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My Story: Advice to My 20-Year-Old Self

By: Kara T., University of Alaska Anchorage

I am 33 years old, halfway through my first bachelor’s degree, and digging myself out of the financial mess that was my 20s. I wish someone had told me a few things about life before I grabbed that proverbial shovel and started digging with all of the enthusiasm a 20-something can muster. So, I write to you, current 20-somethings, the letter I wish I could write to my previous self.

You are awesome. You have your whole life ahead of you and you will do some fantastic things. You will earn degrees, find a partner, give back to your communities and find a niche that matches the person you wish to become. But, despite all of that awesomeness, you possess the power to do things that will negatively affect your life. Things that will give you clarity as to why the celebration of your first three decades on earth will forever be known as the “dirty 30.” This fate is not guaranteed, however, and with just a few thoughtful decisions and a bit of careful planning, your life can be different.

During my early 20s I had no real financial awareness. I went to two quarters of college and dropped out; I spent frivolously, acquired copious amounts of debt, and I never thought about just how important that oh-so-annoying credit score we all hear so much about would be in the long run.

I applied for credit cards, bought a car, ate out for every meal, drank designer coffees like they were going out of style and ended up owing student loans for classes I never finished. I "forgot" to pay some bills, always telling myself I'd get to it later. It seemed that there were always more important things to pay for, like designer clothes and having fun. Long story short: I ruined my credit.

Fast forward 10 years, and I encountered my very own "dirty 30." I wanted to buy a house, but the bank said "no way." I needed a new car but this was also a no-go for a loan. I had a low credit score that followed me around like a dark cloud and left me with little shelter from the rain. It has affected every aspect of my life, from getting married in the way I had envisioned, to having children and watching my family grow with the security of a sound financial existence. I was 30 years old and owned nothing of any real value.

I have worked the past few years to bring up my score, but it turns out that ruining your credit happens much more quickly than the repair. I have slowly worked on paying off some of my debts, but I still have more to go. I have made the decision to go back to school, and will finally earn that degree I disregarded so nonchalantly so many years ago. I hope that I can finally dig myself out of the financial hole that was my 20s by the time that I turn 40. I can both proudly and sadly admit that at this point, that 40 is a realistic goal. I am sad that I will reach these goals so much later in my life than I would have liked, but proud that I have finally found the sense to reach them at all.

I urge you to spend your 20s engaged in your financial future. Make better decisions than I did, and buy that house when you are ready, not ten years later. Seek guidance before making large purchases and be responsible with your credit. Make a plan, listen to those with experience, and invest in yourself through education and financial awareness. Save for a rainy day, and make your financial future steadfast and strong. When you get to that celebration of your first three decades on this Earth, celebrate your "sturdy 30" instead of your "dirty 30," and I promise, you will be glad that you did.