I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in Ohio. We were a religious family and I was brought up going to church. My parents were my role models. My dad was an engineer. He was always faithful and diligent in his work. My mom had her own business as a music teacher—she was very honest in everything she did. She always taught me to be honest and do good business because, as she said, “the truth always comes out in the end.”
Like anyone, I had my ups and downs in high school. I had some pretty good achievements. I scored honors on all my state proficiency tests. But I didn’t have a date to my senior prom. After I graduated, I went straight to working for this guy fixing up a rental property. I did an excellent job for him. He loved my work and paid me cash all the time. Then I went to a community college for a year and transferred to a private university in North Carolina for a year to study business.
I made the transfer because the university had a great reputation and they gave me a great deal on the education and everything. So I thought: why not?
I dropped out of university—not because of grades or anything, I was doing fine—but because of money. I couldn’t pay the tuition and I didn't want to borrow money either. I didn’t want to go into debt.
When I dropped out, around 2004, I enlisted in the Navy. It was something I always wanted to do, and I really I enjoyed it: I got to travel, I got to see places, I got to do things. It built me up physically, mentally. But I had a very hard time adjusting when I got back from serving. I was in my hometown with the same people I grew up with. They didn't like me when I was in junior high and in high school, and they didn't like me when I came back either. So I started drinking. I wanted to fit in so I'd go to the bar, hang out with people drinking there, and slowly it turned into something I felt compelled to do. It hurt me pretty bad, it took me down.
The debt started when I picked up a signature loan to buy a car for $2,500. Then I borrowed some money to get my then-girlfriend’s house out of foreclosure, and also just to get by. When I started drinking, my girlfriend started drinking, and then things spiraled out of control. All of the sudden I had a huge amount of debt. I was doing everything with debt. I bought myself a car with debt, I bought her a car with debt. I was trying to save her house but she wasn't very good with managing money either. And then I found out my car was a piece of junk, so I financed a 2016 Subaru Forester, and picked up another $30,000 worth of debt. I wasn't making the payments so that got repossessed. I had all these credit cards and I wasn't making the payments on those either.
It was the first night I spent in a homeless shelter when I realized something in my life had to change. That was my trigger.
I spent about a month in one shelter. Then I spent two months in another shelter. After that I went into a program that’s part of this rescue mission and I was there for a whole year.
At the same time, I was trying to deal this debt I had racked up. I tried looking for work. I tried negotiating with creditors, and all kinds of things, but it just wasn't working. The debts were too large and the amount money I had was too small. I knew that I had one other option—declaring bankruptcy. But a guy I knew back in Ohio had told me: “Oh you shouldn't file bankruptcy, that's really bad. That's just putting the burden on all of us good working tax payers.” So I was skeptical about it, I didn't want to offend my friends. I didn’t want to be this awful person.
I had also learned that all the banks and everybody that I owed money to had already written off my debt as a tax write-off. So the creditors wrote it off their income with the Internal Revenue Service, and were then going to hand the debt over to a collection agency which was, in turn, going to come after me for the full amount. Maybe I could negotiate a little bit off, try to shrink the monthly payments, give them a sob story or something, but it wasn’t going to work. Even if I had started paying off my debt slowly, it would have taken ten years, and I would have been left with nothing in the end.
So I got to the point where I thought to myself: I can work hard for ten years and pay the whole thing off, and in ten years be left with nothing, or I could declare bankruptcy and have a blemish on my credit reports, on my credit bureaus, but have all kinds of things to make my life better and be debt free for the next ten years. I mean, I don't know about you, but I just can't spin my wheels for ten years and worry about my debt and everything else when it's already been written off.
So I decided to go to the attorney in my town to cough up $1,300 towards the bankruptcy. But then something even better happened. The attorney told me: “You're making such a low amount of money and you really got almost nothing. You got barely enough just to pay for this.” He told me to look into Upsolve. He said they’d be able to cover the costs for me, help me out with filing the papers and all that. When I contacted them and found out my income was low enough to qualify, they told me they were going to do all the heavy lifting—generating the documents, getting a lawyer to review them, covering the fees, all that stressful stuff—for me. It was a no-brainer.
What Comes Next
I needed to get myself right. I started to go to A.A. meetings, I started going for help in churches and counselling, and I got better, I got right. I had to heal up, it took over a year. Then, one day, all my craving for a drink just went away.
Right now I'm nineteen months sober. I'm about to graduate from machining school. I found a non-profit organization that put me up in a nice house and they gave me bus passes and they paid for my schooling. I heard about it through a social worker who I was working with. I hang out with a higher quality people than I used to and they are all actually doing a lot better than me. I don’t have a lot of expenses either. My rent’s cheap. I spend more money on my car insurance and I picked up learner's insurance. I got a nice new phone now, so I need to pay the bill for the service, but that’s about it. Just the different odds and ends. I’m just getting by.
I’m very thankful for going through the bankruptcy. I feel very relieved. I've adopted a philosophy from the scriptures, the Old Testament. It says ‘do not borrow money, you should be a servant to the lender.’ So what I do now instead of borrowing money, I will save up for whatever I want to buy and instead of financing it. I will actually look to make a lower offer on the retail price because I’ll have the cash in my hands.
I’ve known a couple of people who were in my situation. I see them come and go every now and then: they either relapse on alcohol or drugs or whatever it was, and they missed their chance to do something about their problems. Sometimes people I know just kind of close up about finances, about bankruptcy. They’re ashamed. But I wish they wouldn’t be.
The reality is that you should get in there and get some advice from people who know what you’re going through. Go down to community legal aid, places like Upsolve, work with people and just talk to them. Open up to them. Tell them what's bothering you, what's holding you back. Get some good advice. No man is an island. You can't just think you know it all and you're just going to sit there just closed up. You got to open up to these people. You got to find out the truth. The truth will set you free.
The most terrible point in my life was when I owed all this money, this huge amount of debt and I had no way of making even the minimum payments at all. I was just so screwed. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. It’s only now I feel like I picked up so much steam in my life and I understand so much about everything. Everyone I know is very proud of me, even my pastor. I told him about the bankruptcy and he tells people I’m like this ‘success story.’ Which I am! I feel like I'm at the best point in my life, like there’s so much life in front of me.
We live in an amazing country because we have the liberty to do things like this. We can stand up for ourselves. We have the freedom to choose our own path. My path now is just choosing to save up money to buy things outright for a lower price and not financing my future. I'm choosing to not be a servant to my lender. I have that choice. I have other choices too, like who to vote for or, we don't have a monarchy here, we don't have a king or a queen. We don't have all that fluff, we just handle our business and we protect ourselves and each other. We serve when we can.
I’d like to keep getting better, though. Maybe get a little bit stronger, or a little wiser. Can't get enough of that. Find my dream job—which is probably just doing something that I really enjoy, like how I enjoy machining. It's like an art, making things out of metal pieces. There's not a lot of baloney in it, it's not a lot of BS. It's not like sales, I've done that before, selling things to people. It's this big run around all the time, and who knows what kind of competition that's going to pop up? Machining is different. I'm making metal parts that’re in high demand. People are always going to need different things. That's pretty much here to stay. Someone says otherwise? Bring it on, I say.