San Francisco, CA

All that remains in San Francisco is debt (and human feces)

Jano le Roux

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People seem to blame themselves more as they worry about their loans.

Debt persuades people that the wealth they have isn’t theirs and that the money they gain isn’t theirs either. And the tiniest indulgences transform into guilt trips, as though they’ve blown their budget on a cruise.

Debt has become a near-universal experience in the United States — and in the Bay Area. You definitely know somebody else does if you don’t have it. The pandemic pushed debt into the glare on a local and national basis. The $1.7 trillion student loan bubble is about to break, as everybody suspects. Concerns over medical debt, which has spawned a cottage industry of GoFundMe accounts and, worse, scare people away from finding medical attention in the first place. Back rent due to tenants who would attempt to expel you notwithstanding the reality that they are not authorized to do so.

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During the pandemic, a slew of moratoriums helped a bit. For the first time, millions of college graduates aren’t owing lenders hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month. Renters that fell late on their bills cannot be evicted, at least not in principle. However, these abrupt, if welcome, advances will come to an end at some point, and it is unknown how often city, state, and federal governments are able to help those who have fallen behind.

Then we put out a call for people in the Bay Area who are struggling with debt. We needed to discuss it with sensitivity since it is a sensitive subject. We talked with eight adults, four of whom have student loans, credit card debt, or other bills outstanding under their names, and four company owners who have run up hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in debt just to hold their stores open. Any of their interactions are in the present tense: their debt is true, and it is weighing them down right now. Others are desperately awaiting the future, unsure whether they will obtain life-changing assistance or if they can finally join a growing list of Bay Area debtors.

Their tales have been gently revised and simplified for consistency. We honored the requests of a few interviewees who demanded that their last names not be included so that they could speak freely.

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The Story of Mrs. Talmor:

I took out $150,000 in small business loans from Main Street Launch, started a Kickstarter initiative, and obtained a $50,000 loan from the Hebrew Free Loan. I was responsible for the income. Then there was the loan assistance for disasters. On that loan, I earned $64,900 with a one-year deferment and a 30-year interest. That just boosted my deck’s worth, and I’m now up to $300,000. I’m expecting to get accepted for the second PPP loan and get it forgiven.

I’ve never had such a large debt in my life. It’s one thing to go into debt and then open a good restaurant, but it’s quite different to borrow all this money and then go into a pandemic, unsure whether you’ll be able to pay it back. It’s simply a particular degree of fear.

The second shutdown wreaked havoc on us when overnight profits plummeted, I lost half of my income, and people placed fewer orders. There is a contrast to be established regarding the success of the company and the performance of the business owner. I work 80-hour shifts and just scrape by from paycheck to paycheck. Regardless of whether this company exists or not, I am saddled with a debt that will haunt me for the remainder of my existence. Since I’m so concerned about finances, I’m just paying myself a fraction of what I’m worth.

However, things are looking up at the moment. In so many respects, I’m very grateful — we have a wonderful culture here, and our customers are amazing. I’m just waiting for a promotion at any stage. I’m unsure of what I’ll do with my personal finances.

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Photo Credit

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