Debt can often seem unconquerable. Whether you're facing down student loans or a mountain of credit card bills, it can seem like you'll never be able to pay off all of it--or even make a serious dent.
We get it. We do. And you're not alone: According to a nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint, almost one-third of men and women surveyed said credit card debt keeps them from reaching their financial goals.
What's more, in the study, the average outstanding student loan debt totaled over $30,000.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
While debt is no small matter, you can pay it down ... with some hard work, a little ingenuity and, most importantly, a plan.
To show real women just like you who have succeeded at just that, we collected inspiring reader stories from LV Discussions and in articles, in which readers share their tales of overcoming the odds. We love the creative, smart methods they use, and the dedication they show.
To protect our readers' privacy, all names have been changed.
In February, I finally paid off all my credit card debt! At its highest point, it was about $10,000. Even more amazingly, I paid it off while moving from the Midwest, switching jobs and getting a divorce.
I got into debt while I was basically supporting my ex-husband, who in ten years never had a full-time job. While we made enough for groceries, anything besides that, like cigarettes (we were both smokers), traveling to visit my family in New York or going out to dinner, got put on the card. While I was always thrifty, my ex was a spender, so it all just slowly added up.
We split up, and I moved to New York with about $2,000 in savings. I stayed with my family for a few months and sold my car to get an apartment, all while working remotely part-time. At this point, I was just paying off the minimums on my cards. When I got a regular job, I started paying off as much as I could afford, and as soon as I paid one down, I would put all that money toward a new card.
In the same week, I became debt-free and my divorce came through. Needless to say, it was pretty amazing! I’ve continued to be thrifty since becoming debt-free, and now I put all the money I was putting toward my cards to my retirement.
I paid off $28,000 in student loans and saved $11,000 in only three years. I’m single, so I gave away 75% of my things and moved into a house where I rented a small room. I was able to cut my expenses by $900 a month! I know it sounds crazy, but it was the most creative thing I could think of to pay off my debts quickly. Three years later, I’m back in my own apartment and still saving.
My husband and I paid off $122,000 in debt in four years through the snowball method (paying off the smallest balance first and then the next smallest, etc.). If I had to give advice, I would say get a second job to increase your income! Wait tables, deliver pizza, freelance, clean houses, walk dogs—whatever it takes to get debt-free!
In 2010, I had $76,000 in student loan debt after two degrees. I have already paid off $56,000. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, but it’s totally worth it now that the end is near! That said, it definitely hasn’t been easy. I work a day job in management at a non-profit: In 2010, I was making $62,000 a year, but now I’m earning $70,000 a year, plus a $4,000 annual bonus. It’s definitely a good salary, but I live in Washington, D.C., which is an expensive city.
To supplement my income and pay down my debt more quickly, I’ve gotten creative. I’ve babysat through SitterCity, participated in focus groups and done other odd jobs. I also moved to a less desirable neighborhood, cut cable, limited data on my phone and tracked all of my spending. Each month, I have been able to put around $2,000 toward my student loans.
I got into debt by spending more than I was making on things like clothing, nights out, eating out, drinking, cabs and health expenses. I didn't have a budget. Also, I took a big trip to India that cost me $5,000, and I didn't save up for it at all.
My debt was about $7,500. Two years ago, I got a budget and began sharply curtailing my spending and paying off my debt. I paid the credit card debt fairly quickly (within five months), aided by a Christmas gift from my parents. But I still had almost $20,000 in student loan debt, so I spent another year paying that off. I felt so much relief when I paid the credit card debt off, but the student loan amount was such a huge sum, I was in disbelief for a month. Now I love the feeling of building up savings instead of paying off past debts!
I paid off $55,000 in debt in about 5-6 years. How did I do it? I found a book on getting out of debt, read it and set up a plan to pay off my highest interest rate debt first. Once I paid it off, then I put the same amount toward the next debt, until finally my debts were gone.
To free up more money, I rented a room for $400 a month instead of paying about $800-900 for an apartment. Additionally, I cut back on “fun” spending: I didn’t take any vacations outside my immediate area, only ate out at restaurants a few times a year, etc. I rented that small room for four years, until I got married. At that point, we rented a one-bedroom for $800, so my rent could stay the same. All the while, my income kept increasing, which helped as well.
In less than two years, I was able to pay off approximately $35,000 in loans. While I still owe about $53,000, I should be able to pay it all off in another two years.
How did I do it? Although I really wanted a job in politics, I realized I couldn’t make $25,000 or less a year and manage to pay my $525 a month in student loan payments. Instead, I got a job as a legal secretary at a big law firm, and worked at least 10 hours of overtime a week for three years. All the extra money I earned went to my debt. My interest rates were 11%, 7% and 3%; I had a combination of private and public loans.
I’ve been promoted twice at the firm and now have a pretty good job. My advice if you want to pay off your loans is to get the highest-paying job with overtime you can find, keep your cost of living low (I commute over an hour to work in each direction) and don’t count on anyone to bail you out. If you pay them off quickly, you can then be free to get your dream job by age 27 or so.
To pay off my debt, I would make multiple payments per month, regardless of the bill's due date. If I felt like I had a spare $20, $50 or $100 in my bank account, I went ahead and made an online payment. It was so easy, and it was an instant confidence boost as I watched the balances decrease!