Financial mistakes are pretty much unavoidable. Even the most prepared person can have a stroke of bad luck or an accident that leads to financial stress. But even when things seem to be at their darkest, there is a solution. You can be stricken with misfortune and still work your way out of a money jam. We talked to five people who found themselves the main characters in financial horror stories. They told us how they handled their situations and ended up the better for it.
1. Divorce and Tax Debt
Lindsay, 28, was on the wrong end of a tax bill because she forgot to change her withholding status.
“The year I got divorced, I initiated proceedings in April, but the divorce was finalized on December 28,” Lindsay says. “With everything going on emotionally, I failed to change my tax withholding information at my job, and because I was single on December 31, I was considered single for the whole year. Cue my $5,000 tax bill. I was actively paying off debt at the time and had only $1,000 saved up.”
“I had to figure out how to make a lot more money outside of my nine-to-five, and also how to avoid racking up any more debt for two and a half months so I could pay the bill by the due date.”
Thanks to side hustling and sacrifice, Lindsay was able to get the extra $4,000 she needed to resolve her tax bill.
“I had a standard side hustle of pet-sitting, so I reached out to some folks for more jobs,” she says. “Mostly it was just a matter of putting myself out there. I offered labor or services to friends and family, so I helped with landscaping, putting in a water line, babysitting, distributing flyers for an auction company, and even writing and editing some résumés for job-searching friends.”
Further Reading: “What to Do If You Owe Taxes and Can't Pay”
2. An Overly Expensive Car and a Bike Accident
Renai, 33, recalls the time in her early 20s when a lack of financial planning and a bike accident combined to wreak financial havoc in her life.
“I bought a car that I absolutely could not afford, then got into a bike accident that required a visit to the ER and extensive dental work,” Renai says. “I didn’t have health insurance, which landed me in collections.”
Renai was in a tight spot. But with help from her mother and income from her job, she was able to turn things around in a year.
“My mom sold her car to pay the difference on my car loan so I could sell mine,” Renai says. “Then she paid off my medical debt, loaning me the money at zero-percent interest, which I paid off in full within a year. Shortly after that, I sat down and actually wrote out a budget for the first time.”
3. A Car Wreck
Nicole, 34, has a car insurance horror story. “I worked hard and paid extra for years on my very first new car,” she says. “As soon as I paid it off, I stopped carrying full-coverage car insurance because I mistakenly thought didn’t need it anymore.”
“I hadn’t even made my first reduced-coverage payment when I crashed into a semi, totaling the car. I was 27 at the time.”
Not having full coverage left Nicole with a huge bill. She ended up selling her car to a junkyard in order to pay it. “The car was probably worth $7,000, but I ended up getting $400 for it,” she says. “I had to downgrade to a older vehicle and start making payments all over again.”
Further Reading: “The Money Lessons I Learned From My Car Crash”
4. A Breakup Gone Bad
Russell, 26, was working as a manager at a textbook store when romantic and financial problems entered his life. After a nasty breakup with his live-in girlfriend, she let their dog run wild in the apartment.
“Our dog, Zed, was a Weimaraner, which is a large breed. She let Zed go nuts in the apartment to get back at me, and he caused almost $2,000 of damage,” Russell says. “The lease was in my and mom’s name, and somehow we never got the bill for the damage. So the landlord sent it to collections, and it came to us that way.”
That $2,000 bill presented Russell with a big problem, given his modest textbook-store paycheck. As the cosigner, his mom paid the bill up front. He paid her back over eight months so that the collection agency wouldn’t ruin both of their credit scores.
5. Student Loans That Wouldn’t Die
Courtney, 37, has an all-too-common tale: She didn’t understand the impact of her student loans on her finances.
“I honestly had no idea that, as an undergrad, I borrowed federal student loans in my own name, until they went to collections,” Courtney says. “I just buried my head in the sand and believed my parents when they said they would take care of everything.”
Courtney’s misunderstanding left her credit ruined for the first part of her post-college life. Once she grasped what had happened, she took matters into her own hands.
Further Reading: Learn how to get credit repair help.
“I was lucky that the loans totaled only $17,000,” Courtney says. “Once I realized what I had done, I was super-embarrassed and vowed to (1) turn around my own financial understanding and reality and (2) try to make sure other dumb college grads would wake up to their financial realities. So I worked in financial aid for 10 years, just started a job as a high school college counselor, and have done financial education workshops for teens as often as I can over the years. I am also going to be paid off in full — both undergrad and grad loans — at the end 2018!”
Lessons Learned From Financial Horror Stories
All of these financial horror stories prove how resilient people can be. True, your money problems can be stressful. However, they can also prove to be mere bumps in the road if you work toward solving them.