Last Updated Feb 11, 2019 1:10 PM EST
The lessons Jamie Kearns teaches in her Vallejo classroom go well beyond math. She tells her students about the burdens that go with too much debt, and flashes a number she came to know too well.
"It had to be over $20,000," Kearns said.
Dating back to college, she had an equally staggering number of credits cards:
"I probably had at least 8 to 10," Kearns said. "I had whatever they would give me. Mervyns, I had everything."
The reports that since 2013, there has been a $1 trillion increase in the amount of debt American are carrying.
Today, that breaks down to nearly $1.2 trillion in auto loans; nearly $1.6 trillion student loans; and $1 trillion in consumer credit mostly from credit cards.
"That's why even this interview is hard," Kearns said. "None of us want to admit that we are not making good choices with our money. That we are not being taught -- my family has struggled with it, and many families out there are struggling with it. But you feel so overwhelmed because you feel like such a failure. I didn't open the bills because it was just too much for me."
She was in debt for 18 years and filed for bankruptcy. Then she sought professional help.
"There is hope. We can help you," said Carolee Burse, a credit counselor with SparkPoint Solano, a project of United Way Bay Area.
Burse works Kearns – and many others – to get them to cut their use of credit cards and monitor their goals.
"It could take a year, it could take two years," Bursee said. "Everyone is different. Their situation is different. Depends on their debt. Ninety-eight weeks is typical. A couple years. I would say a lot of times their long term goals are to purchase a home."
After two years with Carolee Burse, Jamie Kearns was able to buy a home with her husband and provide for their children.
"It was a journey, because I don't think I am completely over it yet," Kearns said. "I don't want to sit here and say, 'no, no no, I think it's a journey,' I think I have to catch myself. When I see that it's going to start, then I know this is what I have to do."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of the United Way project, and it has been corrected.