Long Story $hort Episode 5

Freedom from Debt Means Finally Being Able to Think About the Future

As the daughter of immigrants from South Korea, Joanne Lee was not taught about personal finance at home and talking about debt was taboo. When Joanne was overloaded with credit card debt, a Google search for help led her to MMI.

While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, she paid off $25,000 in three years and increased her credit score by 111 points. Now she serves as a Peer Advocate for MMI and shares her story to decrease the stigma around debt. Finally free from debt, Joanne is excited to think and dream about her future.

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Show Notes

  • Guest: Joanne Lee
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Joanne Lee: So I started looking online and there was all these, like the loans that you can take out to cover your credit card debt, and all that kind of stuff. But I was like I don't think this is for me. And then I stumbled across MMI and honestly it's like the best thing that's ever happened to me in my entire life. Because it basically saved my life. You know?

[00:00:30] Adam Walker: Debt. We've all heard of it. Most of us have it. Debt is an almost unavoidable reality of life. But what happens when it starts consuming life? The experts at Money Management International believe that financial challenges aren't meant to be faced alone.

On this podcast, we hear stories of people whose lives have been changed by MMI’s role as their toughest coach and loudest cheerleader. Their stories are unique, personal, and inspiring. So stay tuned, because we're sharing each guest’s Long Story Short.

Today on the show, I’m talking with Joanne Lee. Joanne is from West Lafayette, Indiana, which is about 1 hour northwest of Indianapolis. While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, she paid off $25,000 in three years and increased her credit score by 111 points.

Now Joanne serves as a Peer Advocate in MMI’s Peer Advocate Program, which is designed to increase MMI’s reach and service delivery to marginalized communities, with a specific focus on BIPOC consumers and low-to-moderate-income households. Joanne, welcome to Long Story Short!

[00:01:50] Joanne Lee: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

[00:01:52] Adam Walker: It's so nice to talk to you. I appreciate you taking the time to do that. So let's start with you because we want to get to know you. Give us the one minute flyover of who you are, where you're from, what your days are like, and kind of what you're about.

[00:02:07] Joanne Lee: Well, my parents are from South Korea and they immigrated before I was born. So I was born in Chicago. I have one sister, also born in Chicago, and we moved to West Lafayette not too long ago because my sister's in graduate school at Purdue University, and I currently work from home, and I have a dog named Potato.

[00:02:31] Adam Walker: The, I'm sorry, the dog's name is potato? That's kind of amazing.

[00:02:34] Joanne Lee: Yeah, she's pretty amazing.

[00:02:36] Adam Walker: What kind of dog is it?

[00:02:38] Joanne Lee: Well, she's a double doodle, so she's a labradoodle and goldendoodle.

[00:02:44] Adam Walker: Love that. I love that. That's fantastic. Okay. Well well hopefully potato won't make any appearances today.

[00:02:50] Joanne Lee: No, she won't be all right.

[00:02:51] Adam Walker: So let's dig into your debt story. What was happening in your life when you became a client of MMI? And was there any particular breaking point where you knew that you needed additional help?

[00:03:02] Joanne Lee: Well as a child of an immigrant family, we don't really talk about financial issues or debt or anything like that. And there was no education, basically, for any kind of financial side of things and so I didn't know anything going in getting my first credit card. And at that time, I not only knew nothing about credit cards or anything finance related, but I thought it was basically like my money. Right? And I was supporting my sister at the time.

I had just graduated college, got my first job, and it was just a lot of things happening all at once. And I just was not prepared for adulthood or handling my own finances and anything like that. So I ended up spending a lot more than was my money because I kind of, I guess I kind of thought that the credit card was my money, the balance on it, but it really wasn't.

And yeah it was just like a spiral into debt. Because not only did I have no education, but I had no. Yeah, I guess at that time it was just, I was very confused, and in my twenties, and at that time like getting into work for the first time making paychecks and all that kind of stuff. It was just a lot at once and I didn't know anything.

[00:04:33] Adam Walker: So yeah. I mean it's kind, it strikes me that it's kind of easy to overlook, right?

[00:04:37] Joanne Lee: Yeah for sure.

[00:04:38] Adam Walker: I mean, it's your first job. You're getting a paycheck. You're taking that to the bank. You know, you're getting bills, but you're not really paying that much attention to them and you're just trying to figure it out.

Right, and so I feel like it, that particular time in life is really easy to get into debt because it's just easy to sort of overlook all the details.

