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But it wouldn't go away until she turned and faced the truth with help from a friend.

3 minute read

In December 2010, Katie from Chain of Wealth graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s in elementary education. She planned on teaching second grade. She also graduated with somewhere around $30,000 in student loan debt.

As Katie worked over the next five years in Tampa Bay, Florida, she increased her debt by a large amount. She took out a home loan and a car loan that she was paying “payments high enough I should have been driving a brand new BMW instead of my Honda.”

All in all, Katie amassed $200,000 in debt. And while she amassed the debt, Katie continued to ignore her student loans. “I remember every time I talked to my student loan provider, I enthusiastically agreed and felt relieved when they would ‘allow’ me to defer my loan for another six months — even though I knew this was a temporary solution.”

She convinced herself that she would be paying off student loans forever. Katie says, “I even remember once saying to someone that I didn’t even really consider student loans as having debt.” She became an expert at avoiding and ignoring her money problems. She always paid her bills on time and didn’t carry credit card debt, so everything was fine.

Katie says, “The bad part about this, is when you ignore something, the problem only gets worse.” And the problems did get worse until she faced the truth — with a little help from a friend.

A new plan

In June 2017, Katie moved from Tampa, Florida to live with Denis, her boyfriend, in Washington D.C. He moved there for work and Katie thought it was time “to venture out.” Little did she know that her life would completely change.

“When I moved to Virginia from Florida literally everything in my seemingly average life changed,” says Katie. “From my career choice, problem solving ability and relationship with money, it all changed.” But sometimes change is good.

Katie told me that her bills were a headache. She was frustrated. “I had gotten really good at not checking the mailbox, says Katie. “I paid my usual bills but mainly when it came to my student loan, I felt like I was stuck in a hole and didn’t really know how to handle paying back so much money.”

Then one night after having dinner with Denis, Katie remembers him saying these “gut-wrenching words.” He simply said, “Hold on, I’m going to check the mail.” Katie says, “I begged him not to check — this obviously didn’t work and then he saw the mountain of bills I had. Particularly the student loan bills.”

By the the night’s end, Denis had all her bills listed in a spreadsheet. He asked her how she planned on fixing this money mess. She didn’t know. So, Denis created a four step plan for her:

  1. File for student loan forgiveness for being a teacher in a Title 1 school.
  2. Sell the townhouse in Florida.
  3. Use the money made by the selling of the house to sell/pay off the car.
  4. Put ALL money earned towards the student loan.

“By the end of the night, he was telling me that if I followed his plan, I would be debt-free in no time,” says Katie. “Something that at the time, I honestly couldn’t even imagine but I decided to try out his strategy.”

Working the plan

Katie never spent recklessly on her credit card, but she made a few big money mistakes and they hurt her finances. Now, she works on her website, freelances and does a podcast.

“With the blog/podcast going for about 9 months, I’ve managed to pay back TONS of my debt,” says Katie. “I only have about $26,000 left.” That is amazing.

Now that Katie has become more experienced in personal finances, I asked her if she thinks even just learning the basics about money management is important.

“I would say knowing the basics of finances is as important as knowing how to read,” says Katie. “Without knowing how to take care of your money, you are going to be living a life of constant uncertainty and it will make it much harder for you to achieve your financial goals — such as retiring, taking vacations or even filling up your gas tank.”

Katie provided a few personal finance tips for us:

  • Don’t ignore your debt, it will only become worse.
  • Track your spending — you can use the old pen and paper method or apps like, but you need to know where your money is actually going.
  • Find people who are in your similar position. Talking to other people who are also trying to get out of debt has been one of my biggest motivations. Sharing success and debt payoff milestones is the driving force to staying motivated.

Katie is no longer afraid to check her mail.

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing — and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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