My name is Marisa. I’m a 23-year-old woman from Ohio who was raised below the U.S. federal poverty level. My dad (65) owns a record/CD store, and, of course, in the early 2000s when I was quite young, sales dropped immensely due to the digitization of music. He’s owned the store for 40 years now, but for the last 15 or so, he’s barely kept his head above water. My mom (60) was a stay-at-home mom and a musician. I have two older siblings (a 25-year-old sister and a 32-year-old brother). All three of us dropped out of high school. Our parents are great people, but my dad was a hippie and my mom was a punk, and they internalized many of those values for the rest of their lives. They didn’t discipline us; our feelings came before our futures. None of us were made to go to school when we felt depressed, and we all had very severe depression and anxiety, so we never wanted to go to school. I dropped out at 16. When I was 17, we lost our house. My sister and brother had already moved out, but my parents and I were displaced. I had to start paying to be on my own very suddenly.
In the meantime, I got my GED, took the ACT, and was the only one in the family to go to college. When I went to college, I overcompensated for my shame in dropping out as a freshman in high school. I threw myself into my education, whatever it took. I secured scholarships to study abroad multiple times, I became the president of multiple organizations, I was invited to special conferences, I earned honors in my department (Russian Translation), I was inducted into several different honors societies, and I was a straight-A student who graduated Summa Cum Laude. I thought I was on top of the world. I was wrong.
I didn’t understand what I was doing when I started the financial aid process at the beginning of college. I didn’t have anyone in my family who’d been through the student loan process. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. I took out SO much money. I grew up around a bunch of wealthy kids, and my logic at the time was the same as what their parents had told me. “It’s an investment in your future. Take out whatever you need to get your education.” Never mind the fact that their parents paid for most, if not all, of their education while my family was unable to contribute. I thought they were right. Their parents looked down on my parents, and they thought that I would be the one to break the cycle of what they perceived as perpetual failure in my family. They thought I’d be able to pay it all back once I got a “real job”.
During college, as I was taking classes full-time and working 2-3 part-time jobs, I took out a private Sallie Mae loan for some extra assistance. I got two credit cards to help with day-to-day expenses. I needed a car to get to work, so I leased a new car. At the time, my credit history was new but really good. I thought I was doing things right. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Soon, I couldn’t keep up. I started to get desperate, and after a while, I was taking out payday loans in emergencies, my credit score was deteriorating, and in the midst of this, I was only just starting to understand how all of this worked. As my credit score got too bad to take out more loans to pay for my other loans, I turned to Reddit through r/borrow. Now I’m in an endless cycle of taking out loans to pay loans.
I graduated in August 2018. I optimistically used every penny I had to move to Canada on a work permit to pursue my dreams of becoming a Permanent Resident and, eventually, a Canadian citizen. I worked as a server until I got a full-time position working as the Sponsorship Coordinator for a huge film festival in Toronto. It was a contract position from February 2019-July 2018. I worked hard, working 12-14 hour days 6 or 7 days a week throughout the two months leading up to the festival. They paid me minimum wage with no overtime. I took what I could get because I eventually wanted to work as a programmer for a major film festival. My work permit expired in July, and the laws changed around renewing work permits, so I had to go back to the US after a good year in Toronto where I felt like things were really looking up.
Back in Ohio, I went back to serving and started teaching English as a second language online (through iTutorGroup) while I searched for something else. I just started another full-time contract position for another large film festival to work as their Community Outreach Coordinator from January 2020-May 2020. This required me to move over an hour away, and I am more broke than ever. They’re going to pay me around $1,600 a month starting on January 20th, but it won’t be enough. I’m drowning. Every week, my account falls into the negatives because of debt payments, rent, bills, or needing groceries. I have -$350 as of today, and I’m trying to figure out what to do to avoid an overdraft fee (I have 24 Hour Grace). Every time I think things are getting better and believe I’m finally on my feet, a financial wrench is thrown my way, whether that be a sudden emergency expense, a you-need-to-leave-Canada emergency, or a job-related blow. No matter what I do, I can’t get caught up, let alone ahead. I’ve been trying to get into a certificate program for computer programming so I can get into a higher-paying career, and I was accepted into an excellent bootcamp at Case Western Reserve University, but my credit is so bad that I can’t get a student loan to cover it. I can’t afford medication for my fibromyalgia, I can’t pay to get a crown for my tooth that might fracture any day, I owe money left and right, I can’t afford clothes. I can’t do any of it. More and more every day I’m just terrified.
I’m looking at my future, seeing how I have more than $100k in debts, most of which are delinquent, and about $40k of that is student debt which I am continuously deferring on. I have no hope. I feel like I’m never going to make enough money to get out of this hole. I can’t go back to school to earn a degree in a higher-paying field because I can’t afford to go back without the loans I can’t get approved for. I don’t have anyone to help me. I spend every day I have off work trying to make an extra $10 – $60 dollars through some gig so I can either eat or get my bank account out of the negatives. I can’t live like a normal 23-year-old because my life is ruled by debt. I haven’t dated in 5 years, I can’t afford to join my friends out for drinks or dinner, I can’t buy cute new clothes for any events, I can’t go out to support my friends’ bands or art shows because of admissions prices, and I can’t even go to the movies anymore, which is one of my passions in this life.
I was so naive and clueless from the ages of 18-22 that I have robbed myself of a future. If anyone here can help me, I would be eternally grateful. I assure you I’m a passionate person with hopes and dreams, who wants to be in a good enough place that I can help others (including my parents). One day, if I can get out of this mess, I still want to go to Oxford or an Ivy League for my Masters or PhD, and I’m confident that I could. I want to buy my parents a house so they can live again, help them retire (because that’s never going to happen at this rate), provide financial support for homeless youth, travel, have a romantic relationship again, adopt older children who would otherwise be stuck in the foster system, take my friends out for dinner on me, host events, get birthday and holiday gifts for loved ones (especially my 2 and 3-year-old nieces) and so much more. I’m realizing none of these things are possible if life continues this way. I don’t want to live the rest of my life being ruled by debt, by my awful credit, or by making the rent on time. I don’t want to live that way. I’ve tried to be a good person and I’ve tried to overcome obstacles, but it seems like every attempt at upward mobility sets me 3,000 steps back. My dreams are too big and my resources are too small. I don’t want to accept that.
I have a lot of financial and budgeting knowledge. The problem is that, with my debt-to-income ratio, I have no way of enacting that knowledge if I’m never caught up. If someone, or many someones, could help me catch up, I will be financially responsible and organized for the rest of my life. I’m paying for my naivete when I went into undergrad, but perhaps, with help, I can get closer to a clean slate now that I’m wiser.
Thank you so much for reading.