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Golden Handcuffs

Golden Handcuffs


Dear Reader,

This is a look at a seriously hard truth in the behind-the-scenes world of this indie author. I usually joke about things on the blog and look at my author's journey through a comic lens. Not this time. If you don't want to read any further, I understand. Sometimes you don't need heavy in your life. Maybe later. I won't be offended if you click away to lighter things.

dominoes being stopped by a hand

If you're still with me, I wanted to speak about an issue that affected me greatly. This post has at heart an explanation of something that holds me back from being the storyteller I always wanted to be. I have almost posted this several times in the past, but failed to pull the trigger because of the seriously personal nature of this post. But after I posted The Great Slowdown, I knew it was finally time this aspect of my journey saw the light of day!

To achieve my goals, I had to write stories; I had to publish those stories, and I need to market those stories. Knowing that, and even learning as much as I have about all of it, didn't make it easier for me to do it all. Allow me to elaborate by explaining just one aspect concerning my lack of funds and how that has impacted my marketing decisions and will continue to impact them over the next four years.

man counting spare change

I grew up poor, but poverty was tempered with a realism that is poignant to me. My mother often told me when I asked too many questions that I had a brain and I needed to use it. When I told my father I had problems, he would tell me it sounded as if I needed to get to work. Between those two continuous pieces of advice, I built my adult life. My parents and my childhood gave me a serious work ethic and a problem solver mentality.

Years ago (I mean in the early 90s), I was a kid fresh out of high school with a partial scholarship to my local community college. I was dirt poor from a rural community. My high school graduating class was all of 146 students from a backwoods county which lacked any collegiate opportunities, such as Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, etc. I got a subpar education for the world I would enter. I could read, 'rite, and 'rithmetic, but aside from what I learned on the mini-farm where I was raised, there hadn't been many options to better my circumstances except through hard work and/or further education.

My parents pushed me to attend college, so I went. I was an excellent student, but it was expensive and my part-time jobs couldn't pay for everything, even if I did sometimes work three of them at the same time. So, I bought a lie and took out student loans to invest in myself with my education.

Largest Mistake poster no images

It was the largest mistake I have ever made in my life! I've never regretted my education, only the method by which I paid for it.

I'm not here to bash the government or complain about what one party will or won't do for me. I own my mistake. No one forced me to do it. I was simply far too inexperienced to make the choice I made, and it cost me in ways most can't imagine and that I certainly never believed could happen.

I was told I could get the loans forgiven if I worked for a few years in places with a need for professionals. That meant I needed to teach in schools which served low socio-economic communities, or the poor. I was poor. I understood what that was, so I knew I could relate.

It was an easy sale to my late teens and early 20s self. I bought the proverbial piece of swampland in Florida with leaking nuclear waste and a house made of asbestos on it. I signed a promissory note for a student loan, thinking I could pay it off in less than 10 years.

school hallway with lockers

I never got the chance to teach in a school which met the loan forgiveness requirements when I graduated. Teachers didn't get paid much in low socio-economic areas. The base salary back then (1999) was only $18.5K in the state I lived in. My loan balance was $40K.

At that time, there were no income based repayment plans. The Federal Student Loan Forgiveness program hadn't been created yet. I couldn't pay my rent, meet my car payment, and also pay my student loans on that kind of salary. I could make more income by working in a warehouse. So that's what I did.

By choosing not to starve in 1999, I cut myself off from the chance to shave off thousands of dollars from my loan balance. But I was earning enough to survive, and I got serious about attacking my debt. Overtime at the warehouse didn't hurt, either. I paid off nearly $20k of my loans by 2002. My son was born in 2001 and my daughter in 2002 (they were only 18 months apart). Everything fell apart when I simply couldn't care for them and return to work.

breaking apart man struggling

I had to leave my job and getting another one wasn't easy when day care cost more than my rent. I lacked enough family to have help and being a teacher hadn't paid the bills even before my children were born. It was a grueling few years while my kids were small, and I'm glad they don't remember it. My credit score has never forgotten. I fell into default on the student loans, along with every credit card I had.

