Money Mic: I Moved to the Middle East to Pay Off $70,000 of Debt

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Doha TowersIn our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman talks about the unconventional—and intercontinental—route that she took to pay off the mountain of debt that she’d amassed in college.

I sat on the park bench, my stomach churning because I was nervous about the call I had to make. I was about to dial the credit card company that had been harassing me nonstop for nearly a year and a half. I had defaulted on one of my cards—well, actually, my parents had—and I was finally ready to put an end to the calls I was constantly diverting to voice mail.

That was May 2011, and in hindsight, I feel a bit silly to have been so scared. I thought the collection agency was going to threaten me with a lawsuit. But the call was civil: The agent politely explained my options, and then set me up with a payment plan. I’d transfer $400 every month from my checking account toward the card’s balance for five months to pay off the settled amount of about $2,000.

For a few days after, I felt good about myself because I was finally taking control of my finances and finally acting like a responsible adult. But then I realized that it was just the tip of the iceberg: I still had about $68,000 of other debt on my shoulders.

A Family (Financial) Affair

This may sound bratty, but I blame my parents for the massive amount of debt that I had incurred. We never discussed it officially, but we had an understanding that they’d pay for most of my living expenses while I was in college however they could. So, in addition to taking out student loans (most of which were in my name), they signed me up for multiple credit cards, which we used to pay for textbooks and other expenses. Although the cards were all in my name, my parents paid them.

RELATED: 5 Money Mistakes Parents Make … and How to Fix Them

  • Karen Curtis

    Way to go! Keep up the good work!

  • Stephanie Reed

    Many thanks for your article! I am ABD in middle eastern archaeology, and just facing the mountain of debt I similarly accrued…

  • DeLana Nicole

    I enjoyed your article. I have wondered about taking a job overseas to pay off my student loan debt also, and this article helped highlight some of the benefits. Great to see you stayed on track for paying everything off.

  • Beth

    I don’t understand how someone goes through college AND grad school AND has an accountant for a father and still doesn’t own up to the debt incurred. To think you’re going through college, paying for books, flying about Europe and you don’t think you have to pay it back? Sure, while getting a great job opportunity has allotted this person the ability to live essentially for free and pay back their debt, it seems ridiculous to think that moving overseas will absolve the average person’s financial woes. The title of this post is misleading.

    • era4allNOW

      A couple of thoughts:
      1. MOST people are naive in college and make stupid decisions. That’s why it’s such a great learning period – the ‘training wheels’ to life, as I like to call it. I get irritated with the judgmental comments towards others’ mistakes. I doubt you’ve never made any in your life, but even if you were smarter than the rest of us, good for you – but that doesn’t mean everyone else has had the same life experiences as you. We all have to learn our own way. I, for one, can relate to what she shared here regarding the stupid financial mistakes made during the college years. I also have paid for mine.
      2. Whether others have the option to move abroad or not is missing the point. This is meant to be a DIFFERENT perspective, and even though abroad is not an option for me, it opened up a world of seeing new possibilities that weren’t really present for me before. There’s solutions out there that would never be seen as typical, and it encourages me to look for those in whole new places.

      Thanks for another eye-opening article, LV!

  • Will

    What really struck me is that even though she had defaulted on credit card debt, she still had a score in the low 600s. I’ve never defaulted, have been extremely conscientious financially, yet my score is 760. It would be higher, but I’m dinged for not carrying enough balance on my credit cards. What kinda mentally declined baboon does the credit scoring?

    • rubymer

      The credit scoring system is not very friendly unless you know how to game it. But you should know 760 is a great score, anything over 760 will get you the best rates essentially. Where as a score of 600 might not even qualify you to rent or get a loan at all (cut offs usually start around 600-650).

  • Nate

    It’s great that the author was able to pursue an opportunity to work abroad. I hear more and more about this and even as a short term solution this is a very unique and world expanding experience. Don’t think that you HAVE to go abroad to make more money however; hard work accomplishes this wherever you choose to live.

    I thought it was disappointing that the parents borrowed money in her name even though the agreement (as it appeared to me) was that the parents would take care of the expenses. It is also unfortunate that the author ended up paying some of the parent’s debt solely because she felt guilty about what her parents had spent on her in her growing years. If you make an abundance of money and want to help parents or even friends with paying things off then great, but to do this out of guilt is the wrong motivation; you don’t owe your parents for raising you especially since odds are that they will need care from you in their old age. Your raising will be reciprocated later in other words.

    Charlize does bring one thing out that I feel is very important to address: you do not have to have credit cards to have a good credit score. Making regular payments on your rent or mortgage or car, although who really feels that a car payment is a good idea, will accomplish the same thing. You are taking an enormous amount of risk, assuming you cannot tell the future, when you use and hold balances on credit cards.

    • socyncere84

      My parents had to take out the loans in my name because they hadn’t finished paying off the loans for college for my oldest sibling’s (I’m the third and last one). Between our house, cars, and a private school tuition, they couldn’t take out a loan. Some I’m kind of in the same boat: I have a lot of loan debt in my name, but I only pay for 25% of it-my parents cover the rest.

      • Nate

        Although I think it’s great your sharing the load with your parents, you come out ahead if you work your way through school paying cash for your expenses. This has also been proven to play a part in achieving better grades through school. You also don’t have to figure out a way to pay back a mountain of debt making minimum wage jobs as most college grades find that is what is available to them.

        • socyncere84

          True. But hindsight’s 20/20-there’s a lot of different types of financial decisions that I would have made differently if I fully had understood finances back then.

  • GF

    Although I do believe the author had some responsibility here (and yes, was a bit naive in terms of not really realizing she’d have to pay the debt back), I also do blame the parents on some level too. Parents should have honest conversations with their children about their financial situation and how much they can provide (if at all); here, they just assured he she’d be okay no matter what and even her mom didn’t take responsibility for her own actions (ignoring calls from debtors and encouraging her daughter to do the same). We need more parents who teach their kids about living responsibly and contributing to retirement, etc.