In 2015, Credit Karma went to Charlotte, NC and invited people to talk to us about their experiences with money and credit. We talked to people with many different backgrounds. Some were Credit Karma members, others were not. Participants were told in advance their stories might be shared online. These stories helped us understand the financial struggles that many people face. We thought they might help others too.
These are real stories, told by real people in their own words.
They received a financial gift for sharing their stories, but we want to take this time to thank them again. Check out our My Money Story series on YouTube.
Dominic's first real encounter with debt was the same as millions of young Americans - student loans. He attended a private university in Ohio, and his parents warned him that tuition would be expensive.
"I didn't think anything about it - yeah yeah, but I'll be okay," Dominic says. He switched schools and ended up taking over five years to complete his degree, with tuition costing him between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.
The student loan debt collectors started calling after his graduation. When he got a job, he didn't get paid the salary he hoped for, so he missed some payments, which eventually sent his loans into default. That's when things really started to get serious.
In addition to the student loan provider garnishing his wages, he also had to go to the hospital when he got hit in the face during a basketball game. His injury required stitches, but Dominic didn't have health insurance to cover it and ended up with some out-of-pocket costs. His medical bills ended up going into default as well. "I didn't hit rock bottom, but my credit went down really far - and I was paying (for) so much stuff, I didn't really have money to do anything."
This was a really stressful time for Dominic, and one where he learned many hard lessons. "It was overwhelming once my payments started getting garnished ... I wasn't making as much as I wanted to already, and then (the student loan provider was) taking hundreds of dollars a month out of my paychecks before I got to see it."
He told his parents about his financial situation, and while they were sympathetic, they weren't surprised. They told him, "We kind of were trying to let you know that this stuff happens."
Debt consolidation companies started calling, but Dominic was afraid to answer their calls - "I didn't know who to trust." His debt was so huge that he began to take the ostrich approach - hiding his head in the metaphorical sand to ignore his financial problems. "After a while, (my debt) was so big that it's like this is never going to get paid off and maybe it'll just go away. That's not really how things work."
Eventually, Dominic realized that he couldn't keep hiding from his debt. He had to turn things around, so he started to Google things like debt, going into default and garnished payments. Instead of avoiding the debt collectors, he answered their calls and let them know what his situation was. He also worked with them on establishing repayment plans. "Everyone wants to help. (Collectors) want their money, but they work with people and they understand all different types of situations."
As of September 2015, Dominic had paid off some credit card debt that he'd also accrued. He's still paying off his student loans, but now he makes on-time payments and is planning on paying them down faster after he gets married.
Now that he has his debt under control, Dominic is dreaming of his future. "(I want to) be debt-free and start investing in my own stuff. I think about starting my own business and retiring quicker." He adds, "Everything's under control and I use my credit to my benefit now."
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