How They Paid off $100k in Debt in Less Than 5 Years

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How did you acquire $109,000 in debt? What did that debt consist of?

My wife and I racked up $109,000 in credit card debt through thirteen years of constant over spending. That amount represents everything from food to throwing dinner parties, to trips to Hawaii and Mexico. We just simply didn’t have a budget, and supplemented our income with credit cards.

What did it feel like to have that much debt?

To be honest, most of the time I didn’t think about it. I put it out of my mind until it was the time of the month that the bills came due, then my goal simply to find a way to pay all the bills any way that was possible. I didn’t know what the total amount of debt was, and I didn’t know how much our monthly payments added up to. I didn’t want to know because I was in total denial.

Eventually we hit a breaking point where we could no longer make the monthly payments due to a change in the minimum payment policy of a major creditor with which we had multiple accounts. When we added up the balances and the payments, our situation felt hopeless.

How long did it take you to pay it all off?

It took us 55 months to dig ourselves out of our massive hole of debt.

What resources did you use to help you through this process?

We used a Debt Management Plan in which our debt relief provider negotiates a monthly payment and reduced interest rate that would result in our debt being paid in full in 3-5 years. We made one payment to our debt relief provider, and they dispersed the payments to our creditors.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

It took a LONG time for us to really come to grips with how much we had to change our lifestyle to live within our means. We had to learn how to track our spending, budget and communicate about finances for the very first time.

How did this affect your marriage?

The process of learning how to handle our finances correctly, and communicate about our finances took a lot of trial and error, hard work, and even a fair amount of arguments and tears. But we have emerged from our struggle a happier and stronger couple!

What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?

I am a software engineer, while my wife is a paraprofessional for the school district, as well as an office specialist at our local public defender’s office. To help earn extra money I also began mystery shopping as well as developed a second career as a freelance personal finance blogger.

How did it feel once you paid it all off?

The feeling I had as I made the phone call to schedule our last payment was indescribable. If I had to use one word, I would describe it as, “FREE!”

What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?

The most important thing for people looking to pay off debt is to never lose hope. There are options to get yourself back on the right path no matter how much debt you have, or how bad you think your situation is. You just have to educate yourself as to what your options are, pick the right one for your situation, and DO IT. But you have to be ready to change. We got in debt through bad spending habits and a feeling of entitlement. Until you accept that you have to make drastic changes in your lifestyle, you won’t make any headway towards your debt.

Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.

19 COMMENTS

19 responses to “How They Paid off $100k in Debt in Less Than 5 Years”

  1. Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income says:

    Wow, those must have been some killer dinner parties. Congrats on getting rid of it and in a pretty quick time period. Good luck from here on out!

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Oh, they were quite the dinner parties, Lance. It usually went something like this: it started out as just us and one other couple getting together. But, we didn’t like leaving people out. So, before we knew it we had invited all our friends in the neighborhood – somewhere around 20-30 people, kids included. The response when asked what to bring? “Nothing, we got it.” We’d pick up meat to grill, appetizers, alcohol – everything. Do that almost every weekend for 10 years…I think you can get a glimpse of how we lived. I look back at those days and just shake my head and think about what my investment accounts would look like had we been more wise with our money. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the well wishes!

  2. Brandy says:

    This was truly inspirational. I feel like I am living this right now and their story is very motivating. Thanks!

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      I’m glad that you find motivation in our story, Brandy. It’s never too late to get yourself back on the path to financial freedom! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Mike craig says:

    There are some people reading this article that just found new hope!

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Your comment means a lot to me, Mike – I’ve been sharing our story, our successes and failures, for almost 5 years now. Your comment is *exactly* why I keep doing it – when we were at our financial breaking point I felt like we had no hope. That’s the WORST feeling in the world. If I can give that hope back to just one person, all my effort is worth it!

  4. debs @ debtdebs says:

    Congrats on your achievement, Travis! We’re looking at a 55 month payoff period too! You know another funny coincidence is that you and Brian Brandow both had the same amount of debt – $109K.

    • Brian @ Debt Discipline says:

      Our stories are so similar it’s scary! Right down to the part where we are both debt free!!! 🙂

    • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

      How far into your payoff period are you, Debs? I hope all is going well as you make your way along the path to financial freedom! Yeah, Brian and I have talked several times (in comments) about how similar our stories have been – proof that we are NOT alone in this battle. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Brian @ Debt Discipline says:

    Congrats, Travis and family! That’s an incredible achievement! I know the feeling. 🙂

  6. Tim says:

    How did it affect your credit rating during the payoff? Would you mind giving the comparison of your credit score before and after?

    • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

      Sure, Tim, I can share what I know. What I do not know is what my credit score was prior to enrolling. Although, I was commonly told that I “had good credit, just a lot of it.” My understanding is that enrolling in a debt management program (DMP) will not affect your credit score – but, what does affect the score is the closing of your accounts – which of course is exactly what happens when you are accepted into a DMP. So, I suspect that my credit score took a dip upon initial enrollment. Of course, it didn’t really matter, because at that time I couldn’t have cared less about my credit score, only that I was getting out of debt. About half way through the program I found CreditKarma, which gives you your Transunion score for free. Not your FICO score, but it’s a comparable score. When I first started looking at it, it was about 650. As we went through the second half of our program, it rose slowly, and at completion of the program it was 713. After completion of our program, we did some additional financial maneuvers such as refinanced our house, consolidated some things that were left over, etc. My Transunion score now sits at 760 – within the “Excellent” range.

      I hope this helps!

  7. Kim says:

    I will never get tired of hearing that story. Most people would have just given up, but you’ve actually turned the debt into a positive, at least in the way of knowing you can achieve any goal. Great work.

    • Deacon Hayes says:

      I totally agree, Kim! I never get tired of reading about Travis and his wife conquering their debt. It is truly an inspiration, especially as we tackle our last debt: the mortgage.

    • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

      Thank you both for your kind words and support – We’re using our experience as a “Springboard of confidence” to accomplish any and every goal in our future!

  8. Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

    Many, many congratulations to you for paying this off! I think your story is inspirational and motivating! I also love that your marriage was strengthened by the experience–what a wonderful result of a difficult time.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      A marriage can never be too strong, and I’m blessed to have a stronger marriage be a result of our struggle – out of the debts of every negative can come a positive!

  9. kaizen m says:

    May I ask you how much your monthly payment was to pay the $100K off in that amount of time? I will be in the same position, with student loan debt, and I’m wondering how much my average monthly payment would be.

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