[00:04:59] Joanne Lee: Oh yeah, for sure. And if your parents aren't the ones to provide you the financial education, no one else will. You know, schools don't have personal finance classes or anything like that. And they really should. Because you know, graduating from college, you don't know anything about handling 401ks, or savings accounts, or how to handle credit cards, and all that kind of stuff. So.

[00:05:25] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:05:26] Joanne Lee: It was just a very confusing time.

[00:05:28] Adam Walker: And I think a lot of times we get older and we go, oh, that stuff was so obvious, but I think it's no, it's really not all that obvious at all. Right. And to your point, if there's not someone that will guide you through that, it's really confusing and really hard to navigate.

So now in your story, I mean, was there any particular moment where you realized that you needed some additional help figuring this out? And is that, and was, and at that point, is that when you came to MMI?

[00:05:54] Joanne Lee: Yeah, so I had racked out, like you said, like 25 K in debt and I was basically drowning in debt. And I was feeling very overwhelmed, emotionally and financially. And at that time I was in a relationship and I felt like that had hindered my relationship with the person, because I felt like I was worthless, and like that I just didn't know what to do at that time.

The weight of debt is so much more heavier than anybody would really think, I guess. So it really affected my relationships at that time, not just with that person, but like everybody else, my family, and my friends, and all of that. I felt really hopeless at that time. And I wasn't sure what to do. And I started to talk to my best friend about it for the first time.

Because, you know, in immigrant families, we don't talk about like financial problems or debt or anything like that. So I couldn't talk to my parents about it and I felt embarrassed and I felt like, What, how did I get myself into this hole? You know? And I felt like there was nothing that I could do because 25 K was such an enormous amount for me.

And I, I just didn't know how to pay it off. And I was also working like paycheck to paycheck and trying to just pay back the interest that had piled up on my credit cards. And it was, it was a terrible time. And I reached out to my best friend, and she's very good with personal finance, and she's always like, talked about that kind of stuff.

But I felt like I had to talk to her. And we talked about how budgeting and all that kind of stuff. And she talked me through a lot of like her methods. But I guess I couldn't, like her methods weren't enough for the amount of debt that I had piled up. So I started looking online and there was all these, like, you know, the loans that you can take out to cover your credit card debt and all that kind of stuff.

But I was like I don't think this is for me and then I stumbled across MMI and honestly, it's like the best thing that's ever happened to me in my entire life. Because it basically saved my life, you know? And when I called them, the person, the representative that was on the phone with me, he was just, he was so good.

He was explaining everything and he like basically I felt like I was like meeting with a therapist. It was after that phone call, I felt like so much lighter and I felt like I could do it. And the whole plan and everything was so, it was so detailed and the representative, if I had any questions, he would answer them right away.

And, yeah, it was just an amazing experience and like paying off 25 K in three years is a huge thing, you know? And the only way that was possible was because I was able to use MMI.

[00:08:57] Adam Walker: Wow. I mean, that's just amazing. That's an amazing story and I like, you know, it seems like there was an inflection point for you where, you know, you realized you needed help. You called MMI and you said once there was a plan, you felt lighter immediately, right?

[00:09:14] Joanne Lee: Yeah.

[00:09:14] Adam Walker: And I think to me, like, that's like, that's a huge lesson for all of us. Like, if you feel overwhelmed, once there's a plan, everything can feel much more manageable, much, much better, right?

[00:09:25] Joanne Lee: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

[00:09:27] Adam Walker: That's fantastic. All right. So. So I think you mentioned you're a second generation American think you said your parents immigrated over to the US. Where did they immigrate from? And I wonder you know and you mentioned this a bit earlier about, you know, how you really didn't talk about money, but I wonder, you know, do you talk about money any now? And how do you see stories of debt playing out with immigrant families?

[00:09:50] Joanne Lee: Well, my parents immigrated from South Korea and like I said before we don't talk about financial things if we can help it. And like debt, especially that's taboo basically. Like there's no reason for you to have debt, no matter what that's like not heard of, like, you can't do that. But I mean, it happened to me, so , and I'm sure it happens to a lot of people actually.

I mean the lack of financial education definitely has to do with it too. But, also that like from immigrant families are very like strict about financial things. Like you can't spend money on worthless things. Like it has to be like food and like utilities, you know, things like that. You can't buy yourself to go like $22,000 bag or anything like that. You know, that's like taboo. But. Yeah, like even now we don't really talk about it that much. But I've definitely been like looking into my retirement and things like that. So when I start, when I, and I have the time to do that now, you know, after I've paid off my debt, now I can start looking to the future because.

