Feeling overwhelmed at the idea of paying back our debt with my income as a freelance designer making about $20,000 at the time, I decided to move back to Indiana to live with my parents in order to save money. I took a job as a professor at a local college, while also working as a waiter at night to pad my income. I also took on other odd jobs, like working as a sign-holder for a cell phone company.
Leslie gave me $5,000, which put a dent in our debt, and then I drew up a plan for us to split the rest. She agreed to pay me an additional $300 each month for the remaining amount—about $15,000 at that point. But after five months, she stopped making her payments, saying her expenses in New York were high and she didn’t want to contribute to paying back my student loans.
I took Leslie to court in 2011, but the judge only ordered her to pay $5,000 to cover some of the condo-related expenses. Speaking of that “investment,” it actually turned out to be nothing but a big headache, especially when I was a long-distance landlord. What the tenants were paying in rent didn’t even cover the mortgage payment. I tried to short-sell it, but the lender blocked the sale.
Feeling completely defeated, I declared bankruptcy last year in order to absolve myself of all responsibility for the house. Honestly, I felt relieved—and ready for a fresh financial start.
My credit score has been steadily climbing—from 530 to over 750. It feels amazing to regain control of my life again.
Rebuilding My Money Life
These days I’m slowly but surely putting the pieces back together without Leslie. I still live with my parents, but I’ve learned to live well within my $38,000-per-year salary as a college professor.
I’ve still got about $50,000 in student loans, but I’m chipping away at them a few hundred dollars every month. And for the first time ever, my savings account is growing. I’ve also started investing heavily in my 401(k), and even learned how to trade penny stocks.
I’m working hard to rebuild my credit too. Before I declared bankruptcy, I’d paid off all but about $2,000 of my credit card debt. But due to the bankruptcy filing, those accounts showed up on my credit report as canceled instead of paid in full. So I took the time to write to my creditors one by one to explain my case and have them change the account status.
And it’s been working: My credit score has been steadily climbing—from 530 to over 750. It feels amazing to regain control of my life again.
Of all the financial lessons I’ve learned from this experience, the most important one is to put myself first—and never take on financial risk for someone else again.
*Name has been changed.