This 29-year-old has stopped paying her $150,000 student loan and her $10,000 credit card to make it through. Here's how she's coping right now.

By Brienne Walsh
October 06, 2020
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Nearly every day since the pandemic began, Tess, 29, is brought to tears—struggling to pay the bare minimums on her bills while also providing for her sick parents and her unemployed boyfriend.

Both of Tess’ parents are severely immune-compromised—her mom has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, and her father has stage IV renal failure, which requires him to receive dialysis three times every week. Tess had already been helping them financially, sending roughly $500-$600 a month for the past five years. That’s because in 2015, her father had a stroke, and was no longer able to continue his work as a contractor, and because the Florida-based couple never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, which hit the Florida real estate market particularly hard.

For years, they made ends meet through a combination of disability payments, Social Security, income Tess’ mom made as a driver for Uber and Lyft, and money sent by Tess. “They sacrificed so much to get me where I am today, and it’s a point of pride for me to be able to take care of them,” she says.

When COVID hit, they needed even more help from Tess. Indeed, Tess begged her mother not to return to work as a ride share driver, and told her she would try to fill the gap in income. “If they get coronavirus, they probably won’t survive it,” she explains. Still, knowing she was so financially responsible for their lives weighed on her: “I felt like I had this huge weight on my chest,” she said, through tears. “I had to provide for myself, and I felt a tremendous responsibility to provide for my parents.”

At first, this was feasible for Tess, who makes $65,000 a year at a nonprofit in Denver. She’d cut her expenses by moving in with her boyfriend in March, and together, they were splitting the rent on a $1700-a-month one-bedroom apartment. But on March 28, Tess’ boyfriend lost his job in the food services industry. To date, he hasn’t returned to work. “There was a moment when I thought I would have to pay all of our bills, along with pay additional expenses for my family, and I was just so scared,” Tess says.

Fortunately, Tess’ boyfriend qualified for unemployment, and began collecting the extra $600-a-week checks mandated by the CARES Act, in addition to his state unemployment checks. This helped keep the couple afloat—at least for a while (those extra $600 payments have since ended).

But the past six weeks has been especially hard. The weekly $600-a-month payments for Tess’s boyfriend stopped at the end of July, and his unemployment payments shrunk to $270 a week. In August, the couple moved to a slightly cheaper apartment—rent is $1,550 a month. “We strategically picked a place where I could afford the bills on my own, because I’m the only one with a secure job right now,” says Tess. In the meantime, her boyfriend has been looking for remote work.

Tess, who previously tried to put $300 a month into her savings account, began using that money for expenses. She will use the $1,200 stimulus check she got in April to help her parents move to Denver, so that they can be closer to her.

When I asked her what she’s most afraid of in the coming months, her voice caught again. “If financial assistance runs out for people like my partner, I don’t know what we would do,” she says. “I can’t take care of all of our expenses and take care of my parents.”

Even still, she says that she is grateful. “I know there are so many families with no options,” she says. “My job is secure. Even if my parents get here, and they have nowhere to go, and my partner’s unemployment runs out, we’ll still have a roof over our heads. We’ll be ok.” But, she confessed: “I cry almost every day."