Money

This 28-year-old unintentionally accrued $50,000 in debt—here's how he's paying it off

A woman enters an All American Check Cashing location in Brandon, Miss., May 12, 2017. 
Rogelio V. Solis | AP
A woman enters an All American Check Cashing location in Brandon, Miss., May 12, 2017. 

For Jorge, a 28-year-old dad in Texas who asked to be identified only by his first name, the phone isn't a lifeline to friends and family — it's a reminder of his seemingly insurmountable problem with debt. When the phone rings, it's a call he doesn't want to take.

And the calls come daily. They're usually from debt collection agencies attempting to recoup the over $8,000 Jorge owes after taking out seven different risky, high-cost loans. In total, Jorge has accumulated almost $50,000 in personal debt in just a few years.

Though he's dodging calls, he's not avoiding responsibility. To pay what he owes and still provide for his wife and two little girls, Jorge works two jobs and has cut his food budget down to mostly rice and beans.

"If it was just me, I wouldn't care much about it," he says. "But now I have a family to take care of, so it's different."

How he got into debt

As he was graduating from college, Jorge made two financial moves that really cost him. The first? Buying more car than he could afford, he says.

"I bought my dream car right out of college," Jorge says. It was a used 2007 Chrysler 300C in magnesium gray. But because he was broke, he financed the purchase with a $15,000 auto loan. The car is now worth a sixth of what it was back then, he says. Had he saved up the money instead, he would have over $50,000.

Jorge also got drawn in by the allure of a timeshare. He agreed to attend an informational session to collect $50 and walked out with a $5,000 share in a vacation property. He began making $250 monthly payments but, between his car payments and everyday costs, he couldn't keep up. A little over a year after he bought the timeshare, he stopped making payments.

Six years later, Jorge finally settled his contract and outstanding debt with the timeshare company. All the while, though, his credit score suffered.

Millions of millennials are in the red

The average millennial (defined here as those aged 18 to 34) has $36,000 in personal debt, excluding mortgages, according to a recent survey by Northwestern Mutual. That includes student loans, personal loans and credit card balances.

Jorge's nearly $50,000 doesn't even include the $17,000 in student loans he's already paid off. The bulk of what he owes falls into the "bad debt" category: auto loans, personal loans, credit card bills and payday loans.

Also called cash advances, payday loans are typically small loans you can get in most states by walking into a store with a valid ID, proof of income and a bank account. The balance of the loan, along with the "finance charge" (service fees and interest), is typically due two weeks later, on your next payday.

These types of loans come with major drawbacks. First and foremost, they are extremely expensive: The national average annual percentage rate (APR) for a payday loan is almost 400 percent. That's over 20 times the average credit card interest rate.

Yet millions of young people rely on these loans. Within the past two years, 13 percent of millennials report taking out payday loans, according to a survey of approximately 3,700 Americans that CNBC Make It performed in conjunction with Morning Consult. That's roughly 9.5 million people ages 22 to 37.

Jorge got started with payday loans at the suggestion of an employee at his bank. "I wasn't even considering payday loans, I never really thought about that, until he gave me the idea," he says.

How payday loans made a bad situation worse

The plan was to pay back the original payday loan within three days: "Then they don't charge interest because it's basically like giving the money back," Jorge says.

That worked — for a time, at least. "I kept doing that for a while, I basically gave myself an advanced loan and then just paying it back when I got the check." But he admits it was a "dangerous" financial move. "If I didn't have the money to make that payment, then that meant I couldn't pay the full amount within the first three days, then I'd start incurring interest."

That's exactly what happened. Jorge was left to borrow from one payday lender to pay off another. Eventually he owed three of them at once.

"The three loans were revolving — I was borrowing money from one to pay off the other one. I was having to drive all over where I live because they were in different locations every three days just to get the money to pay them off," Jorge says.

Across the U.S., there are approximately 23,000 payday lenders, almost twice the number of McDonald's restaurants. In Texas alone, there are over 1,000 more lenders than there are places to get a Big Mac. And payday loans in Texas are some of the most expensive in the country.

Payday loan APRs vary by state. Texas and Ohio have some of the highest rates in the country. 
Payday loan APRs vary by state. Texas and Ohio have some of the highest rates in the country. 

In total, Jorge was left facing seven payday loans, all with APRs of roughly 400 percent.

"I paid on the $1,000 loan, every month, and I still owed, like, $1,000 — the full balance. That's when I stopped making payments on everything," Jorge says. "All the money I was making was going to debt, 100 percent of it, I had no money left for anything else."

How he's trying to set himself free

Not paying wasn't an option for long. With his loans in default, the collectors started to circle. "They had been calling me, sending letters, trying to get me to respond. When I did answer, I'd tell them I didn't have any money," Jorge says.

The threat of legal action spurred him into settling the debt. "Honestly, I didn't think they'd accept, but I said I'd give them $600 next week, and they said okay," he recalls.

Once he'd knocked out one loan, Jorge began focusing on what he could do next. At the start of the summer, he signed on for a second job at a local shipping warehouse.

"All the money I was making was going to debt, 100 percent of it." -Jorge

"It's a hard job, especially in this heat. In Texas, it's been 100-and-hell for the past month," he says. His days consist of an office job from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then working at the warehouse for another six hours in the evenings. He gets home at almost midnight but he stays up talking to his wife. "That's really the only time we have to talk. During the day we don't really text." His wife is staying at home with the kids to cut down on childcare costs.

"If we didn't have the income from the second job, we just couldn't make it," he says. The goal: work two jobs for a year to pay off the debts and get the family's finances back on track.

So far, it's working. Jorge has two of the loans settled and working on paying off a third payday loan and his auto loan.

"I am determined to be debt free by next year," he says. "I'm fairly healthy, so I should be able to keep at it for the foreseeable future."

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