My story starts off in the same romantic flurry lots of American stories start. It ends with a less romantic, but just as typical, American pang of poverty.
Growing Up in Poverty
My parents were high school sweethearts. My dad was in the Navy, and his job took both of them from Ohio to Hawaii, where my brother and I were born. We moved to Connecticut when I was 5 years old, and by the time I was 7, my father had left my mother to raise the two of us on her own. It proved to be immediately difficult. My mom had just a high school education and was forced to work three jobs to keep food on the table. She worked as a welder, a CNA and did housekeeping, too. Eventually, she ended up becoming a corrections officer for the state of Connecticut. She was a great mom, a great example and a very strong woman who gave me and my brother good memories, but we had a tough life. Having no dad around and a busy mom, we basically brought ourselves up, washing, cooking for, and taking care of ourselves from a young age. I think it was good in a sense though because it made me stronger.
In high school, I loved History and English, and pretty much every other aspect of school life. I had a lot of friends, I was a peer tutor, a peer counselor, I was in a glee club, I was on a track team and I did tennis. I worked really hard to go to college where I majored in political science and minored in Psychology. I was determined to become a lawyer. I had a scholarship that helped me pay for my first year and allowed me to just focus on my studies because there was no way my mom had enough money to help me pay. Sadly, soon enough poverty caught up with me again. My mom tried to help me out, but I still had to take out student loans and started working three jobs to pay for classes. When I wasn’t studying, I worked in the college mailroom, at Limited at the mall, and I would come home of the weekends and work at an ice cream place that I worked at since I was 15. That’s when I had my first real glimpse of what it’s like to be in debt. Of course, I had my student loan debt. But more than that, I got my first credit card then, too. I remember sitting in my class at college, and on the board sitting next to me was an advertisement for Citibank student visa. And I was like, “Wow, I probably could get one of those!” So I applied for this credit card. They gave me a $250 limit, and how much damage can you really do with $250? At first, I did really well. I had three jobs, so I could pay my bills every month, and it was only about $18 a month at the time. After 6 months of making your payments on time, they increase your limit. And they kept doing that. As an 18 or 19-year-old kid, who just keeps getting more money given to them, you use it. That feels like free money. Nobody ever teaches you that what happens with interest rate, and when that compiles and then how much money you end up owing. After about 2 years, I was $11,000 in the hole.
And at the same time, I was a full-time student. Honestly, college is hard enough as it is. I couldn't hold down three jobs and take five classes and be able to keep going at the pace that I was going. I had to make a choice and at that time my mom just couldn’t help me. So after three years, I had to leave school.
Finally Flourishing in Florida
I ended up moving to Florida, where I took a job through a staffing agency as an HR assistant for a geotechnical engineering firm. I felt like I just needed to get away from everybody and everything that I knew. I was in $13,000 of debt from college, $11,000 in debt from my credit card and even more from the move to Florida. When you would get that high balance, and all of a sudden you see what the interest payment is because they break that out for you. And I thought, “Oh my goodness, I am paying a fortune in interest.” I managed to pay it all down. I kept a very low balance on my card and I kept paying my monthly payments.
And, at the same time, I really started to flourish. I thought my job was fascinating, and I thought the people I worked with and the friends I made were fascinating, too. I really felt like I was finally truly getting in the swing of things. But then I got a call and had to move home to Connecticut. My mom had breast cancer.
In Florida, I felt like I had my fresh start. And then I came back to the old familiar: same places, same people, same everything. That was kind of disappointing. I got another job at a big payroll company, but I didn’t love it. I left and worked for a smaller professional employment organization as an HR manager and I stayed with them for 4 years. I was making $25,000 a year, which was exciting for me.
My mom got better, and I started my family in Connecticut. I built my career up so that I was an HR manager, I got married, and I had my first child. When my son was 3, he was diagnosed with autism, and shortly after that, I had my daughter. I was forced to quit my job and stay home to raise my newborn and bring my toddler to all of his therapies — he was in occupation therapy, speech therapy, and social skills therapy. My husband and I were happy, despite the difficulties. We could afford to stay home because he was making about $232,000 a year. We owned three homes and four cars, and we ended up buying our last home together but we had it built from the bottom up. He had convinced me to put a bunch of credit cards underneath my own name since I had such great credit, around a 796 score, and we bought all brand new furniture, TVs and things to decorate the house, like pottery. I amassed about $30,000 in debt.
