Discovering The Silver Lining In A Hard Financial Lesson

Jason VasquezStudent LoanDown readers, I’d like to introduce you to guest blogger, Jason Vasquez. Jason oversees corporate communications and media relations for Wells Fargo’s student and auto lending businesses. He has served on numerous nonprofit advisory boards and committees, and is an avid adventure seeker, having traveled to more than 50 countries and summited peaks around the world.

In his post today, Jason tells us about how Wells Fargo is working with customers to help them understand their credit scores and the effects of their credit history! (—DF)

When I reflect on my teenage years it seems that none of the lessons I learned from team sports or from high school classes prepared me for how I was to recover after accumulating nearly $40K in credit card debt by the time I graduated from college.

As a teen, I made the decision to apply for my first credit card. From a magazine that I received monthly as part of a subscription, I removed the promotional tear-out and filled-in the seemingly basic information being requested; first and last name, address, social security number, and signature. A couple weeks later I received a letter in the mail and immediately knew it was my new credit card ‘cause let’s face it, how many teenagers get mail? Before opening the envelope, I remember experiencing a rush of energy because I was eager to learn how much “free money” I would be allowed to spend. It took a split second to tear that envelop apart and after a dismissive glance at the accompanying letter I was $2K richer!

Over the next couple of years, I purchased clothes, a couple mobile phones, lots of pizza, gas, an awesome sound system for my SUV, new sneakers every few months, a $400 pair of sandals (yep, they exist), and tons of other stuff. In high school I worked part-time at a family-owned electronics store, which allowed me keep up with monthly credit card payments, but essentially I was revolving that $2K in credit card debt – and learned years later that this practice negatively impacts your credit score.

In 1997 I became a freshman at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and because I maxed out that first credit card, I applied for another credit card to buy more merchandise that I really didn’t need. When I came close to reaching the credit limit on that credit card, I applied for another. By my sophomore year, I had seven credit cards and all were maxed out. My reckless pattern of spending habits, coupled with my ignorance about money management, and lack of knowledge about how credit works left me with $40K in credit card debt and zero insight on how I would pay-off this massive amount of debt that had an interest rate of roughly 15 percent.

I share this testimonial because my scenario is not uncommon in the US, but to also serve as a reminder that it’s never too late to get smart about your credit. From Oct. 1 through Nov. 16, 2014 Wells Fargo is promoting “Get Smart About Credit” month starting with a free credit score promotion. This will provide consumer customers the opportunity to receive complimentary, no obligation access to their credit score and credit report. After reviewing this report the customer has the option to meet with a banker for a free financial review. Or they can choose to review their credit score and credit report on their own.

Pie graph depicting elements of FICO credit score

Get Smart About Credit Tweet

And to help young people get a better handle on understanding credit and how to leverage it effectively, Wells Fargo bankers will volunteer their personal time to teach credit and money management basics in classrooms and community centers through the end of the year.

For 6 years, roughly $600 of every paycheck went to paying down my debt, and frankly I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I didn’t have financial freedom and flexibility.

Whether you’re a student or parent I would encourage you to have more conversations about money, finance, credit, and retirement either together as a family or with a financial planner. It’s as simple as asking, “Mom, what tips do you have to pay down a credit card?” or “Dad, I’m not sure I know why people talk about credit scores all the time. Why is it important?” Practically every financial goal you have in mind, whether it’s buying a home, a new car, paying off student loans, planning your retirement, or saving for that trip around the world, if you plan it right, you should be able to attain it. Coming out of credit card debt wasn’t easy, but over the years I became smarter about my credit and finances. As result of some discipline, in 2012 I was able to purchase a new car, and in 2013 I became a first-time homeowner. And believe me, there was a time when I believed being able to accomplish that was impossible.

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Senior-year checklist

Chart your course to college

Whether it’s studying for exams, preparing your college applications, or trying to make the most of your time with friends, senior year of high school can be very busy.

That’s why we’ve come up with year-round calendar reminders, which you can download to your phone or computer to help you stay on top of important deadlines. Get reminders about everything from preparing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to writing your college application essay, to sending last minute paperwork, and more.

Download your senior year reminders for the entire year 1

Or, you can download individual reminders:

Tell us how you’re staying on track this year

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1Message and Data Rates May Apply.

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Sharpen your number 2 pencil

Prepping for the SAT and ACT

The SAT and ACT may be intimidating, but having the right tools at your disposal can help you feel prepared for the challenge. Whether you’ve already started studying or have yet to open a book, now’s a great time to check out what resources are available and which ones can help you as you get ready for these important exams. While Wells Fargo does not have any affiliation with the companies listed below, we thought they put together some helpful resources—some of which require payment or registration, but several of which are free for your use:

  Online Courses In-Person Courses Study Materials Practice Tests Bonus
The College Board


Free access to practice questions and tutorials and a comprehensive study course for purchase. No An Official SAT Study Guide with DVD™for purchase. Free online and print versions of the practice test. Question of the Day app for daily brainteasers.
The Princeton Review


Buy private tutoring, small group, classroom, or fundamentals courses or download a self-paced study guide. Enroll in an honors course, a summer immersion program, or the dual mastery program. SAT or ACT study guides, flash cards, and practice tests for purchase.


Free access to online SAT and ACT practice tests.



SAT Vocab Challenge appfor studying on the go.


Choose from individual, classroom, or unlimited prep classes. Plus, most of them are available via mobile device. Find a prep course in a high school near you or be matched with a tutor.


