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I’m a 26-year-old journalist making $26,000 annually, and the only debt I have is $31,000 in student loans. I’m following your plan, so I also have $1,000 in my starter emergency fund and am working side jobs to make extra money. Since my job field is volatile, I’ve lost and found a couple of jobs in the last few years and have an older car. Should I beef up my emergency fund in case I go through another job loss or I have problems with my vehicle?
In your case, I think you might want to increase your emergency fund to around $3,000. Usually, I’d rather people focus on knocking out debt once they have a beginner emergency fund in place, but it sounds like you’ve got extenuating circumstances in your life. Older cars, especially those with lots of miles, could need attention at any time. And you’re right about your job too. The newspaper world is pretty volatile and even downright insecure at times. This isn’t your fault, but I’m glad you’re looking ahead.
Just push the pause button on paying off debt for the moment, and build up your emergency fund a bit more. That will give you a little more wiggle room in case life decides to throw something unexpected at you. Then, go back to paying off debt before you increase your emergency fund to a full three to six months of expenses.
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Having a little financial stability is a big thing for you right now, Sarah. It will help you feel a little more secure until the debt is gone. And once that happens, you’ll really be able to fly!
We had our first child a few months ago, and some of the bills have gone to collections. We’ve paid what we could, but we each make only about $15,000 a year. Now, we’re getting calls and letters from collectors wanting our checking account information and electronic access. When we won’t give it to them, they accuse us of not following the terms and conditions of the agreements. They say we’ll be penalized if we don’t comply. What should we do?
You’re doing the right thing by not giving them your account information and electronic access. The stuff they’re saying is just collector talk, and they’re full of crap. The next time you talk to one of them, just let them know you have every intention of paying what’s owed. But the bill is going to be paid by you. There’s nothing in an agreement like that which gives them the right to your account numbers or electronic access. These people can stop lying and act right, or they can go jump in the lake.
The biggest issue here is your income. If I’m your husband, I’m going to find an extra job delivering pizzas a few nights a week for the time being. He could make an additional $1,000 a month for the next 10 months, and that problem would be solved. Instead of working 40 to 45 hours a week, try working 60 to 80 for just a little while.
Still, you both need to examine your career track for the future. Look into different types of training and education with the attitude of doubling or even tripling your income in the next five years. I want you both to develop long-term plans to increase your income, and a short-term plan to get out from under this debt in a hurry. That’s the kind of thinking that will get rid of collectors faster than anything else. They’re just a symptom of the bigger problem.