Long Story $hort Episode 7

Struggling with Debt? You're Not Alone

Juan Pinon learned about MMI through his sister, who had her own debt payoff journey. Though Juan is highly educated, has a great job, and is viewed as the stable and successful one in his family, his spending was getting out of control.

Through his hard work with the debt counselors at MMI, Juan paid off $47,000 and has increased his credit score by 129 points. He believes in the work that MMI is doing so much so that he now serves as a Peer Advocate, helping to educate and encourage new MMI clients in their financial journey and reminding them that they’re not alone.

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Show Notes

  • Guest: Juan Pinon
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: August 16, 2022

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Juan Pinon: Talking about personal finances can be difficult and people could get defensive. But I guess we just have to find a way to get people to put their guard down and not to feel hesitant or embarrassed to say, Well, I'm not doing as good as I would like to with my debt. You know, just getting people to take that first step to say Well maybe I need some help.

[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 Juan Pinon. Juan is from the south Texas town of McAllen. While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, he paid off $47,000 in under three years and increased his credit score 129 points along the way. Now Juan 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.

Juan, welcome to Long Story Short!

[00:01:50] Juan Pinon: Thank you. Thank you for having.

[00:01:51] Adam Walker: Well, it's so good to talk to you. I'm really excited about this conversation. I mean, just being able to pay off that kind of debt in that amount of time is so motivating and inspiring. So to start with give us the one-minute flyover. Who are you? Where you're from and what do your days look like?

[00:02:07] Juan Pinon: Okay, well originally my family's from Mexico. My parents migrated here I think when they were in their early twenties. I was born and raised in Chicago and I lived in, in Georgia, I lived in Warner, Robins, Georgia. I lived in San Antonio and now, currently here in McAllen, McAllen, Texas, and I work for the General Services Administration. I'm a federal employee and I love what I do and also excited to be out of debt.

[00:02:36] Adam Walker: Man, well, I'm excited for you to be out of debt it's such a big deal. Such an amazing accomplishment. So let's talk about that. What is 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 you needed outside help?

[00:02:54] Juan Pinon: How I found out about MMI was through my sister, older sister, who also participated in MMI. And she had success, as well, getting out of debt through the help of the folks there. And I didn't even know MMI existed. And I didn't know my sister was going through these hardships and dealing with her debt either.

It wasn't until my debt built up and then I kind of opened up to her really not knowing what else to do. I think over time, I always thought that I could manage my debt and I had it under control. Until I was just kind of living paycheck to paycheck. And I finally realized, I said, no, you know I can't live like this anymore.

You know? So I just, I would always see those commercials on TV about debt consolidation. But I never really trusted those companies. I, you never really hear about them or they're not very popular and just the commercials seem very fishy. But once my sister informed me of MMI and how it was like a nonprofit organization and how it helped her, I actually drove from McAllen all the way to Houston.

And this was before COVID. I drove up there to speak to an MMI representative in person. And just looking for help, looking for answers on how to break this cycle of always making the minimum payments. And then my debt kind of continued to grow and grow. Once I met with somebody there they made it pretty simple, kind of walked me through the process and helped me identify what my credit cards were and what my payments were.

And, she kind of helped me fill in all the blanks on what I needed to do. And then that was pretty much it. I let the process begin to ride out and every month I could track and see my debt slowly decreasing. And I don't know. It just over time flies over time. It just I was done.

I was free. You know and in beginning it's like, is this gonna work? Is, am I gonna end up back in debt? Is this a scam? You know, there's all these doubts and questions and every now and then I'd call the MMI folks to get my questions answered. But slowly but surely I let the process run and trusted the process.

And I got out of debt.

[00:05:26] Adam Walker: Wow.

[00:05:26] Juan Pinon: Yeah. I actually tore up my credit cards and. I don't remember the last time I used one. It almost seemed like I was living off credit cards and what was kind of confusing and embarrassing about debt is that say my parents who migrated here from Mexico, they only finished up to the sixth grade.

And then here I was an electrical engineer, making way more money than them, you know, having a Bachelor's degree, having a Master's degree, I was like this educated broke guy. And so that was very embarrassing and also kind of like creates conflict, like where I'm in denial, like, Oh, I can handle this. But it's just my bad habits leading up to my debt and then always making minimum payments. I needed I really needed professional help. And I feel I did get it through MMI and they kind of helped me along the way.

[00:06:23] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean, I mean, I love that. You said that, like you, you said, I think with the quote I wrote down. You were this educated, you said I was this educated broke guy. Right. That was.

[00:06:32] Juan Pinon: Yeah, exactly.

[00:06:33] Adam Walker: And I feel like that's the story of, that's the story for so many people. Right. And it can happen so easily to so many people that are well educated and well intentioned.

[00:06:42] Juan Pinon: Yes.

[00:06:43] Adam Walker: And when it happens, there is an opportunity to get out of it, right? That's the beauty of it. Like there, there is a way out there, there are people that are there to help you make a plan to get out of it. And that's so fantastic that you're able to do that. So let's talk about that.

