Black Enterprise — September 2012
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Facing Debt And Winning
LaToya M. Smith

After letting credit card bills pile up for years, Casandra Roache mustered the courage to face her financial fears By LaToya M. Smith

DEBT CAN DESTROY MORE THAN JUST YOUR CREDIT—IT CAN TAKE A TOLL on your physical and emotional health. Casandra Roache, 28, saw just how quickly small money worries could transcend into a mounting mass of stress and anxiety when lef unsettled.

But financial stress was new to the Florida resident. She came from a household where living within her means, saving, and homeownership were taught. When she got her first job out of college working for a nursing travel company earning $10 an hour, she consistently saved $25 per paycheck. She also stuck to a budget, became a homeowner at 23, and used her credit wisely, resulting in an 800 FICO score.

“My mom is the person I saw buy houses, manage tenants, and build equity and wealth. She would take me to the bank with her to deposit money and open accounts. She was showing me [financial responsibility] through her regular life,” explains Roache.

But shortly after purchasing her home in 2007, Roache drifed off course when she started charging items on her credit card for a man she was dating.

“It was just a simple, ‘Hey can you charge this for me?’ It started with a laptop, and then clothes, then plane tickets,” recalls Roache, who was 24 at the time.

A year later, she had accumulated more than $14,000 in debt on two credit cards with interest rates ranging between 14% and 25%.

“I kept putting paying the debt off because I kept saying to myself, ‘He’s going to pay me back,’” Roache explains. “These are items I would have never charged for myself. I would only buy items on my credit card when I knew I could pay it off right away or to take advantage of reward points.”

The relationship ended and she never received a dime. Instead of tapping into her savings or seeking help from her parents, Roache hit the panic button.

“I was always afraid to use my liquid cash and emergency fund, and I’ve never been a person to ask friends or family for financial help,” explains Roache.

With creditors constantly calling, interest accruing, and a missed mortgage payment, Roache became so mentally and physically beat down that she couldn’t eat or sleep. Her figure slimmed from a size eight to a size two in a matter of months.

“I was stressed out. I didn’t want to look at any credit card statements or answer the phone, so I went paperless and put my credit card debt on automatic minimal repayment,” she says.

For three years she paid the minimum balance of $100 on each card. But in 2010 she heard a church sermon that talked about not bringing debt into your marriage and expecting your spouse to pay it. With hopes of getting married one day and thinking how unfair it would be to her future husband, the next day she called the bill collectors to negotiate a repayment plan.

One of the credit card companies agreed to stop assessing punitive fees such as late payments and interest if she’d pay $173 per month until the balance was paid off; however, if Roache misses a payment then the contract is null and void.

For the last two years she has made every payment on time. Roache credits a realistic budget for being able to meet her debt obligations. Programs like helped her keep track of her spending, and she also keeps track of bills on a spreadsheet.

She’s even made extra lump sum payments, afer transitioning into a development officer position with the United Way of Broward in 2010 and using income from her side business as a life coach,, which she founded in 2010. So far she has paid off more than $7,000 of her credit card debt and plans to pay the remaining nearly $7,000 balance in about three years.

The secret to getting control of her debt? “You just have to open your mouth,” says Roache. “I was mad that I didn’t say anything sooner. It just goes to show you that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.”


. Speak up! “I let [my debt] go for three years and just paid the minimum. That was a big mistake,” she admits. Creditors are willing to work with individuals who are facing financial hardship, but “often times we ignore them and hope they’ll just stop calling.” Everyone’s situation is different, but if you’re making regular on-time payments, there is a higher probability that you will be offered a lower interest rate or payment plan. “You have to ask for what you want, no matter if its business, life, or a relationship.”

. You can have fun on a budget. Just because you’re living on a budget does not mean that you can’t enjoy life.“Factor in what is important to you in your budget and see how you can fit it in and what time frame is realistic based On what you can afford to save. With proper planning and execution, you can do it.”.

. Live the simple life. “Don’t buy a Louis Vuitton purse knowing you don’t have anything to put in it. Sit down and figure out what your main mission is in life. And every decision you make as it relates to your finances, ask yourself, ‘Does this go in line with my values, my mission, and with who I really am?’ Write everything down from chewing gum to shoes for a month to analyze your spending habits; itemize everything. I understand that there are a lot of websites out there that will do this for you, but it has a greater impact to see, for example, what you spend on eating out and think of ways you can do things differently,” shares Roache.

The 10 Wealth for Life Principles

1 I will live within my means.

2 I will maximize my income potential through education and training.

3 I will effectively manage my budget, credit, debt, and tax obligations.

4 I will save at least 10% of my income.

5 I will use homeownership as a foundation for building wealth.

6 I will devise an investment plan for my retirement needs and children’s education.

7 I will ensure that my entire family adheres to sensible money management principles.

8 I will support the creation and growth of minority-owned businesses.

9 I will guarantee my wealth is passed on to future generations through proper insurance and estate planning.

10 I will strengthen my community through philanthropy.