As part of a new campaign, personal finance company SoFi is taking the taboo out of money talk by encouraging people to share their stories with a powerful new video. In it, six pairs of strangers open up about their personal financial situations — from the refreshingly candid to the deeply personal.
The common denominator in most of these stories: student loans. Last month, student loan debt in the U.S. reached a terrifying record: $1.465 trillion, a figure that has doubled since the 2008 recession.
Sophia, a 31-year-old SoFi member featured in the video, shared a particularly troubling story about a time when her mounting debt was so overwhelming that she considered "ending it all" and letting her mother collect the insurance money as a way out of the financial crisis.
Sophia talks about how 2013 was, in her words, a "dark period." She had close to $150,000 in debt and one of her private student loans went into default. She went to her credit union to see what could be done, but at that point her credit was too low and there was no way she could take out a personal loan. It was hard to envision a way out.
"I was rethinking: Why did I go to college? Why did I spend so much? What's the point? I was trying to reconcile, how am I supposed to get out of this situation if I have a blemish on my credit because of life?" says Sophia during a phone interview with Refinery29.
Her stepfather was able to take out a personal loan in his name, with the agreement that Sophia would pay off the default. But it really wasn't until she reconnected with a financial lawyer friend from church that she was fully able to see and believe in a way out.
"She sat down with me, went through all of my finances, and built a budget, like a simple Excel spreadsheet, and had some hard conversations with me. It took her taking time out of her very busy schedule and being nonjudgemental to really talk to me and create a space that allowed me to continue to be vulnerable. That was the game changer. From that point, I became obsessed with savings and paying off everything."
And now, with the help of SoFi, Sophia is on track to pay off all of her debt and is in her first year of a 10-year refinance.
The video, directed by Tatia Pilieva, best known for her viral "First Kiss" video, was developed around the idea that we all have money struggles and anxieties. The conversations had on camera were completely organic, and participants weren't prepped ahead of time.
"What made this video so special was that these moments we captured were real and unfiltered. We knew that for this video to make an impact it had to be authentic," says Joanne Bradford, Chief Marketing Officer at SoFi.
I don't want anyone to feel how I felt. It's so isolating, and you think you're the only one with the issue even though all the statistics tell you otherwise.
For Sophia, sharing parts of her story with Imran was easy, where others were nerve-wracking. She'd never really told anyone how much she owed — that number was always her own personal secret. But she found that the more she talked about it, the easier it got.
"I don't want anyone to feel how I felt. It's so isolating and you think you're the only one with the issue even though all the statistics tell you otherwise," Sophia says.
At the end of the video, Imran, newly out of debt himself, challenges her to act out how she will greet the day on her first debt-free morning. He goes first, and then Sophia follows his lead: "Good morning, good morning, good morning!" she shouts, with a bounce in her step.
SoFi is encouraging everyone to share their stories with the hashtag #moneytalks and the tag @SoFi.