So, so you worked with MMI over three years and you paid off $47,000 in debt and increased your credit score 129 points. That's amazing. So talk about like, what, like, what was that like? And in particular, what I want to know is when you finished paying off the debt, how did that feel?

[00:07:18] Juan Pinon: Oh it just, at first it's kind of like really like just the thought of remembering how I would use my credit cards, like say if I maxed out a credit card and then I would just use another. And then sometimes get another. You know, it was almost like an addiction really. And so in my family I thought, okay, everybody perceives me as a successful person. I made it through school, through college. I have a very good job.

I'm even a supervisor now. And so there's this perception like, okay, Juan has it under control. But really what people didn't know is I did not have it under control. I was somewhat impulsive and I lacked discipline with my finances. So MMI helped me set up a payment plan. And not only that, but they negotiated with these creditors for me.

And, you know, they reduced the interest rates at which I'm paying on my debt. So when you make that minimum payment, you know, majority of it goes right towards interest and you're not really eating away at the principal. So MMI helped me with that. They reduce my rates so that the payments I am making start to chew away at the principal.

And then they negotiated for me a particular payment per card. So it's simple because I just make one payment to one entity and it, I'm not stressed juggling all these due dates and different payments. So MMI really helps simplify it. Slowly but surely I would see progress. And that motivated me to say, this is real. This is possible.

I had tore up my credit cards and, at first, it was kind of like an addiction where you, I would always carry a credit card or two on me. It's like this, you know, this false sense of security of, if I want something, I can have it. And, you know, a little bit on my end, as well as breaking some bad habits, but seeing the progress I was making simply just say boosted my morale, or encouraged me to continue and continue to improve.

And, you know I think in my last year of the program, once I seen my debt get smaller and smaller, I actually didn't want to wait till the last couple payments. And I just paid it off, I think, maybe a couple thousand. But I managed to save up and just, I just wanted to be done with it. And so I paid a little bit early than what was scheduled by several months, maybe four months. But, it felt really good.

And up until now. I do not know what it's like to use a credit card and I don't want to know anymore. It's not a bad thing. If you have discipline, it's not a bad thing. But for me I lacked the discipline. I got out of control, you know? An engineering degree and say a Master's in business management, but, say through our education or even through our parents. I wasn't really taught that discipline to manage my money. We're kind of taught like work hard, you know, to get what you want. And yeah, I was doing that part. I was working hard and it was producing for me. But then once I got hold of that money, it just it just stopped working for me.

[00:10:57] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean it is, you know, it's interesting, you mentioned that right. We're taught to make money. We're taught to work hard. We're taught to, to manage our time. But we're not like we're often not taught to manage money well, right. And it's so important because if you don't manage your money, it can very quickly go out of control. And so it sounds like you've kind of got it back under control with the help of MMI in the program. And that's really amazing. So man, congratulations.

[00:11:27] Juan Pinon: Yeah. I don't think I would've done it without them. Absolutely not. I didn't really have anywhere else to go to, going to the right people for help. Like I did. It helped me and, you know, produce results for me.

[00:11:40] Adam Walker: Yeah. Wow. That's so, so amazing. So amazing. So I'm curious. You know, what you see and how you see stories of debt playing out around your community. I mean, you mentioned your sister. I know you live in Texas. I mean, do you see other people sort of dealing with these issues and sort of, how do you think about that now?

[00:11:59] Juan Pinon: Yeah, I think that just like a lot of us We are not really like, say, especially you have like old school parents, you're taught to work hard and they tell you to save for a rainy Day, but we don't really get into the details of interest rates, you know, or investing, or like those sort of details and budgeting in more details.

Just work hard and you'll get what you want, you know. But I think that filling in all those blanks of: be careful with credit cards or these explaining how this interest works, and how the minimum payments work, and how you could fall into a trap of just making minimum payments, and never really getting out of that debt, and then you continue to use the cards because they're so readily available and offered to everybody, and, you know, before you know it you're, you start getting into trouble, you know, and then you risk jeopardizing your credit score.

And then one day you really do need a good loan, like for a home or, you know, a reliable vehicle. And then because of that debt it could ruin your credit score and then affect you down the road when you really need to apply that good credit score to something you really need.

[00:13:20] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you're right. It's so easy to fall into those bad habits and then let yourself become consumed by them. Right. And if that happens, there are ways to make plans to get out of that. So, and speaking of that, I mean, you're, now you've come full circle. You're a Peer Advocate or, sorry, you're a Peer Ambassador for MMI.

[00:13:40] Juan Pinon: Yeah.

[00:13:40] Adam Walker: So you've moved from a client to an advisor role. I'm curious, like, and you talked about this a minute ago, and I'm curious how it's playing out in your life now. Like there is this stigma around debt, right. And you mentioned that it's embarrassing to talk about because you're the educated one, and but you ended up talking to your sister about it. Like, like let's talk a little bit more about that. How do you think we can begin to overcome that stigma so that people can have more open conversations about this?

