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Posts Tagged ‘Department of Education’

Couch-surfing: Commonly Asked Questions

People often private message me and ask for tips on couch-surfing, as well as ask me other questions about my experiences, so here’s some answers to some of the most common questions:

YOU:  Where do you find your couches? Websites like Couchsurfing.org?

ME:  Actually, I am fortunate to have many friends and friends-of-friends who offer me couches, air mattresses, floors, and the like. Sometimes, even guest rooms! I usually stay with each person for three-to-seven nights, though I house and pet-sit, also, and so my time at someone’s place is usually longer then, anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Couchsurfing.org is a fantastic organization, though. Sort of like an online dating site – but not for dating; rather, to find couches. People have profiles akin to Facebook, and have testimonials from others on their pages, so you are not choosing couches blindly. I have used Couchsurfing.org when traveling abroad, and had nothing but positive experiences. Feel free to private message me for more specific information.

YOU:  You said you would couch-surf in L.A. for fifty-two weeks, but it has been much more than a year now. Why?

ME: Unfortunately and fortunately, yes, it has been over a year now. Actually, over three years. All because I spent the majority of the first year getting out of default with my numerous (about a dozen) student loans, making very high payments to student loan collection agencies, in order to get back in their good graces and to improve my credit score (which is important, and which many people my age/Gen X-ers don’t always take too seriously, though we should).

Long story short, the more I pay off my student loan debt, the better I feel about whittling down that $98,000 to thousands and thousands less now. Since I still make several student loan payments each month, I often say that I still have a landlord – not some middle-aged man, but the faceless Department of Education. J To pay off all my debt and to pay a three-dimensional landlord would be out of my means, financially. And for now, I choose my student loans.

Plus, I really love living with my friends. I recommend that everyone try it, whether or not you’re in debt. It will make you and your friends much closer… usually. ;)

YOU:  Do some people not understand your couch-surfing lifestyle?

ME: Of course, not everyone gets it. I think it’s a creative way of dealing with a serious problem. In 2009, I could not pay my rent and I did not want to leave L.A., either, for I feared that if I left, I would not return (as I had seen so many others do; working in film and TV is not easy and takes a lot of perseverance). So I turned to the one thing I had: friends. And they have been immeasurably kind and generous in opening up their homes and pull-out sofas for me. And I swear I will return the favor one day, when I get an apartment of my own again.

Also, couch-surfing and living on as little money as possible has taught me a lot. For instance, there are so many free things to do in the world, where money is not even required. Not to mention I have learned to travel with one, airline/carry on-sized suitcase and a sleeping bag. Sure, I have some things in storage, but I have realized that, when it really comes down to it, I can live without all that other stuff. People are really the most important commodity, hands down.

I can go on and on about couch-surfing… (If you have more questions, feel free to post them here or send me a message.) Thank you!

Happy anniversary… to me

I just had my couch-surfing anniversary: two-and-a-half years. Who knew a 52-week project would turn into a 130-week one… and counting. The thanks and gratitude I have to every friend and acquaintance who have opened up their homes – and loveseats, sectionals, and yoga mats – to me is immeasurable.

“So why are you still couch-surfing?” people ask.

With the still-unstable job market and my ever-excessive student loan debt (which is where my “rent” money goes each month), taking my sofa out of storage and putting it into a place of my own hasn’t happened yet. Nor do I want to risk it… and then discover I can suddenly not make rent one month. Believe me, that was the most stressful part about having an apartment.

Besides, I still have many friends’ couches to sleep on…  :) Have I slept at your place yet? ;)

Ah, student loans…

This is a chart up at my couch-host-of-the-week’s apartment.

Do you see the bottom left-hand corner, “ST LOAN”?

I cannot wait for the day when we can all cross student loans off our lists… for good!

Are you still paying back your loans? Or have you deferred or defaulted on them?

Money, Money, Money…

When I couldn’t sleep the other night, I thought it was a sign that right when I turned on my couch host’s 500-some-channel TV, Suze Orman’s Money Class came on.

Everyday people from the audience asked her all kinds of questions – When should I start saving for my child’s college education? (Her child was less than a year old. Suze advised the woman to check out savingforcollege.com.) My girlfriend and I are moving in together, she makes twice as much as I do, how should we split the rent? (Suze advise that if he and his girlfriend have different incomes, they should contribute the same percentage toward their rent versus the same amount.) And the good old, I have almost $100,000 in student debt and am thinking of filing for bankruptcy to get rid of it. What do you think?

Of course, this last question was the one most relevant to my financial situation and to many of my friends’ as well. Suze told the teary-eyed man that even if he filed for bankruptcy, it would not take care of his student loan debt. Rather, interest would continue to accrue and he’d be in even more financial trouble later. (I think this is a common – and scary – myth, people thinking bankruptcy will erase their student loans.)

As many of you know from this CNNMoney article about my couch-surfing that ran a few months ago, I have a lot of student loan debt. A LOT. As of April, it teetered around nearly $100,000.

Like the man, I wanted to cry. (I think more from shock than anything else.) But as I figured out a payment plan and solution, instead of seeing the debt as a burden, I saw it as an opportunity. (After all, if I had not lost my job in 2009, I would not have given up my apartment and started couch-surfing, which is an incredibly fascinating/rewarding/too-many-things-to-mention-here experience that I would not trade for anything.)

When people ask me why I still do not have an apartment, I remind them that I do pay rent – but to a collection agency; the Department of Education is my landlord. (They obviously had no home to garnish, just wages, so setting up a monthly rehabilitation payment plan was my only option, which was scary for someone who freelances, especially at times when my freelance jobs ebb more than they flow.)

As ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” song (from the mid-‘70s, mind you) says: “I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay/Ain’t it sad/And there still never seems to be a single penny left for me/That’s too bad…”

Yes, it is too bad for the millions of us who are under- and unemployed, wondering when we will be out of debt, when we don’t have to worry about every penny, when we will no longer have to work three jobs for the price of one.

We all know people in this situation: ourselves, friends who have lost their homes or downsized, Boomerang Kids who have moved back in with their families… And as Suze said on her show, we used to live beyond our means and now we are living below our means; our pleasure in saving money needs to exceed our pleasure of spending money; and don’t let one dollar go to waste.

It’s all about adjusting our attitudes, I think. That’s all we can do, right?

I know it’ll still take months – years – to pay off my loans, but after doing so for several months now, I have to say it is a very satisfying feeling. Instead of being depressed about the insane amount of money I still owe, I get excited about all the money I no longer owe.

We just have to make the most of it in this economy, even if the most seems like very little. But if we add up all the “very little”s, they amount to a lot. Someday, to $98,122.30.