Money Audit

Check-In: Expecting Couple Struggling with Debt, But Future Looks Bright

When I first connected with Julia and John, the Queens, NY couple was expecting their first child and grappling with some debt, a lack of savings and income prior to the baby’s arrival. The couple was basically living paycheck to paycheck and in need of some advice to break through that cycle.

We reconnected this month to see how they’ve been doing. Julia is now nearing the end of her third trimester. The baby is due to arrive in two months.

I was hoping that with a baby on the way the couple would have found some ways to chisel away their debt or bulk up savings. Unfortunately, fie months later, they’re more or less still in the same money boat.

But they did act upon a couple of my tips and are benefiting from the goodness of New York and their parents, which has their futures looking brighter.

First, John, who lacks a college degree and was struggling to find full-time work, is going back to school. Not to a college or university, but to a 9-month software boot camp in New York that’s going to give him the skills and network to become a software developer. His potential earnings in the first year in the market could be as much as $75,000 (based on some people I know who’ve gone through similar programs in New York.)

The program will be about $15,000, a fraction of what it would cost to earn a bachelor’s degree. John’s parents have agreed to loan him the money. The couple’s decided to place that $15,000 family loan in savings and, instead, take out a small student loan to pay for John’s school. I agree with that strategy, given that their family is about to increase in size and having some cash on hand will be very important.

Once John completes school and finds work, I’d recommend the couple prioritize the credit card debt by paying at least double the minimums each month. Be most aggressive with the highest interest credit card debt first. Their student loan will likely have a smaller interest rate and can be paid over a 10-year period, making the monthly minimums relatively manageable. Automate those payments as soon as possible and benefit from a 0.25% interest rate reduction when they do.

While they’re taking on more debt, I’m okay with it. Investing in John’s education is one of the best ways this couple can get ahead and better secure their finances in the future – so long as they commit to earning more and paying it down.

Ahead of that program starting, John’s also taken on a side hustle (per my advice). He’s been working a few shifts here and there at Julia’s company, working with special needs patients as a social aide, taking them to community and outdoor events.

Some other good news that’s developed since we last spoke is that New York State has enhanced its Family and Medical Leave Act by implementing Paid Family Leave. In the past, certain employers were only required to provide workers with their jobs back after taking a leave of absence for up to 12 weeks. Now, qualifying private employers must provide paid time off and a continuation of health insurance for 8 weeks in 2018.

This came as a surprise bonus for Julia, who was preparing for zero paid time off from her employer.

It would be my recommendation to use part or all of that extra money to pay down their high-interest credit card debt.

Once Julia returns to work after her maternity leave, her mother-in-law will be the go-to caretaker during the day, another huge help.

They’re fortunate to have free childcare from a trusted, loved one. With that very big expense covered and John’s schooling about to start, I feel confident that the couple’s future is a financially bright one.