading my sob-story, it got worse, but I don’t want to rain too hard on the parade. Congrats on paying everything off!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Lauren, my debt was close to the same amount as yours. My school loans were less, but my car and credit cards were hirer. You’ll get there, girl!

  • Reply Jess April 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you ,once again, for posting something so honest and refreshing. Reading your pieces sometimes seriously saves me- just knowing there is anyone out there that takes the road less traveled and struggles in similar ways.You overcoming and reaching goals is really inspirational!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Awwww! Thank you, Jess. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Your comment gives ME inspiration!

  • Reply Elisa April 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about this!

    • Reply hipstercrite April 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you so much for reading, Elisa!

  • Reply Tara April 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    When hubs & I got married, we both came in with car loans, credit cards & SUBSTANTIAL student debt and neither of us had any financial sense. The majority of his student debt was paid by the Army & then I inherited a ton of money & settled the credit card debt. We’ve since learned how to handle ourselves financially but it’s taken well into our mid-30s. I still have an assload of student debt (~ $150k) but I keep hoping one day that’ll magically disappear.

  • Reply grace b April 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I have about $26K in debt and it freaks me the eff out. I am slowly paying down a small loan but I consolidated a bunch of loans last year and now have a big loan coming in this June. And I’m unemployed. Living off of my boyfriend’s meager retail salary. Job hunting fell by the wayside this last month for a variety of reasons (#1 being that I wanted to live life instead of feeling shitty on a daily basis).

    So basically, Lauren your story REALLY inspired me. As does the fact that you made a movie happen and went to SXSW and all that stuff! I love reading your blog.

  • Reply Corrin April 4, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Good for you! I’ve always been good with money but my ex-husband’s finances were in shambles when we got married (which I only found out after we were married) so took over. I refinanced, transferred balances, and paid overdue bills. Everything ended up in my name to repair his credit so we could move across the country and buy a house. (I’m sure you see where this is going.) Five years later, I’m divorced, 3,000 miles from home, with all our mutual debt in my name, plus a car and student loans.

    I’ve been managing, but haven’t been getting anywhere, so after lots of researched I applied for a loan from Lending Club. All I can say is crowdsourcing FTW. I was able to cut my interest rate in half and consolidate all my debt. I can now breath a little easier knowing I have some extra money in my monthly budget AND I’ll be debt-free in under 3 years.

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