In college, Whitney got her first credit card.
Her dad encouraged her to use her new line of credit only when she really needed it. At first, Whitney was cautious. But after using her card to pay for computer repairs, the lid was off. Not having to immediately pay back the expensive repairs was exhilarating. “It was like, ‘I just spent a bunch of money, and I don’t have to pay it back all right away. I could do that again and again,’” she explains.
Any purchase that seemed expensive went on the credit card, where Whitney could avoid it. This cycle of spending without paying in full continued for years, until she had accrued credit card debt well into five figures.
Even an inheritance she received when her mother passed away was soon gone. She paid off her previous debt, but hadn’t developed a foundation of good financial habits. “I spent all the rest of the money and ended up racking up the exact same amount of debt, if not more,” she says.
A discouraging cycle
Whitney’s mounting credit card debt made each month feel increasingly bleak. She made just enough money to pay her bills, make the minimum payments on her credit cards, and have a little left over to scrape by.
To get herself on the right track, Whitney tried setting up a spreadsheet budget, a tactic many personal finance experts recommend. But centering her life around a spreadsheet formula turned out to be more burden than relief.
Whitney found herself checking her bank balance upwards of ten times a day. She felt trapped. “It pained me to try to chop [my paycheck] up into tiny little pieces,” she explains. “It’s like the old Looney Tunes, with the hobo slicing a bean in half. That’s how it would feel.” The stress and complexity eventually caused her budget to fall apart.
Whitney finally confided in her dad, a person she knew she could trust for financial advice. After scrutinizing her situation he told her the best thing she could do is declare bankruptcy. “When you hear that,” Whitney remembers, “it’s really scary.”
For Whitney, bankruptcy made sense. She rents her apartment and isn’t planning on moving or buying a home. She doesn’t have a partner or family relying on her. Bankruptcy was a calculated risk.
Within days of talking to her dad, she found a lawyer and started the filing process.
“I just didn’t want to continue to live with that weight on me,” she explains. Whitney estimates that it would have taken 30 years to pay off her credit card bills making the minimum payments she could afford. “I looked into my future. I saw there was no way I’m ever going to pay any of this down. If anything goes slightly wrong, I’m just gonna be screwed.”
Whitney filed for bankruptcy. It was a tough time for her—creditors were constantly calling her and her family, and she went through a long legal process.
But Whitney cleared the hurdles, both emotional and financial. She’s soon to receive official notice that her debts have been discharged.
“It’s going to be a bit of a head trip when I get it,” she says. “It’s gonna be like, ‘Well, this is it. This is proof that you did the most grown-up thing you’ve ever done.’”
With her prior mishandling of her inheritance, Whitney knows what it’s like to botch a second chance. While she’s in a very different place now, she still recognizes the need to develop good financial habits that will keep her debt-free.
At the prompting of a friend, Whitney switched to Simple several months before declaring bankruptcy. Initially, she moved a small amount of money into the account to try it out. She has since begun using her account to actively manage her money. She now uses Goals to manage her money. It’s the first tool she’s used to budget since her days in spreadsheet hell.
When she gets her paycheck, she moves money into Goals for crucial expenses like bills and groceries. This leaves her some wiggle room for discretionary spending and savings– new territory for Whitney.
“[Using Goals] has actually led me to being able to work up a little bit of emergency savings,” she says. This savings came in handy when Whitney recently dropped and shattered her phone.
Dipping into her new emergency fund was surprisingly stressful, but Whitney felt prepared. “I’m like, ‘No. That’s what it’s there for, and you can rebuild it now. It’s gonna be okay,’” She says, with a smile. “I’m not quite used to not feeling like I’m not teetering on the edge of disaster at all times.”
A fresh start
Whitney isn’t ashamed of declaring bankruptcy. She’s outspoken about the upsides of her experience with her friends and on Twitter. “You’re the arbiter of your own future. You are the one who’s going to have to take control. You’ve got this far, and you can do it again,” she says.
She pushed the reset button on her finances. Now, to maintain financial stability, she’ll need to actively manage her money in a way she hasn’t before. While past attempts at budgeting have been difficult, she’s finally found a tool that works for her.
Using Simple, she’s engaging her money, making it easier to stick to her plans and rebuild. Unburdened by credit card debt, the future looks bright. “I’m not sure how I’m going get there,” she says, “but I’m imagining what millionaire Whitney is going to do.”