Chiropractor works 2 jobs to chip away at $165,000 in school debt
USA TODAY, in partnership with ABC News, is exploring the issues of being young and in debt in a six-week series that began last Monday. We’ve paired five twentysomethings with members of the Financial Planning Association who are lending advice. And we’re offering tips for managing debt, cutting expenses and saving. Follow the entire series and find online tools and resources at youngdebt.usatoday.com.
Heather Schopp lives just two minutes from the beach in Long Beach, Calif. But in the past year, she’s made it to the ocean’s edge only twice.
That’s because she has a full-time job as a chiropractor and a part-time job as a personal trainer. “All I do is work,” she says.
Yet despite her two jobs, she’s still struggling to pay her living expenses and the minimum monthly payments on her student loan and credit card debts.
She’s amassed nearly $165,000 in student loan debt from attending graduate school at Southern California University of Health Sciences in Whittier. She graduated in April 2005 with a degree in chiropractic health.
While at the university, she borrowed for tuition, books and living expenses. (The $165,000 she borrowed is just principal, not interest.) She also has about $9,000 in credit card debt and a $4,000 car loan.
“I get really frustrated,” says Schopp, 29. “I try to pay a little more every month on my credit cards, but the interest is so high, I feel like I’m never getting anywhere.”
Like tens of thousands of twentysomethings, Schopp emerged from college and graduate school with so much debt that her transition into full-fledged adult life has been difficult. She also lives in Southern California, where real estate values have skyrocketed and remain dizzying.
“It’s terribly expensive here,” she says. “My rent is $830 a month, and it’s not even a full one bedroom. I talk to my friends in Arizona, and they’ve got two- or three-bedroom apartments for $1,000.”
She earns about $44,000 a year at both jobs combined, or $3,700 a month. But it doesn’t go far.
“I really watch how I spend my money to buy gas and groceries,” she says. “I have to be careful. But I’d like to go out once a month to dinner or something. A $50 dinner? That’s like a credit card payment.”
Schopp has no savings account. She doesn’t save in an individual retirement account or a 401(k). And she has no health insurance — yet. She qualifies for a health plan at work, but she’d have to pay half the cost. Right now, she just can’t afford it, she says.
Her parents, back in South Dakota, don’t provide financial assistance, though she knows they would help in a real emergency. “I didn’t want to burden them with school debt,” she says. “But if I need them, I can go to them.”
She loves being a chiropractor, but, “You end up owing so much that you second-guess if it was really worth it.”
Her mammoth student loan debt is also affecting her outlook for the future. She would marry, even with the debt, but she would put off having children.
“My first priority would be paying for my child’s college education,” Schopp says. “I’m just not in a position to do that now.”
She’s made some good friends in Long Beach, but she’s starting to think that she might have to leave Southern California for cheaper climes.
“I know I could go somewhere else and make the same amount of money and start to get ahead,” Schopp says. “I wonder if it’s really worth sticking it out.
“On Monday, I’m leaving, but by Tuesday I’m staying. It depends what day you catch me on.”
PLANNER’S ADVICE: Create a budget, cut living expenses and make more money Autor: Mindy Fetterman