Meet a 33-year-old with nearly $400,000 in debt juggling 4 jobs to pay it all off: ‘I work more than I sleep’

Paying bills debt
Jack (not pictured) said he’s one emergency away from defaulting on his loans. LordHenriVoton/Getty Images
  • Jack, a 33-year-old federal government worker, has nearly $US400,000 ($AU547,196) in credit card, mortgage, and student-loan debt.
  • He earns around $US95,000 ($AU129,959) a year working multiple jobs – not enough to cover his $US9,000 ($AU12,312) monthly payments.
  • He is studying for his PhD, and hopes to land a higher-paying job that will help him pay off his debt.

Some people know the daily grind a little too well.

That’s the case for Jack, whose name Insider has changed for privacy purposes. The 33-year-old, who lives in Texas, is a man of many titles. He’s a full-time federal government worker, an adjunct professor, a delivery food driver, and a soon-to-be substitute teacher.

He juggles all these jobs in an effort to pay off his nearly $US400,000 ($AU547,196) debt tab, but his income falls short. Looking toward a better future, he’s also studying for his PhD.

“The reason I ‘hustle’ so hard is to develop multiple streams of income in hopes that it may be enough to gain attention for higher-paying positions,” he told Insider.

It’s an all-too-familiar story for millennials, many of whom find themselves saddled with both student-loan and credit card debt after spending years bouncing around the job market in the wake of the Great Recession. Unable to afford life because of his debt and years of low-paying jobs, Jack pursued an advanced degree, banking on the idea it would pay off in the long run by landing him a higher-paying job.

The math doesn’t add up

Until two years ago, Jack said, he was making less than minimum wage. Today, his pay stubs show that he makes about $US80,000 ($AU109,439) a year in his day job and $US15,000 ($AU20,520) a year adjuncting, plus raking in what he can with other side jobs.

None of it is enough to manage his debt, which includes credit cards and a mortgage totaling $US119,129 ($AU162,967), according to documents reviewed by Insider. He pays $US600 ($AU821) a month on his manufactured home and $US390 ($AU534) a month for the lot it sits on. Plus, he has massive student debt, which make up the remaining $US280,000 ($AU383,037) of his total debt.

That’s a monthly hole of nearly $US9,000 ($AU12,312). Since his current payments likely go toward the accruing interest, he estimates he’d be able to start making a dent in his principal debt if he had an extra $US30,000 ($AU41,040) per year.

On top of all of that, he’s still accruing debt. Because he doesn’t make enough money to pay toward his existing debts and cover his living expenses, he said, he ends up juggling an extra $US1,000 ($AU1,368) a month in fees across maxed-out or near-maxed-out credit cards, accumulating at least $US12,000 ($AU16,416) of additional debt a year.

“I barely breathe. I work more than I sleep,” he said, adding that he averages about four to five hours of sleep a night. “This is the country we are living in.”

The lifelong student debt burden

When Jack completes his PhD in education in August, his estimated monthly student loan payments will be nearly $US2,500 ($AU3,420). He hopes his current degree will pay off in the long run, helping him replace his adjunct role for an evening professorship with better pay. Of course, he’ll still have to keep his day job.

“I am literally one emergency or unexpected event from being unable to pay my bills and default on everything,” he said. As a federal worker, Jack worries that a government shutdown would lead to a delayed paycheck, causing him to default on all his monthly debt obligations.

Jack’s student debt was one unexpected twist to his financial life.

He entered college on an ROTC scholarship, he said, only to have it taken away once he switched infantry positions. He wiped out his $US8,000 ($AU10,944) pre-college savings to pay for tuition, housing, and books before turning to student loans.

He added that he had to pay back 1.5 years of his $US60,000 ($AU82,079) ROTC scholarship, which forced him “to take out predatory loans and credit cards for survival.”

But Jack is hopeful that, as a public service employee, he may be able to benefit from the revamped Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. PSLF is supposed to wipe out student debt for public servants after 120 qualifying monthly payments, Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported, but flaws in the program have caused it to reject 98% of applicants. The Education Department announced major reforms to the program this month, including making it easier for payments to qualify.

Under PSLF, Jack’s student debt would be forgiven by 2033 at the age of 43, after 10 years of making income-based repayments, starting next year. But he said he’d still be very behind in building a retirement nest egg, with zero savings, which would require him to continue hustling for at least 20 years. If he has children, he may not see a “zero debt” balance until his 50s.

Regardless, Jack thinks becoming debt-free is still a realistic possibility for him. “But until then, I will live incredibly stressed, burned out, and not have the opportunity to enjoy life’s luxuries that many of my colleagues enjoy,” he said.