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Credit Card Debt Calculator”

Tell me a story about your debt

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I’m wondering if you can do me a favor. Tomorrow, I’m giving a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about debt for young people, and I’d love to hear your stories about how debt has affected you.

How much debt do you have (and what kind)? How old are you? How did you get into debt? How does it make you feel?

Don’t worry if your stories seems depressing or boring or unusual. I really am interested in hearing it, and in hearing your honest thoughts about how debt has affected you. If you can add a comment with as much detail as possible in the comments, I’ll try to use a couple of the stories tomorrow during the panel.

[Update]: The comments people have already left are amazing.

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190 Comments

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  1. indebt College Graduate Link to this comment

    I am 28 years old, working as a Software Developer.

    I have $50k in college loans. ~14,000 is at 4.5% interest and is actually a loan my mother took out for me, that i am taking responsibility for, the rest is at 3% interest. ~$400 a month in payments Payments total . I also have $5000 in credit card debt, paying ~$300/month…but it never seems to go away lol

    My college debt has really kept me from taking on any other major debt, such as a home or even a car loan. I feel like this large student loan hanging over my head needs to be paid before i can take on more debt! $50k in debt makes me feel like i already bought a really nice car…or a really cheap house.

    The loans also limit my mobility and limit my flexibility. I was trying to start my own business, but the loan payments increase my cost of living artificially by $400/month. I also have to keep it in mind when looking to relocate for work.

    The credit card debt bothers me less, as that can go away…yes i may have a stain on my credit for time, but the debt is gone. The 50k loan cannot be removed by bankruptcy…cant make deals to pay less (like i have done in the past with credit card companies) or anything…though it can be deferred for a limited time if you meet the deferment requirements.

  2. I have a mortgage on my house, about 2/3rds of it’s value. I have a joint mortgage on two other investment properties with some partners. I have line of credit and margin debt near $75K that is invested mostly in the stock market.

    I have zero consumer debt. No car payment or credit cards at all.

    I am excited about my debt because it makes me feel like I’m running a business. I obtain capital and try to get a return on it that is higher than its cost. I have developed a feeling about how much debt I can handle. By doing lots of analysis over the years I get a feeling when the ship becomes a little too tipsy. For example, I feel moderately comfortable leveraging real estate and less comfort leveraging the stocks. At some point it becomes too risky: like if a few bad things happened then I would start to lose money. If I can’t handle the downside I don’t do it.

    I hope to get into larger ventures in the future.

  3. outwiththejive Link to this comment

    I am graduating this week with an undergraduate degree in finance. Of course, to get it I had to take on a good bit of debt. I currently have $20k in student loans, $1,500 in credit card debt, and a $12k car loan. Overall, I think my debt situation isn’t too awful. I’m handling the monthly payments well, and don’t feel too much strain as I prepare my budgets.

    One major point: my church has provided many useful tools to help individuals and families deal with financial issues. You can look it all up at http://providentliving.org. In particular, I like the manual called “One for the Money”. It provides some excellent guidance on getting out of debt without bankruptcy or other extreme means. Of course, not all programs work for all people, but it’s a nice place to start.

  4. I used to have quite a bit of debt when I was out of college. Lets just say I was young and stupid: I made quite a bit of money through some internships and also got a lot of student loans. While I squandered my “fortune” away (mostly on eating out and being very careless on where I spend).

    – When I graduated, I had almost $21000 USD in debt.

    – In addition to that, I had almost ~$600 debt in a credit card. Not much, but my foolishness that was to follow made it twice as much.

    – After graduating (2002) the market was at an all time low, so finding a job was almost impossible. I found a job in India and decided to take it since I thought its better to have some relevant work experience as opposed to working odd jobs (the best option ie. highest paying, that I had, was working at a cheese factory outside of Calgary, AB).

    – The money for the minimum credit card payments ran out and it stressed me so much, that, like an idiot, I ignored it. It went into default and I had to borrow to pay (~$1000).

    – If that was not the end, I neglected to find out how many student loans I had (3 in all) and setup auto-pay for only 2. Naturally, the third went delinquent and I had no clue.

    – Then one day, I got a call from a lady with a North American accent. I thought it was for a job offer (this makes me laugh at myself now). She was from a collections agency. My “third” student loan that I never knew about was now due. Great! $4000 was now ~$6000 due and raking up $100 everyday. This was going to be fun!

    – I had to beg/borrow from family to pay this off. (this was Jan 2003, six months out of college and 1 month into being married). Obviously, my credit score was in the dump.

