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I am a twenty-six year old male-abandoned in this cesspool of mid-western consumerism called Omaha, Nebraska. I am surrounded by hicks, members of the Religious Right, and Republicans (was that redundant?). I find myself slowly selling out, the survival instinct kicking in and aimlessly reaching out for any form of salvation. Salvation from what? Credit.

My first experience with credit came in 1994, my freshman year of college. Being free from my parents (with an actual place to live for once), I was awed by all these friendly faces offering me T-shirts, huge bags of M&M's, and sports bottles just to fill out an application for a credit card as I entered the cafeteria. Did I actually think I would get one? Not really, but when you're living in the dorms, an extra large bag of candy is a useful bargaining chip (kinda like smokes in prison). Besides, I figured I had ruined my credit passing a couple of bad checks in Phoenix, paired with defaulting on a settlement I had incurred due to running into an old lady's car when I had no insurance. To my surprise I received a J.C. Penny's card in the mail about a month later. I was tempted to cut it up then, but then thought, "It's only a $200 limit, how much trouble can that get me into?" Not much at the time, but much like speeding across a railroad track that's flashing and ringing, you don't see the trouble coming until it's too late.

My girlfriend (now my wife) Amber, had a couple of credit cards that she kept around for emergencies and kept them under control. It seems like when she met me things got out of control. She was very good about declining extraneous credit offers, ripping them up immediately, before the temptation set in. I was not as strong as she was. I told her to "check them out, what harm could they do?" and "We could use the money to get..." not realizing the trouble I was getting us both into. She put me down as an authorized user on her cards, so I got cards in my name, which I used to get more cards. Pretty soon our evenings were spent budgeting our money instead of relaxing and talking to one another. Paying bills began to take over our lives, and other things had to be pushed to the side. I had to spend more hours working to make ends meet and less time partying with my friends. Even working more didn't get out from under the shadow of debt. Payments began arriving late, and sometimes didn't get sent at all. Debt began to pile up and we had no shovel to dig our way out with.

My wife filed for bankruptcy a few months before we were married, hoping to get her slate cleaned up enough that we could rebuild our credit and purchase a house in a few years. My credit was shitty by this time as well, but I had managed to pay off my credit cards by taking out more student loans than I needed. We swore off credit cards and looked to be heading in the right direction financially again. We had managed to save up a little money before our son, Zander, was born in 1998. We had amassed $1700 outside our usual incomes. That may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but I would kill to be that far ahead again. Following his birth, bills started to roll in, diapers needed purchasing, and our savings account was drained. We expected this; that was what the money was there for. We were back at zero, with only one way to go, down.

Being a small family, we decided that our 1988 Buick Skyhawk was not large enough to carry all of us, so we attempted to purchase a larger vehicle. (Many of you may quit reading here if you have made it this far at all.) We tried to buy a mini-van. I know, I know, but it made sense at the time. I was an art student and we needed to tote a lot of art crap around as well as a baby and all the crap they need just to go to the store. We went to a dealership and test dove, and were sweet talked and filled out the paperwork and got our hopes up only to be shot down by every bank that they tried to finance us through. Did we make enough money, yes. $280 a month would have been tough, but we could have gotten by. The credit gods denied our request because of my wife's bankruptcy and my shitty credit. Heartbroken and having lost face in front of a cocky salesman, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to wait a long time before ever owning a new car.

A year later, we decided to try our luck at purchasing a new car again. This time we were successful, purchasing a 1999 Suzuki Esteem Station Wagon. Notice the "Esteem" model name, as if owning this car was going to raise you to a new social class and make you the envy of all your friends. As I mock the name of this particular car, I have to admit that it did in fact raise our self-esteem a bit. Being able to purchase a new car made us feel like adults, worthy of the status and title of "productive citizens." We were new car owners! This was great! We were contributing to the economy, providing jobs to factory workers, salesmen, and road crews across the country. We were proud of our purchase. How fucked up is that? An inanimate object given to us on the judgement of some corporation at 17% interest over 6 years made us feel good about ourselves. Every bank in the country whose interest rates were over 15% was offering us lines of credit left and right. And, being the suckers we are, we accepted. We were trying to rebuild our credit after all. Soon we had racked up over $5000 of debt on 8 different credit cards. We made our payments as we should, but again, it left little money to enjoy life with. It also brought the stresses of financial problems once again and affected my relationship with my wife as well.

Now I've graduated college and moved to Omaha in search of that brass ring to grab hold of and fly off into financial freedom only to find that a college degree don't get you squat anymore. Between myself and my wife, we have about $40,000 in student loans to begin paying back soon on top of our credit card debt, $700 a month in rent, $180 for parking, a $281 car payment, insurance, food, clothing etc. We both now have jobs any high school graduate could have gotten; in fact, I have more education than my boss' boss does. My car is in dire need of a new engine, and the irony is that if I didn't have to pay for parking, my car would run properly. Our credit card bills haven't been paid in months and the collection agents are beating on our doors. We are locked into a 12-month lease that we are going to have to break in order to find a less expensive apartment. Employers tell me that I do not have the right education or enough experience to get any job higher than entry level. This would not bother me if it weren't for the fact that I need more than $1400 a month to get out of debt and survive on. That brass ring has rusted and left me with a mountain of debt, a crappy job, and the mental health of a man living in a rubber room.

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