I moved to Texas and started over just before my daughter was born. I worked part time as a tutor and as a private charter school teacher without my license for a few years. We got by. About the time my daughter got to pre-k and my son was entering first grade, I finally scraped enough money together to get my teaching license transferred to Texas, where I was paid a much higher salary and I could reduce any day care fees by working on the same schedule my kids went to school on.

hands holding a cross and praying

Finally, I had an opportunity for loan forgiveness. The school I worked at was a Title I school on the border. I thought I had time and could apply for partial forgiveness in a few years. I enjoyed my job and was looking forward to working there to accumulate enough time to delete my debt. Back then, for every five years you worked, a certain amount was forgiven, and it made it easier to pay off the loans.

I wasn't a spender, and I didn't waste my money. I also seriously believe my signature mattered, and I wanted to pay what I owed. Things got better with time. I scrimped and saved to buy a house in 2010 with an FHA loan. My student loans were still in default, but I paid the other smaller bills and fixed my credit, all while teaching high school, beginning in 2007.

damaged heart

In 2011, I reached out to the student loan company to get things settled. They said I owed nearly $77k. I thought they were joking. How could a little over $20k which I defaulted be so much? 8.25% interest compounded against me over ten years seriously added up. They wanted a payment every month equal to my house payment. When I couldn't give them that much, they began garnishing my paycheck for 15% of my salary.

I was bleeding money I couldn't afford, and I nearly defaulted on my house. That was when I finally found a legal company who helped me get things straightened out in 2013. I enrolled in the PSLF program then, and for the first time; I learned there were income based repayment plans for student loans.

none told me no images

No One ever told me about that before. Not even when I was crying on the phone with my service provider about not being able to afford garnishment, keep a roof over my head, and feed my kids was I offered that knowledge.

It sounds like thing were looking up, right? I should be almost done with my student loans now that it's 2023. But the loan providers didn't want to grant forgiveness. If they did, they lost money. So how did I get in a worse situation, you ask?

Allow me to explain it. Each year while you recertified your loans, they took months to approve you for your income based plan for the next year and didn't count all the payments you were making while they verified everything. Also, if something went wrong, and you didn't qualify, you were offered the opportunity to place your loans in forbearance for a few more months to stop the mortgage-sized payments from closing out your bank account while you resubmitted documents. Don't forget that none of those months' payments counted toward forgiveness, either.

girl wearing a mask

In 2020, when the entire world paused and disappeared behind closed doors to stave off an apocalyptic global pandemic, I breathed a sigh of relief over the student loan payment pause. My father had passed away, and at the end of 2019, I resigned my position to care for my disabled mother. I hoped to get another teaching position in another city as soon as the dust settled.

For the first time, I wrote practically full time. I also had time to look at my finances, including my student loans. I thought I was almost finished paying my 120 payments. Imagine my surprise to find only 5 of my payments had ever counted? I hadn't been late, nor missed a payment in seven years. Apparently, all the time I was working and certifying for my income based repayment plan, no one had been certifying my payments to count for my Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

classroom desks

For many years, I worked in a field I enjoyed, but it came with serious financial sacrifices. Educators were and still are seriously underpaid professionals. The pension plans were antiquated trash. The medical insurance was nearly useless and cost far too much for so little aid. If I didn't join the union and pay my dues, teachers were and still are legally liable as licensed individuals, not just the school district. So unions provided what, in effect, was malpractice insurance. The irony of my low salary juxtaposed against a need for malpractice insurance would be laughable if it wasn't just sad.

I filed all the proper paperwork with my student loan service provider and had the number of qualifying payments recalculated. I still have 45 payments left to meet Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Effectively, I lost a year. It sounds ludicrous, but it's better than only 5. If I have any hope of receiving forgiveness, I must remain in my chosen profession for another four years.