    – This episode served as a wake up call. I was married, in debt, and had no idea about my finances. Something that just seemed unacceptable.

    – Instead of shirking these responsibilities I decided that before I fix anything, I want a clear picture where I stand and make sure I do not ruin anything further. Then I’ll sit and formulate a strategy on how to fix this self-inflicted mess for good.

    – I started with a very simple excel sheet, writing down all the money I owed in detail. I called each and every financial agency I must have dealt with and asked them if my account had any negative balances. This way I could make sure I did not overlook anyone. Next, I wrote down how much cash I have in my India+canada+USA accounts. This gave me a rough net-worth. (Negative of course)

    – I made sure that there was enough cash in my Canadian accounts to pay my loans and enough in my India accounts for emergencies.

    – After coming back to Canada, I started working crazy hours at odd jobs (not the cheese factory, since I still could not find a regular job) to rack up as much money as I could to pay off my debt. It was simply an obsession for my wife and I to end this feeling of being in debt.

    – We were frugal, but happy. Its not like we did not go out or have a good time. We were just very careful and made sure we met our monthly saving and bill payment targets.

    – Soon I got a job in the US and things improved financially. For the first 8 months into my US-job we saved every single penny we could (for example: for those eight months we had a 11 inch black and white TV in our house that my cousin bought for me for $2. The upside was we did not get addicted to TV and hence did other productive things).

    – I paid off my debt in Canada seven months into my job in the US.

    – Since then, my accounting for personal finances has gone from a simple excel sheet to a complex combination of microsoft money and excel. My wife thinks its an obsession. For me, its just avoiding silly mistakes I made when I was young, and trying to make sure we’re never high n’ dry again.

    – My credit in the US is near stellar. I have no idea about my Canadian credit score. I tried to find out through the equifax.ca site a couple of times, but the site is less than stellar.

  5. I am only very recently debt free as of 2 months ago.

    I graduated from college in December of 2004 and had $10,000 in student loans. (My parents helped pay for some of school, and then i worked part time and paid for most of my living expenses).

    When I first graduated, I received a credit card that had 1 year of interest free use. I knew in my head that I should pay off the card in full every month. But with the mental “safety net” providing me false reassurance, there were a few months where it didn’t get paid off in full which kept rolling over each month thereafter. Towards the end of the first year I almost wasn’t able to pay off the balance in full.

    It wasn’t because I had racked up a huge amount of credit card debt (it was less than $2000 that month total, I use it for everything in order to keep track of expenses/ease of use), it was just a sudden realization that “oh crud, I need to be able to pay all of that off next month” I had forgotten about the interest free portion until it was almost too late. I was only able to salvage the situation by going -incredibly- frugal that month.

    Upon graduation I also bought a used car on a $12,000 loan. I focused on paying this off as quickly as possible. Applying most of my commissions check towards this loan (I’m in sales, 66% base salary, 33% commissions). This took about a year and a half to pay off.

    So having learned that lesson about how to manage a credit card, and paying off my car note. I then went about focusing on eliminating my student loan.

    My motivation for doing all of this was becuse I met a wonderful girl who agreed to marry me. Her other wonderful qualities aside, she is a wonderful spendthrift, and had 0 debts, and great financial habits. I didn’t want to bring any of my debt burden into our marriage so I vowed to pay off my student loan before we got married. (I also made sure to pay for the ring in cash).

    I only accomplished this feat by not raising my standard of living much higher than it was in college.

    I’m pretty good about spending, but I was initially a poor planner. And it requires planning and forethought to remain in good financial standing.

    My situation is far better off than most and I still almost got mired in debt.

    I had 10k of student loans (parents paid for the rest, I am very fortunate there)

    I had a 12k car loan

    I narrowly avoided credit card perils. I paid off 22k of debt in just over two years. It was hard. Very Hard. I figure that I have made about 95k since graduation, which is more than alot of people.

    So if I make more than most, and had less debt than most, and it was this difficult to pay everything off… I can’t imagine the dire straights other people are in. My generation needs help. Spread the word.

  6. My husband and I together have $30k in student loans (my half is a government loan @ 3% interest, his half is a loan through his parents at no interest). We’re both of the opinion that our college educations were entirely worth the debt that we’re in, and the monthly payments ($200/month for both) are quite manageable. We were lucky to have help from family, scholarships, and jobs to pay for most of it. I feel fortunate to have escaped the burden that I see so many students going through now.

