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Financial Planning

Update on the American Dream

Hemil and Kathya Garcia came to the U.S. almost penniless. Now they earn six figures. As told to Mary Beth Franklin

WAS THE ADJUSTMENT HARD? Very. I had a journalism degree and had worked in the financial industry in Peru, but my English wasn't very good. So I cleaned toilets, waited tables, worked as a cashier and sold used cars. I changed jobs every time I got a chance to earn a little more money.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIG BREAK? In 2001, I got a job with State Farm Insurance. I took English classes at night and struggled to get my insurance license. By 2003, I was earning commissions. I saved all of them and lived just on my salary. Kathya also began working for an insurance company, in the customer-service department. In 2004, we put $6,000 down on a small condo that we bought for $134,000. Two years later, we sold it for $240,000. That was the best thing that could have happened to us.

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WHAT DID YOU DO WITH the $100,000 PROFIT? We used it to pay off two car loans and our credit-card debt. We also contributed money to our Roth IRAs and put $10,000 in an emergency fund. We used the rest for a down payment on a townhouse that we bought for $355,000.

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT FINANCES? I had nothing when I came here, so I had to find better ways of making money and putting it in the right places. I'm always reading and listening to people and looking for opportunities. I first learned about the Roth IRA when I overheard a wealthy man discussing it with a banker. I opened a college fund for our baby daughter, Miranda, after I read about the Virginia tax deduction for 529-plan contributions in your magazine.

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YOU AND KATHYA ALSO PRODUCE A SMALL SPANISH-LANGUAGE PUBLICATION. Through our bimonthly magazine, Raices Latinas (which means "Latin roots"), we try to educate the Hispanic community about topics such as health, finance and immigration. I quit my insurance job last year and took a sales job with a more flexible schedule so that I could focus on growing our business and have time to take college classes.

WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT LIVING IN THE U.S.? You really can reach your dreams in America if you work hard and get an education. We couldn't have done any of this if we had stayed in Peru. I love this country.

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