No Register to find free SAT or ACT practice tests near you.


SAT or ACT Cram SessionsTMcan be great refresher courses.
Catalyst No Study with a private tutor in the comfort of your home. No No Register for SAT or ACT Bootcamp, a weekend workshop.

How are you preparing for the SAT and ACT?

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Habits that help

The importance of creating routines at college

One of the most exciting parts of starting college is your new independence. Suddenly, your schedule is up to you – and there are so many fun things to discover. However, if you aren’t proactive about creating a routine, you may get overwhelmed with all the responsibilities. Here are some good habits to establish in your first few months at college:

  • Schedule study time. A good rule of thumb is that, for every lecture, you should study 1–3 hours, depending on the difficulty of the subject. Schedule some devoted, distraction-free study time whenever you know you’ll be most alert.
  • Stay active. Since you’ll be spending most of your time in class and studying, staying physically active is important. Studies have also shown that even light physical activity, like taking a walk, can help stimulate concentration.
  • Sleep. All-nighters may be necessary from time to time, but one of the most beneficial things you can do for your mind and body is to sleep. Don’t be afraid to opt out of late-night activities if you start to feel run down or exhausted – you’re working hard, and you deserve rest.
  • Stay on top of your finances. Financial independence comes with its own set of challenges. Creating a budget and carefully managing your finances can help give you peace of mind.
  • Save time for having fun. With papers due and tests looming, it can be hard to take a night off. But relaxing with your friends, watching a movie, or enjoying the extracurricular activities offered by your college can create some of the most memorable moments from your college experience. Reward yourself for studying hard and have fun.

What good habits do you think you’ll need freshman year?

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Now You’re Cooking Care Package

One thing students take for granted is having someone around to make meals for them. Help them ease into the college life – and into making their own meals – with a Now You’re Cooking Care Package, with helpful ingredients and recipes that can get them cooking. Consider including ingredients like these:

Now You're Cooking care package

Now You’re Cooking care package

  • Cookie dough
  • Brownie mix
  • Tea or lemonade mix
  • Instant noodles
  • Mac & cheese
  • Granola bars & trail mix
  • Fun magnets
  • Silverware, napkins, dish towels
  • Fun salt & pepper shakers

Does your student need to get their grades cooking too? Show them these five good study habits for college.

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I Forgot Care Package

Did your college student forget a few crucial things in between all the packing, buying, planning and moving? It happens. Why not put together an “I Forgot” Care Package that covers off on those bare necessities that everyone could use a little more of? You can include items like:

I Forgot care package

I Forgot care package

  • Pens, pencils and highlighters
  • Folders, paper
  • Printer ink and paper
  • Paper clips, erasers, scissors
  • Backpack
  • Multi-surface/delicate surface tape
  • First aid kit

Everyone forgets things, and everyone needs a little help from time to time. Here are some tips to help your student when their budget is feeling a little tight.

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What College Students Can Buy with $1000

When you sign up for the CollegeSTEPS Program you get tools and tips for college, and a chance to win $1,000. What can the average college student do with $1,000? We’re glad you asked.

What will $1,000 buy?

What will $1,000 buy?

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Stay Healthy Care Package

Keep your student healthy so they don’t miss a class – or an outing with their new friends. Consider putting together a Stay Healthy Care Package, which can include ingredients like the following:

Stay Healthy care package

Stay Healthy care package

  • Vitamins
  • Water bottle
  • Jump rope
  • Grip machines
  • Pedometer
  • Healthy snacks, nuts, trail mix
  • Waterproof jacket

Your student’s keeping sharp and staying in shape. Here are some ways they can get financially fit for freshman year.

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Get Well Care Package

Between class, studying, having fun and sleeping crazy hours, it’s not unusual for college students to get a little sick from time to time. Help your student bounce back from the sniffles with a Get Well Care Package, which can include items like:

Get Well care package

Get Well care package

  • Cough drops
  • Tea bags & mug
  • Robe
  • Tissues
  • Books
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Comfy pillow
  • Cans of soup

Being on the mend is a good time for students to look at ways to make their money habits healthier, too. Share these tips for avoiding bad money habits.

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Now’s the time to get involved

The importance of extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities aren’t just a way for you to pursue your hobbies – they can also show prospective colleges what makes you a stand out as an applicant. But with all the available options, it can be hard to know how to get involved or what you should focus on. Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re considering extracurriculars:

  • Choose quality over quantity. Get involved in a few activities over a longer period of time rather than a lot of activities during your senior year. Try to find a couple of extracurriculars you really enjoy and focus as much time and energy as you can on them.
  • Play to your strengths. It’s tempting to get involved in popular activities or in ones that you think will seem the most impressive to colleges. But if you stick to extracurriculars that show off your skills, you’ll not only be happier, you’ll be putting your best foot forward on college applications.
  • Develop leadership skills. The good news is that, no matter what activity you’ve chosen, it’s possible to develop this important trait. Whether you’re playing a sport, acting in a play, volunteering, writing a blog, or enjoying multiplayer video games, you can be an example to others.
  • Get involved in your community. Are you passionate about the environment? Interested in helping kids learn how to read? Extracurriculars don’t just have to be a hobby – if you volunteer at a local food depository or wash cars as a fundraiser for a charity you care about, you’re developing character and skills that will be invaluable as you begin college.
  • Tell us about your favorite extracurricular activities

    Start your own conversation ›

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