I am writing this to plead for help. $1.00 from you will help. Yes, just $1. I only need to reach a small fraction of the US population and caring people who don't mind passing on a $1 or $2.
My situation is humbling and embarrassing, but I have exhausted all efforts to pull things together; even when I thought I was making all of the right decisions to survive. Do you have a couple of dollars to spare?
My story: I am that girl that was raised in, what I consider an average blue-collar family. I am the middle child of 3. My dad bounced between selling mobile homes and cars throughout my entire childhood. This resulted in my family moving around to other cities and states to follow the economy. My mother was a cook most of her life until she finally retired last year. When I was 26 I had a seizure at work. I didn’t remember anything when I woke up in the hospital. I was uninsured and barely making over minimum wage. Over a couple of months and extensive testing I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was scheduled for surgery shortly after the diagnosis and that was when I was notified that it was a malignant tumor – cancer. I surpassed all expectations and made a full recovery. After this cancer scare I decided I needed to do something with my life.
In 1998 I enrolled in college for the first time in my life. I am the first child in many generations to pursue any degree. My announcement was met with mixed emotions as most in my family thought I would quit or flunk out. Unlike some people I knew at the time, the negative feedback pushed me to work harder; I was not going to let their negativity distract from my goal. While pursuing my degree, my father died from heart disease when my son was only 2 years old. He was my rock, my best friend, and the lone voice of full support. He was my dad.
I am not sure how I managed to keep it together but I did. Shortly after graduating I also got divorced. My newly acquired degree helped me plant my feet a little firmer in the Austin job market but the salary I had dreamed about wasn’t so easily obtainable. I was still energized by completing my BA so I decided to pursue my Master’s. Why not set the bar even higher in the family, right? At the time, I was a naïve single mom just trying to figure out a way to raise my son without relying on others for help. My ex was, by no means, financially sound so I was going to have to raise my son on my own. I somehow managed to get through the graduate program which emboldened me to expect or demand a higher salary. Although now, I am faced with a lot of student loan debt.
After my dad passed and my mother and I living separately, with me also trying to provide for my son, she and I bought a house together. We felt we could combine our households and reduce our individual payouts living separately. Initially this was a great idea! We were homeowners living in the burbs of Austin! I was driving home with my son when my Ob/Gyn called and said the words I thought I would never hear again, “you have cancer.” What?? No, you must have me confused with someone else. After being referred to an oncologist, I started another round of testing and surgeries. It was confirmed. I have cervical cancer and needed to have a radical hysterectomy.
While I am dealing with the devastating news and trying to keep it together for my son I am then served with custody papers. My ex, who recently remarried, decided to sue me for full custody. This was completely out of left field. He more or less disappeared and had moved out of the area. Now he’s back and wants to take my son away? It didn’t make sense. After 1.5 years in the court system and $37,000 in lawyer fees (mostly borrowed from my mom – what little she had of my dad’s life insurance) the case was resolved. My ex-husband lost most of his visitation. I have yet to pay my mom back fully.
Fast forward six months: my mother finds out she has breast cancer. During her battle and surgeries she and I both are laid off from our jobs. Yay! The only good news from this was she survived her battle. The bad news from this… we couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage on our home. I couldn’t pay my student loans, I couldn’t pay for my car, and I couldn’t pay the mortgage. I started working several contract positions searching for a full-time job. The market sucked and we were desperate.
My loans were absorbed into the newly formed federal student loans program. I was able to put my loans in forbearance for a period of time, which helped, but when those options expired, I was told the only way to delay them was to go back to school. I knew this was a bad idea but it was either that or have the government garnish my wages when I defaulted. So, I went back to school for my second master’s and buried myself in more loans. During this time, Congress passed many home programs to help Americans in need. These programs were to (supposedly) include those unemployed or partially employed. We attempted to save our home using and applying for all available programs. For two years we fought Bank of America (BoA) and continued to jump through hoops to satisfy all requests. We were turned down every single time. We either made too much previously or currently made too little. The help for unemployed Americans was a joke. When I finally landed a good position with another employer (ironically, a Canadian company), it was too late.
We were too far behind and still being turned down by BoA. For health reasons, my mother had to move in with my brother and finally retire from working. We eventually lost the house in August of this year (2014) to the bank. So here I am today as a single mom and gainfully employed, but, I am still buried in debt beyond anything I could ever comprehend. Other than my almost six year old car, I let all of my credit go with the exception of small loans with my credit union. They take the payment automatically whether I can pay it or not. I live my life by paying cash for everything. The most damaging hit so far, due to my current salary, I am considered “rich.” I have no tax breaks available to me as middle class single mom. I can no longer write off the student loan interest I pay as an example.
Who in the policy making world would limit Americans from being able to do the right thing (making their payments) and then been able to seek some relief? Why am I considered rich? Why doesn’t the gov’t understand that “gross” salary for some doesn’t mean their floating cash? Why doesn’t the gov’t want to know why I am struggling and where the money is going? If they would look beyond “gross” income they would see: rent, utilities, student loan payments, groceries, fuel, etc. They wouldn’t see lavish trips, 4 star dining experiences, etc. According to today’s economic standards, I need to have more kids and to make a lot less money (at least this is what the rep at NelNet told me). They said I needed to make less or have a couple of more dependents. Again, I am just over the income line and cannot write off the interest paid on my student loans.
I actually cannot pay the full balance of my student loans right now. Nelnet keeps sending me letters telling me they can “help” me so I don’t fall too far behind. But when I call to request monthly payments, they return with a redundant, “sorry, we can’t help you.” My student loan debt will be late and the growing interest could be a really nice mortgage. As I write this letter I am over $5,000 behind and the treat of garnishing my wages is closing in. A garnishment that would by all accounts put my son and I living in my car. I have no local family to find refuge with.
So here is an overeducated employed mom on the brink of living in my car and having the gov’t step in and take even more from me. This is where I beg… Please help a single middle class mom. If 180,000 people donate a $1 I will be debt free from all of my student loans and try to regain a somewhat normal life. Not a life of riches by any means but some sense of normalcy.
My son shouldn’t be discouraged of going to college and pursuing his dreams. Gov’t Policies and the fight stay alive have cost me dearly. Now my loans are now out of control. I went from $124K (which was still insanely high) to $180K. My (modest) rent and student loan payments take more than half my salary. Many months I make it to the next payday with a check floating at HEB to ensure we can eat until I get paid all the while hoping it doesn’t bounce.
I am also claiming more exemptions on my taxes than I should to have more money in the household now. I know this is a bad idea. I will end up owing taxes next year and have no idea how I’ll pay it. And this is why I am writing you today. Americans are quick to donate money to so many (notable) personal or (not so notable) political causes, and to some that just don’t make any sense.
So I plead with you: Can 180,000 people donate a $1? Or even 90,000 people donate $2? Or 36,000 people donate $5? I don’t want any of the donations to come to me; I want them to go directly to NelNet. If you would prefer to call NelNet and make a direct donation please let me know. There will be no personal gain from any of your donations other than the warm and fuzzy idea that you helped one woman and her son. And of course, there will always be my eternal and humble gratitude. I appreciate your time and consideration. Thank you, Susan H. A struggling single mom