I've been able to get rid of what was weighing down, weighing me down in the past so.

[00:11:07] Adam Walker: Wow. That's gotta feel great.

[00:11:08] Joanne Lee: Oh yeah. So, so good. And like, now that I'm thinking about the future, and retirement, and everything like that. Now I'm also thinking about that kind of stuff for my parents too, you know, and they have nothing, they don't have a 401k, they don't have any retirement savings or anything.

So, I guess I've been trying to get them to start thinking about it more before they retire, because they're definitely getting there that age. Yeah. So we talk about that, but we don't talk about debt still. Like. It's very hard.

[00:11:42] Adam Walker: Sounds like you're becoming the family's financial planner.

[00:11:45] Joanne Lee: Yeah. That's basically what I'm doing right now. And I think it's amazing because you know, second generation should be the ones to teach their parents because their parents also don't know anything.

[00:11:55] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:11:56] Joanne Lee: Especially if they immigrated from a different country to United States. It's so different from country to country, you know?

[00:12:02] Adam Walker: Right. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, quite, quite the learning curve there, for sure.

[00:12:07] Joanne Lee: Yeah, for sure. But to go back to your question, how you, how do we see it? Like with other immigrant families, how it could play out? I think honestly, like I said before, I think the second generation, for people that were born in the United States, we still have so much more opportunity to learn about finances and everything.

So I feel like it's kind of our responsibility to educate our parents and any other like family members, even though we're like siblings or anything. So it's just, it's about taking initiative and making it a conversation that's not taboo like normal, you know, daily life.

[00:12:51] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean and that kind of plays into my next question. And that's so important. I think you've mentioned kind of several times in this interview that debt's not something you talked about. Finances aren't something you talked about.

And there is a stigma around debt that really impacts a person's willingness to seek help. And I wonder, do you have any additional thoughts on that? And I wonder, what do you think we can do to change those conversations?

[00:13:21] Joanne Lee: Well, I think it's really about like, learning about just regular people's experiences with debt.

[00:13:31] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:13:33] Joanne Lee: And like you said, it's like taboo to talk about it. But the few people that are willing to talk about their experience, I feel like that's so significant that it'll make a significant impact on other people's lives. Which is the reason why I start, which is the reason why I joined the Peer Advocate Program.

Because I feel like the more we do talk about it and the more we talk about like our personal experiences with that, and how we overcame it, it gives other people more hope. I think if I had been able to even, on like social media or something like, like TikTok or Instagram, there's like plenty of ads about how to save up for retirement and how to budget and all that kind of stuff.

But there's not enough talk about how to overcome debt. Right? And I feel like, because social media is so hot right now and there's like plenty of people that talk about finances, but they don't talk about debt. Then I feel like if they were to start talking about debt, how they overcame it, how you can overcome it, and use programs like MMI, then I feel like it'll become just a natural thing to talk about.

[00:14:45] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. It's so important. That's so that's why it's so important that you're sharing your story today. So so my last question then. What does freedom from debt look like for you?

[00:14:56] Joanne Lee: Freedom from debt, the ability to think about the future. That's what it looks like to me. And freedom from debt allows me to live in the present, too, and also think about the future. But it's just, it's amazing, you know, as someone that was so pushed down by debt, that feeling of freedom it's just amazing. Like making that last payment was, it was like the best day of my life.

[00:15:32] Adam Walker: I love that. I love that. Wow. That's amazing. Well, well thank you for taking the time to be with us today. Thank you for sharing your story so that it can encourage so many other people to share their stories and to begin to take some of the bold steps that you've taken as well. Joanne, mean, you're amazing. Thank you for joining us on the show today.

[00:15:52] Joanne Lee: Thank you for having me.

[00:15:59] Adam Walker: This guest is a real MMI client whose success is the result of hard work and dedication. While MMI cannot guarantee results, taking early action can increase the available options and improve long-term outcomes. Thanks for listening to this episode of Long Story Short, brought to you by Money Management International.

To learn more about how MMI helps people from all walks of life get unstuck and out of the vicious cycle of debt through personalized solutions that inspire hope, visit moneymanagement.org. This episode was produced by Edgewise Media. Scriptwriting and production by Clara Jennings, editing by Brandon Ellis, and show hosting by me, Adam Walker.

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