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Moving Overseas Helped Me Pay Off Over $200K In American Debt

Struggling is not living.

Life & Travel

I moved abroad. And never in a million years did I think that would be a possibility for me.

I started working at age 14. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. There were lots of single-parent homes in my neighborhood, and my family was no exception. We knew all too well about food stamps or having the lights cut off because there just wasn't enough money to go around. So, from a young age, I knew that if I wanted certain things in life I was going to have to work for them, so I did.

Struggling Is Not Living

The same was true for college. I knew that if I wanted a good education, I'd be forced to take out loans, so I did. What I was left with, besides a few degrees, was a mountain of debt that only grew as I attempted to have the American Dream, own my own home, and break the cycle of poverty. Pretty soon, all I did was work to live. Just about every cent I had went towards paying off debt or towards some living expense. And to be honest, I didn't really live modestly.

I drove a new car. I bought clothes I didn't need. I had a brand new flat screen TV and a well-furnished condo that I had just purchased, despite being in debt. I hadn't yet learned that although you could buy property with little to no money down that it wasn't a great idea. These were the things I thought were essential or that I had to have to be happy. These were the things I didn't have growing up so I thought they were necessary to tell everyone I had arrived. But really, the thing I loved to do most and that made me the happiest, travel, was either put on the backburner or scaled back dramatically.

Eat, sleep, work, pay bills became my routine. And I was barely getting by or scratching the surface of my debt.

It didn't take long for that to get old. I've always been a big believer in the idea that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity, so I decided to do something different. I decided to find a job that, at the very least, allowed me to live abroad, experience a new culture and another part of the world. But there was a hiccup. I also needed it to pay me enough to keep making payments on my substantial debt at home in the United States.

Moving Forward And Moving On

Believe it or not, getting the courage to leave was the hardest part. I was 28, and while many of my friends were starting to get married and settle down, I was trying to do the opposite. Most people couldn't fathom why I would leave a great job or a cute car and condo for the unknown. But deep down I knew that I couldn't keep slaving away, putting my dream of seeing the world on the backburner, or trying to fit into someone else's definition of success.

Once I had my mind set on leaving, things began to open up for me.

I had taught before, so I decided to renew my license and teach abroad. I found a hiring agency where I was able to create a profile and have access to a large database of schools abroad that were hiring. The hiring agency also had a job fair that I attended and within the course of a weekend, I had four job offers on two continents. The offers came with benefits that I figured were too good to be true: free housing, healthcare, a travel allowance, a tax-free salary, three months off per year. Were they serious? Well there was only one way to find out. Hey, if it's that bad I'll just come home, right? So, I followed my heart and took the opportunity that resonated most with me and never looked back.

Now, as I reflect on that decision seven years later, I couldn't be happier with the outcome.

What started as a two-year contract to work in the Philippines turned into three. From there, I moved to Singapore, where I've been ever since. I met my fiancé and started a life here that I'm beyond grateful for.

Freedom Means A Life Without Debt

During this time, I've paid off roughly $290,000 worth of debt. As it turns out, the benefits I thought were too good to be true were what I had hoped and then some. Suddenly, I had way more disposable income. Without the nagging costs of a car, rent, or United States taxes, I was able to put so much more money towards my debt. Each paycheck, I was able to breathe easier and now looked forward to paying bills. I started a budget and limited my spending significantly.

Each paycheck, I took as much money as I could and put it towards my debt with the highest interest first.

Once that was paid, I moved to the next highest interest rate. I also tracked every dollar coming in and every dollar going out. Knowing exactly how I was spending money curbed the spending alone. Around that time, I also started reading more on personal finance. When I lived in the United States, I received a 401k that was selected for me, but abroad I was forced to manage my retirement by myself. Keeping my long-term financial goals in mind and constantly striving to understand growing my wealth helped me to see what was really important and what wasn't. I traveled at my leisure but kept other unnecessary expenses, such as eating out or getting my nails done, to a minimum.

I also found it tremendously helpful to share my goals. I started blogging and decided to share my lofty financial goals. Even though it was embarrassing to reveal how much debt I had accumulated, it was freeing to put it down in writing and actually acknowledge it. It was also motivating to see the overall balance fall. What started as smaller payments quickly snowballed into bigger payments. Whereas before I was paying tons of money in interest alone, I was now seeing the principal decrease dramatically.

I had an extra spring in my step every time I made an extra payment. I've also always been very goal-oriented and competitive, so now that I had set and shared my goal, there was no way I was going to fail.

As of February, I am completely debt-free. And I'm proud to say that I've done it all while also visiting 34 new countries in the process, for a grand total of 41. Student loans are a thing of the past, I own my property in the United States free and clear, and I've not only started to save for retirement now that the debt is gone, but I've also learned how to successfully navigate the stock market as a result of the people I've met along this journey. It's been a whole mindset change really.

I pay closer attention to where my money goes and although I do treat myself at times, I don't need “things" anymore to feel fulfilled. Instead, I put much more value into the experiences I've had and the people I've shared those experiences with.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image courtesy of Maya McCoy

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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