Meet Sean Engelking

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Sean Engelking in front of city skyline.

Sean is finally out in front of “layoff-city.”

We’ve helped you Face The Red™ the past few months, and there’s no better way to do that than hearing from someone facing his. That’s our newest contributor, Sean Engelking. Here’s his story.


College gave me a new life, a chance to remake myself. I took it in like oxygen. I found any way to pay for it, even turning to private student loans to fill in the gap. That was a mistake. Sometimes smart people make mistakes. At least I always thought I was smart, but most Americans think that. We’re taught it from birth.

I graduated in 2008. The economic crisis cost me a shot at working on Wall Street. Everyone was scared. When was this thing going to bottom out we wondered?

I still moved to New York and ended up an intern at a software company. It bought me some time. When that ended, I got a full-time job making less than I did as an intern. When I was laid off, I started working as a project manager. When I was laid off from that job … well, you get the picture.

I did this while wrestling a mountain of private student debt, which kinda felt like starting my journey with a flat tire.

Struggle = Growth

The struggles of finding any kind of work for a couple of years gave me the freedom to try new things.  Instead of the prescribed, ladder-climbing career I sought (a soft landing), I found my own way (learning to walk). It allowed me to grow in ways I hadn’t imagined.

After layoff-city, I started consulting. I began writing financial literacy curriculum. I wanted to help others. I wanted to help myself. I wanted to see K-12 kids obtain financial literacy the way they do math and science. I want us all to make better decisions.

Nobody was talking about $1 trillion in student debt then. Evidently we could only talk about one bubble at a time. We could argue whether student loans are a bubble, but the more I talk about them to friends, at parties, or with strangers, the clearer it becomes that we are the debt generation—some of us making silly choices with how to manage our student loans. Worst of all, some are even running from it.

The student debt I have is basically all from private lenders. Interest rates for these loans were lower than the federal ones when I started school, and I didn’t understand the long-term impact of that decision until it was time for repayment. It was a costly mistake, and one that many others have made.

Figuring Out Repayment

I make enough to cover my debts now. It’s not the most ideal place to be, but there’s a lot that you can do to make it manageable.

I’ve learned to budget to the penny. I have roommates. I pay for holiday gifts with credit card points earned throughout the year. I opt for the high-deductible health plan. I coupon. I let the sale prices tell me what’s for dinner and eat the free food at work.

The private lending space is fragmented, and there’s a lot of buzz about reform that will eventually happen. In this blog, I’ll talk about that and a number of tips and strategies that have helped me survive repayment. Stay tuned.

Have a question for Sean? Post it in the comments.

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