That wasn't the worst part. It was that I must wear the golden handcuffs where my storytelling creativity was concerned. I knew I could leave my classroom and work in some other field. I could get better health insurance and a better retirement plan in the corporate world. Hell, I might even make more money. Why didn't I?

I'd have to earn twice my annual salary to do so and get the loans paid off. That stifles my ability to do other things concerning my storytelling. I didn't have any extra money to devote to my books because I was using it to pay off my loans. It was my fault I signed for the loans and defaulting on them resulted in me owing so much. I accept it, even if it chafes exactly as Proverbs 22:7 suggested.

feather pen

My passion was writing, even if I loved teaching. Storytelling was what I would prefer. Storytelling must be done limitedly while I paid on my loans and continued my work in education to hopefully finally gain the forgiveness I was promised nearly 25 years ago. Until then, my storytelling can't receive 100% of my attention as my nature demands. See, I have a brain, and I want to use it. I have an issue, and I know how to solve it. The resolution can't come soon enough.

If I implement the strategies I've learned successfully, I believe I could build my readership as I would love to do. The extra income I could earn would need to nearly double my current salary if I want to take off the golden handcuffs within the next five years. Nothing about building a paying readership happens overnight, but I can't afford for it to happen in any real capacity other than practically instant income replacement or super slowly.

my handcuffs with no images

My handcuffs are golden. I'm penalized if I start a small business (in my case, attempt to become a profitable self-published author), unless the profit is enough of one to pay off my loans and replace my current salary. How could I reinvest my profits in my business to keep it growing if I have to use those profits to make continuingly larger loan payments? You can see how under the current situation, it's better for me to wait the four or five more years if I can't go from gas money to 80K profit a year, instantly.

I know. It's already been 24 years since I started wearing the golden handcuffs, and I'm exhausted by it. If I can survive just 5 more years, I may be free of them for good. Then perhaps I can get serious about advertising and promoting my stories. I would actually have money for it then because all that money I currently pay for my student loans could go toward my self-publishing endeavors.

social media tools

So now you know more of the truth behind my total lack of funds and why I can't afford to pursue paid advertising. It also explains my less than professional publishing schedule. I hope me keeping my word about my author's walk gives my readers a better understanding of what I'm doing. If it benefits someone in some other way, even better. If anyone was thinking about taking out loans to pay for college, I hope my story will stop you and you'll find an alternative solution.

So what are my long-term plans considering this information? I'm going to keep writing, but I'm not publishing much.

I intend to continue the editing and revisions of the currently published titles. More exclusive features, including video book links, perhaps a world map, and more character art, are coming for the books which are currently published.

Ophelia Kee logo

My Payhip site will probably gain physical products, AI audiobooks, and offer a membership. I want to craft companion books, such as the Draoithe Cookbook, and a Meet the Characters book is in the works as exclusive works.

Like I promised, I'll publish Mystic Dark for my Newsletter subscribers when I finish it. I will probably do it in parts just because it's so long. 2023-2027, I don't plan on publishing anything offsite except perhaps the paperbacks for the Mystic Dark books.I know that's a long stretch, but it's the best I can do.

Mostly, I plan to finish writing the stories set in the dream and focus my promotional efforts on videos with TikTok and YouTube as I discussed in a previous post. As an independent author, it's nice to know I get to decide. Even if I don't always like the decisions I must make, I prefer they remain mine to make. That's the beating heart of my independent author's walk. I hope this long-winded explanation won't deter anyone from reading in the dream. If you love it as much as I do, remember to sign up for my Newsletter and subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you can still get your fix while the rest of the world awaits the removal of my Golden Handcuffs.

a rose as a gift reviews

As always, when you read, be kind and leave your reviews. Until next time,

Be Careful!

Happy reading,

-Ophelia Kee

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Thank you for your support! Welcome to the dream… Sincerely, -OK

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