[00:14:07] Juan Pinon: I mean just overall money is a touchy issue and there's times around me, I may see a friend or family member use a credit card, and I'm always tempted to say be careful, you know, be very careful with that. You know, it's not. I understand it's easy just to swipe a piece of plastic and you instantly get what you want, whether it's a dinner or clothes or whatever, you know, or movies, or, but it's very dangerous.

And I get tempted to, I'll always mention it to people around me. But again, I guess just overall talking about personal finances can be difficult and people could get defensive. But I guess we just have to find a way to get people to put their guard down. And not to feel hesitant or embarrassed to say, Well, I'm not doing as good as I would like to with my debt.

You know, just getting people to take that first step to say, Well, maybe I need some help. You know, maybe wouldn't mind talking to somebody. And maybe I would like to learn something. You know, just kind of small steps to get people to open up just a little so they could see the benefits of working with a professional entity. You know, like people who understand and know debt, you know, and yeah. Cause it is a touchy issue for many folks. They don't want to admit, you know, that they're not in control how they may perceive to be.

[00:15:42] Adam Walker: Yeah. And I think like, I think step number one, to your story, is recognizing that you're not the only person dealing with it. Like, so, so actually I'm curious to ask you this too because. You, so you mentioned in your story, you were struggling with debt. You're making the minimum payments and you realized that you're just sinking.

[00:16:00] Juan Pinon: Yes.

[00:16:00] Adam Walker: And you ended up talking to your sister about it, and then in that conversation realized for the first time that your sister had this problem and had already conquered it. Like, tell me about that moment.

[00:16:10] Juan Pinon: Yeah, it was just, that was kind of like funny. But at the same time kind of sad, like, Oh, I, I didn't know my sister was having those hardships. It was a kind of funny, weird moment. Like, Oh, you too? You know, like you were in this situation? But luckily for her, she had already discovered MMI.

So and lucky for me, you know. That word of mouth of somebody I trust gave me the recommendation. Because if, say it would've been some unknown person that I really didn't know, say, Hey, you should call MMI. You know, maybe I would've been hesitant and would've been doubtful.

[00:16:52] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:16:52] Juan Pinon: But because it came from my sister and because, you know I believed everything she told me about MMI. I'm like, you know what I'm gonna give them a try. I, even though I still didn't fully understand how it worked. But that word of mouth, that recommendation, really pushed me to go and see for myself. And luckily I did.

[00:17:14] Adam Walker: You said, you know, you were talking to your sister and you said, Oh, you too?

[00:17:19] Juan Pinon: Yeah.

[00:17:19] Adam Walker: And I guess I'm curious, right. When you're going into the conversation with your sister, I assume you're probably just dreading this conversation, right? Like, you're, there's a lot of stress involved there, but then the moment you realize that your sister had dealt with the same thing how did that feel?

[00:17:34] Juan Pinon: Kind of relief? Like I'm not the only one. Or because there is embarrassment, you know, it's. And so once she also shared that she was in the same boat as I was, you know, it kind of does give relief that I'm not alone. You know, like, Oh, you too? You understand me? You know, it there's that understanding of one another and there's a moment also of relief. Like, Okay, I'm not the only one.

It's not just me. And and if she can do it, I can too. There's kind of various feelings, you know, a little bit embarrassment in the beginning, and then kind of like relief that I have someone who understands me, and then kind of end up with that kind of like a positive outlook of, Hey, it, this may be possible. Like she's doing it, I can too. You know? So it's kind like different different feelings at that moment. Overall it worked out well.

[00:18:33] Adam Walker: Man, that's amazing. So Juan, last question for you. What does freedom from debt look like for you?

[00:18:41] Juan Pinon: Overall, just and it's a good question. It's just progress, you know. It's as I'm getting paid I'm able to take a good chunk of money and save and see my savings grow. You know, I'm still, I'm now able to pay off my normal bills without any stress, you know. And it's just freedom. It feels good. And just like I was progressing and seeing my debt decline, I'm almost now seeing now the inverse, you know?

I'm watching my savings increase, so it just feels really good. I look in my wallet, I don't have any credit cards. I have my debit card. So I know if I use it, buy myself food, or gas, or things I truly need. It feels good. I'm not dependent on juggling credit cards. You know? I'm kind of free of that. It's kind of just like you know, just being free of this addiction or this cycle that would just never end. It just feels good. You know.

[00:19:45] Adam Walker: Man, that's fantastic. And I love that picture that you painted, you know when you're working the program, you're watching your debt go down and down and reduce and reduce. But then afterwards you could put that money towards savings and you can watch your savings grow and grow and increase, increase, increase., which is, I mean, that's kind of the, that's the point? That's the goal, right. I love. Love that's so great.

[00:20:05] Juan Pinon: Yeah.

[00:20:05] Adam Walker: Well, Juan, this has been amazing. Your story is inspiring. I can't tell you how important it is that you continue to share that story paying off $47,000 over three years is just phenomenal. So congratulations my friend. And thank you for joining us on the show today.

[00:20:22] Juan Pinon: No, 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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