In 2015, Credit Karma went to Austin 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.
Like many young Americans, Jason, 34, had a dream job - to become a 3D animator.
He'd already spent six years completing his undergraduate degree in software engineering, but he decided to pursue his dream by getting an animation degree at a private trade school in Los Angeles - despite his parents trying to talk him out of it.
What Jason quickly found was that his expenses rocketed beyond what he'd anticipated.
"What I didn't realize is that [the school] could change the curriculum at any time, so they kept adding courses, which prolonged the enrollment process, so my bill was actually higher ... than what they told us in the beginning." He adds that the cost of living in Los Angeles and his rent (both of which were high to begin with) also went up during this time.
When he was considering his financing options, the college staff told him, "You'll be able to pay it back once you get a job in the industry."
Believing this was true, Jason took out federal and private loans to pay for his tuition and living expenses - "$59,000 federal and then I don't know how much private - it's in the six figures though."
Unfortunately for Jason, getting a job as an animator was incredibly competitive -- supply far outweighed demand. "A lot of people that I know who spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on these animation degrees ... or video production degrees are out of work and they have loans they can't pay off," he says.
Jason also believed he wouldn't have to pay off his loans until he got out of school, so he was surprised when some of his loan providers began asking for interest payments once he was a couple of years into his degree.
When he told them that he didn't have a job and was living in an expensive city, "They said, 'Well, okay, we'll have to defer the interest payments' ... so I got interest on top of interest."
After he graduated, Jason struggled with his student loan debt - and added to it by accumulating credit card debt. "2009 was the worst year of my life." He had "$25,000 of credit card debt. I had like $65,000 in public, or federal loan debt, and $150,000 in private (student loan) debt."
Luckily, Jason was able to fall back on his software engineering degree and now has a job in Dallas. He decided to really lock down and start paying some of his debt back, paying off his credit card debt and one $5,000 private student loan.
How did he do this? "You just don't spend the money. Every time you get a check you put it into savings as if you never even got it in the first place."
The remainder of his private loans went into default, so Jason had to cope with debt collector calls. Taking out the student loans - and being unable to repay most of them - has taught Jason a lot about financial responsibility and how he views his financial future.
"I want to pay off my federal student loan and then just be done with it. Live cheap. Save my money. Be more fiscally responsible, and then hopefully get my own business going so I can maximize my profits instead of giving it to somebody else. Hopefully I'll be able to pay off all my debts and end up with perfect credit."
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