From classroom to crisis: A teacher’s debt journey

By Kimberly Rotter

Reviewed by Natasha Pearce

Nov 16, 2023

Read time: 4 min

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From a pit of financial despair, it was almost impossible to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Shaneequa reached the lowest point of her life, but she refused to let a difficult financial situation rob her of hope. 

Money problems snowballed when she lost her job

Shaneequa was a full-time teacher who spent 15 years in a high school classroom. Between pandemic complications and health issues, she was forced to leave her job permanently. 

Her family became ill with COVID-19 multiple times. Each time they had to quarantine, she lost income and job opportunities and fell farther behind financially. Whenever she started to catch up, an unforeseen expense would derail her progress. 

Her car had problems beyond repair, so she spent all of her savings on a replacement. It was a used vehicle that started to malfunction two days after she purchased it. The car problems broke the camel’s back. Shaneequa toppled into a financial crisis that would only grow larger over the following months. 

She spent money trying to repair the car, and on a rental to use while her car was in the shop. But without stable income, she couldn’t keep up with the payments and the repair bills, so her car was repossessed by the lender just months after she bought it. She had no recourse with the seller—they had gone out of business and closed all of their 39 locations. 

Cars are such an essential part of life for most of us. Not having reliable transportation meant Shaneequa couldn’t make it to job interviews, and she sank deeper into a financial hole.

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Financial struggles brought her to an emotional crossroads

Once Shaneequa’s financial problems started to pick up speed, they were like a runaway downhill train that couldn’t be stopped. In addition to her job and her car, she lost her insurance, her bank accounts, and her credit cards. 

Things went from bad to worse. Shaneequa and her family lost their home due to falling too far behind. She had desperately tried to get help with her rent, but the assistance she qualified for was too little, too late. 

Financial troubles are often in spite of efforts, not for lack of trying. 

Shaneequa applied for hundreds of jobs. Hundreds. As any job searcher can relate to, most responses were form-letter rejections or just plain silence. She even tried using a less ethnic-sounding first name on her resume and job applications, in case racial prejudice was standing in the way of the interviews she deserved. 

During her darkest moment, Shaneequa felt hopeless and even contemplated suicide. Life’s challenges felt too huge. Fighting back was exhausting. She wanted to quit. 

She didn’t quit. Instead, at rock bottom, she reached out for help. 

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Shaneequa’s turning point, and taking the first steps back to financial health

Shaneequa chose to stay in action, both asking for help and helping herself. 

She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This was a smart move in that it cleared much of her debt, but at the same time, it was a source of deep shame. Like many people, Shaneequa felt that filing for bankruptcy meant she was a failure. It didn’t. Bankruptcy isn’t a moral judgment. It’s a financial decision and sometimes the best one.

Shaneequa also started a GoFundMe campaign. In it, she laid her soul bare and asked her network to help her if they could. She felt “humbled and degraded” but she asked anyway. Shaneequa gave generous details about her situation, and provided regular updates about the steps she was taking to turn things around. She learned that the people who care about her do want to help if they can. Through donations as small as $10, she raised about $1,000 and used every penny on critical expenses (like moving her children to their grandparents’ home out of state).

During all this, something interesting happened. In her desire to get noticed by employers, Shaneequa creatively engaged with an AI program to optimize her resume. It worked better than she could have ever hoped for, and she started landing interviews. Besides providing genuine job leads, this unexpected development reignited her self-worth.

“Not only was I getting more direct access to humans as a result of my resume hacking, but I also experienced a boost in confidence. Recruiters were reaching out to me for jobs that I didn't know existed, didn’t know I qualified for, and that had salaries I never dreamed could be possible for me. It really felt good to be seen as a human and not just another digital piece of paper again.”

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What comes next? Shaneequa’s options for regaining firm financial footing

Shaneequa turned her resume hack strategy into a book and a course. She moved in with her family and has landed a few paid work stints. She doesn’t have a steady income yet, but things are getting better, little by little, and she maintains a positive, hopeful outlook. She still has some debt to get rid of, but she no longer carries the deep shame. 

While Shaneequa works every day to create housing and income stability, she says she reminds herself often that financial struggles can happen to anyone, and her money situation doesn’t define her. She knows there's always someone feeling even lower, so she shares her experience in the hope that she can help someone else find the strength to keep moving forward. 

“I know there are many people out there with similar stories. So I’m trying to help by being vocal and by sharing what I created.”

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How to get rid of debt 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by debt, know that you are not alone. Help is available. Here are a few options for getting rid of debt, depending on your situation:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy: If you can’t afford payments, you might be able to walk away from some or all of your debts by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You'll need to come up with the money to hire a bankruptcy attorney and pay the court fees (typically between $1,000 and $1,800). The process takes a few months.

  • Debt resolution: If you intended to repay your debts in full but can’t afford to because of a financial hardship, you can negotiate with your creditors to lower the amount you owe. If you’re not sure how to negotiate yourself or you don’t want to, you can work with a professional debt resolution company. Reputable companies don’t charge upfront fees. Most people can complete a debt resolution program in 2 to 4 years.

  • Debt consolidation loan: If you have income and your credit is good enough to qualify, you could consolidate your debts by paying them off with a new loan. This could help you reduce the number of bills you have to pay and get an affordable monthly payment. Loan repayment terms could be anywhere from 2 to 15 years.

  • DIY debt payoff: If you have income and self-discipline, there are several ways to pay off your debts yourself, one at a time. The amount of time it takes depends on your debt and your income, but could be 2 to 5 years.

  • Debt management plan: If you have income, you want to fully repay your debts, but you need guidance, you might qualify for a debt management plan administered by a nonprofit credit counseling agency. You’ll make a single payment to your plan, and they’ll distribute it to your creditors. Only unsecured debts (like credit cards) can be enrolled, and you’ll have to stop using credit while you’re in the plan. You’ll pay off your debts in 3 to 5 years.

Have a conversation with a debt expert who can help you figure out which path might be best for your situation.

*this story was narrated by Shaneequa Canon 


Suicide Prevention Resources

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call or text 988 and talk with someone at any time of day or night. You can also call (800) 273-TALK (800-273-8255).

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

Natasha Pearce - Author

Natasha is Achieve’s Director of Social and Community. For over 10 years, she has built communities across social media and blogs through enriching storytelling that helps brands deepen connections with consumers.

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