Divorce and Debt
And then, my marriage fell apart. Divorces are costly, and you don’t plan for them. Here I was, a stay home mom with a kid with autism and another child. My marriage imploded, I didn’t have a job, and I hadn't been in the workforce for years. It was a huge slap in the face, basically.
When we got divorced, we decided that each of us would keep our own debt. At the time it made sense because he had more debt, but he also made $230,000 a year and I made nothing. That's where I got myself into a lot of trouble. I ended up living on credit cards just to feed us. There was actually a period of time where he wasn't paying his child support or anything. We had to go back to court, and I ended up incurring another $17,000 worth of legal bills to fight him in court for not paying his child support and not reimbursing medical expenses. He eventually lost his job, and I had no health insurance for my children. I returned to work after being out of a job for almost a decade. It took me a long time to get hired, but eventually, a friend who owned a company helped me out. That's where I've been working ever since.
That’s when I got the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard. It was from my own mother who told me, during my divorce, “Remember who is watching you. Show your children what it takes to get up and get it done.” So I decided to go back to college and major in Human Resources Management. I got financial aid and grants from the community college and got my associates degree in 2016 and am graduating with my bachelors soon with a 4.0.
But none of this was easy. I was in so much debt, my children were struggling and I felt like I was drowning. I remember crying every single time I would get a phone call from a creditor and feeling like almost like a failure, but I had gotten to a point where I just couldn't pay for everything anymore. Eventually, a friend called me on the phone and I just broke down. She said to me, “Have you ever thought about filing bankruptcy?” and I had said, “Oh my God, that's the last thing I've ever wanted to do in my life. I don't want to file bankruptcy.” She told me she thought it might give me a fresh start, and that it didn’t mean I was a failure. So many people have this huge negative stigma associated with bankruptcy, and at the time, I did too. I put it off for almost three years because I was so scared.
Then, I got sued by one of the companies I hadn’t paid back. They filed a judgment against me and I just remember sitting in the room and crying, and feeling like I have no choice now because I don't have a big enough income for them to attack. I couldn't have them taking money from my kid's mouths.
I didn't own a home or a vehicle, I didn't have a lot of tangible assets, and the whole idea of bankruptcy was so intimidating. Then I started calling attorneys, and that was just absolutely ridiculous. Most people expected me to pay up to $20,000 just to have them get rid of my debt as if I had that kind of money. I remember feeling like I needed an attorney but I couldn’t afford to hire one, and I certainly couldn't face that mountain of confusing paperwork and attempt to file on my own. That's when I stumbled upon Upsolve in a USA Today article. I can honestly say it was like a Godsend. It wasn't as scary.
Everyone at Upsolve was super attentive. I remember walking into filing for bankruptcy feeling so incredibly scared like I was going to do something wrong. But when I went through it with Upsolve, I remember just going through the process and feeling like this was really easy. It wasn't intimidating. I would hand my paperwork over to them, and they would look it over and let me know if I needed make any edits. I was terrified, but they held my hand a little bit.
They helped me file for bankruptcy, and now, it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted from me. Upsolve did something truly amazing: they gave me an opportunity when I felt like there was no chance for me. It was an amazing experience from beginning to end.
Honestly, if I had to give anyone a piece of advice, I would tell them that even though going through bankruptcy is scary, they have to use something like Upsolve. It was just such a humongous asset. Don't try doing it all on your own, because it is intimidating. There is a ton of paperwork, and it’s a lot to take in. As soon as I got in touch with Upsolve, the fear and agony I had over my finances washed away. I'm going to be honest with you, pre-bankruptcy my credit score went down to a 543. My score today is a 720.
It's amazing, the feeling, knowing that that's not looming over your head anymore. And again feeling bad that you even end up in that situation, but feeling very good that I am able to start all over again. With the help of Upsolve, I feel free again. I have the ability to build myself into something new.