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.
When Vonda was getting treated for cancer, the last thing on her mind was her medical bills. Once, she walked out after a chemotherapy appointment without paying a $10 doctor's bill.
"Chemotherapy had my brain so fried, I didn't take care of it," she says. And now, that $10 bill is on her credit report as a charge-off, which is when your creditor declares your debt as unlikely to be collected (typically, this happens after six months of nonpayment, can hurt your credit score and can stay on your credit report for up to seven years).
Unfortunately, this wasn't the only debt that Vonda was trying to manage. She defaulted on a credit card when she was in college. She also bought a car but was unable to afford her car payments, and the car was repossessed. Along with her medical bills, she also had student loan debt and credit card bills and was suffering under the weight of compounding interest.
"The interest rates, they don't stop. You can call (the company) and beg them, but the interest rate continues to compound," Vonda says.
When she first got sick, she lost a well-paying job, and with it a comfortable lifestyle. She now has a job again, and she's working hard on tackling her debt.
"The first solution is to increase my income, and the second solution (is) to make sure to have that discipline to dive into those issues that are on my credit report," she says.
She keeps a spreadsheet where she can track regular expenses such as insurance premiums and cable, and she checks in on her finances once a day. She's also determined to remain disciplined: "That's my motivation to continue on and to do more than just enough to get by because I have this...undercurrent of bad credit."
While she's slowly getting back on her feet, Vonda's poor financial health has impacted her life in a number of ways. She says she isn't dating anyone because she doesn't want to impose her financial baggage on someone else, especially because she wouldn't accept it if the situation was reversed.
Her social life has also suffered. "I can't afford to go to girls' night," Vonda says. In addition, she couldn't attend her 25-year class reunion Bahamas cruise but was too embarrassed to tell her friends that the reason was she couldn't afford it.
She says it's really difficult for her to open up to friends and family about her financial problems -- and not just because she feels ashamed. "I think I'm protecting them because they feel responsible...for trying to help me."
Vonda hopes that by continuing to attack her debt and being vigilant about her finances, she'll be able to have a more relaxed life -- one where she can see old friends, make new ones and feel secure that her bills are taken care of.
"Right now it's like there's dust that needs to be settled, and when that dust is settled... and knowing that I have a decent credit score, I think I would feel more socially acceptable."
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