    As for consumer debt, we have $6k on our used car (6% interest), and a $1000 helper loan through my parents for this year’s expenses (no interest). We have no credit card debt, of which I am very proud, but we do struggle at times to pay off what we’ve put on the card at the end of every month–cash flow can be an issue.

    I think we have as much debt as we can handle at the moment. We’re looking into what it takes to buy a house, but are despairing because of the exorbitant prices around us, even for a modest 2-bedroom cottage ($300k in our neighborhood) or rowhouse/townhouse ($250+). The prospect of paying off something as enormous and binding as a mortgage is frightening, despite the benefits of owning property and the supposed-guarantee of a return on your investment.

    My husband and I have told ourselves that want to craft a lifestyle where we work to live, not live to work, and biting off more debt than we can chew would prevent that. I’m working on starting a wedding/portrait photography business, and he’s building up clients as a piano technician (currently my business is in a little bit of debt, but he’s sitting pretty). We both want to avoid the 9 to 5 and be creative in how we provide for our future family (there’s a baby on board, did I mention that?).

    We’ve resigned ourselves to not being superstars making 6-figure salaries, and if that means a smaller home, renting for longer, or doing without a few things, we’re completely okay with that. In many ways, growing up with less than what we were accustomed to growing up with has given us a sense of humility, and hopefully worn down the sense of entitlement that gets build up in all the media around us.

    Overall, debt scares me. I don’t want to owe anything to anyone, and the fact that my net worth is in the negatives right now is concerning. It seems strange that most people live this way, without having a heck of a lot in savings, or any way of dealing with an emergency. If anything catastrophic happened to us, we’d be in trouble, and I don’t like htat.

  7. I have about 15k in credit card debt. Some of it is from college and the rest is from trying to keep myself “afloat” during a lengthly unemployment.
    I pay as much as I can every month but it never seems to go away.
    It has been a huge burden on me and has probably cost me a couple of great relationships.
    I am considering taking a second job and cutting my expenses to bare minimums until it is gone.
    It seems every time I think I am getting things under control something else pops up like a car repair or another unexpected expense.
    One thing I have learned is having this “bad” debt is the absolute worst feeling I have ever had I won’t let myself fall into this trap again, once I get out.

  8. I am 23 years old and work as an HIV/AIDS Case Manager for the govt. After taxes, withholdings, heath insurance, etc., I make $1000 biweekly.

    I graduated from college in June 2006. I went to community college for two years, my dad paid for my junior year of University (UCSB), and I paid for my senior year. I graduated with $5500 in loans which are at 6.89% for the next year.

    I’ve paid off around $1800 so far, so now I have $3990 left to pay off. I’m trying to put around $600 a month to them, but I’m also wondering if that money would be better used in a retirement account.

    I haven’t opened up an IRA yet, but I’m looking into a T. Rowe Price Roth IRA.

    I currently have no credit card debt. When I was in my post-graduation job search I lived on my credit card for a couple months, so it was well over $1000 but I finished paying that off last month.

    I have 17 payments left on my car ($244 each).

    That’s it! If you have any questions, feel free to email me!

    Allison

  9. I am 29 years old, have a BA & 1 year of grad school which contributed to student loan debt of $38k. I am not terribly worried about it, as I can’t imagine where I’d be without it. My consolidated interest rate is 5%. I have $18k in retirement and try to save at least 10% of my income in retirement. Overall, I like to save.

    Yet, I can’t seem to keep a liquid savings account for emergencies or save for a down payment on a house. I would have to use a credit card if something major hit. There always seem to be more variable expenses creeping up. I make $52k/yr. I recognize that part of my problem is that I like to treat myself to the typical consumer bs that I don’t really need which really annoys me. How much food & clothing does a girl really need? I spent $20/wk on food in college and luckily vintage clothing was in style. It amazes me how much more I spend on this crap now.

    I don’t have credit card debt, although I did for a time and learned my lesson. I don’t have a car payment and don’t want one and drive my paid for used car very little & ride my bike. I hope to have a house in the future. I like money and hope to get better at taming my demons and reaching my financial goals.

    thanks for the blog!

  10. I have about $16K of student debt. Three years ago it was $26K but my husband and I (really it was him) have made valiant strides to pay it down, though we’re going to ease up a bit. We’re both 25. We don’t have any other debt right now, including car payments, mortgages, or any unsecured debt.
    My only problem with the debt is that it was theoretically supposed to make me be fruitful and bring home a big salary, but that hasn’t really been the case so far. Then again, that’s one of the pitfalls of marrying someone in the military. It’s not insane debt, and we have another 17 years to pay it off, so really, it’s not a concern of mine at all.

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