How I Paid Off $76,000 in 19 Months

Written by Jessica Lorenzo

office desk with laptop and paperwork

I don’t know about you.
 
But I started my debt payoff journey because I was sick and tired of the never-ending payments. 
 
I was tired of feeling like I was stuck with my student loans.
 
I was tired of feeling like my “new normal” was thousands of dollars in debt.
 
Can you relate?
 
Here’s the thing:
 
You’re not alone. And you definitely aren’t the only one who struggles with feeling stuck.
 
The bottom line?
 
I’m proof that it’s possible to learn how to pay off debt fast with low income. And today I want to share my story with you.
 
Because if I can do this, then so can you.
 
Ready?
 
Let’s dive in.
 
(This article may contain affiliate links. Check out our full disclosure policy here.)
 
 

Step 1 | I Tallied Up My Debt

man calculating bills
 
Is adding up your debt overwhelming?
 
I’ve been there.
 
It’s frustrating. Intimidating. Maybe even scary.
 
But think about it:
 
If you don’t get clear on your numbers, then you risk staying stuck like a hamster in a wheel.
 
It’s an easy trap to fall into.
 
For a long time, I had anxiety about my debt.
 
I knew “about” how much debt I had, but I wasn’t exactly sure.
 
So when I got up enough backbone to face it, I sat down and tallied up every. single. penny.
 
I had $76,453.49 worth of debt from student loans, credit cards, my car loan, and medical bills. 
 
This is a tough first step.
 
But if you can get past it, then you’ll have a much higher chance of becoming debt-free. 
 
Your Challenge: 

Sit down and add up all of your debt. Focus on 2 things: 

1. The balance

2. The minimum payment required
 
What’s your total?
 
Debt Payoff Worksheet 

Tired of feeling overwhelmed by your debt?

By filling out this form, you agree to receive our weekly newsletter. Unsubscribe at any time.

__________
 
“If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”

-Earl Wilson
 
__________
 

Step 2 | I Lowered My Interest Rates

college students throwing hats at graduation
 
Let’s face it.
 
Lenders make a killing off the interest they charge.
 
You know that feeling of realizing most of your payment went to interest instead of principal?
 
Yeah, that feeling sucks.
 
Sorry, let me rephrase.
 
Really sucks.
 
So when I first graduated from college, I had no idea what student loan refinancing meant.
 
But most of my debt was student loans, so I started doing my research.
 
I remember googling things like, “how to get out of debt when you are broke” and reading every financial book I could get my hands on.
 
That’s when I found SoFi. SoFi refinanced my loans and lowered my interest rate.
 
The best part?
 
Refinancing also lowered my monthly payment.
 
But fair warning:
 
If you lower your interest rate, make sure you use that extra money wisely.
 
It’s easy to waste money when you have more of it.
 
So what is student loan refinancing?
 
When they refinance your loans, it means they pay off your existing loan(s) and give you a new loan with a lower rate.
 
And if you have multiple loans, then they get combined into a single loan. This makes it easier to keep up with your bills.
 
Most importantly?
 
It’s free.
 
SoFi lowered my interest rate from 6.03% to 4.96%.
 
They also gave me an extra 0.25% interest rate deduction because I used auto-pay.
 
By doing this step alone, I saved myself $3,816 in interest.
 
Your Challenge:
 
Just because you can’t pay off the entire balance right away, don’t settle for a high-interest rate.
 
(Especially if you’re learning how to pay off debt fast with low income) 
 
Either move your balances to a lower rate card or use SoFi to lower your interest rates.
 
Note: If you need more info on Sofi, then check our full SoFi Review
 

Step 3 | I Fired My Bank

hundred dollar bill in jar
 
Have you checked your bank statements lately?
 
I’m not saying any names.
 
But at my last bank, there was a fee for every. single. thing.
 
A maintenance fee. A card swipe fee. A fee for not keeping a certain balance.
 
And I knew I needed to cut unnecessary expenses, so I switched to a Capital One 360 account.
 
With Capital One, you don’t have to worry about the hidden fees that cripple your budget.
 
And they use an overdraft line of credit instead of overdraft charges.
 
 
__________
 

“Today, there are three kinds of people:  the have’s, the have-not’s, and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-have’s.”

-Earl Wilson

 
__________
 

Step 4 | The Debt Snowball Method

stack of coins
 
 
By this point, I had heard about Dave Ramsey.
 
(He’s a financial expert that’s not afraid to give you a kick in the ass when you need it)
 
He introduced me to the Debt Snowball Method.
 
So here’s the deal:
 
You need a debt payoff plan in place.
 
Otherwise, you risk getting overwhelmed and falling off the wagon.
 
I recommend the Debt Snowball Method because it’s simple. Here’s what you do:
 
List all your debts from smallest balance to largest balance.
 
Start paying AS MUCH as you possibly can towards the smallest debt.
 
Make minimum payments on everything else.
 
Once the smallest debt is paid off, move to the next smallest debt.
 
Keep working your way up until your debt-free.
 
My smallest debt was the $75 I owed to Target. I was able to knock that out within the first month.
 
And for the first time in a long time, this meant I actually felt like I was making progress on my debt.
 
More importantly?
 
It showed me that learning how to pay off debt fast with low income wasn’t as bad as I once thought.
 
Debt Payoff Worksheet 

Tired of feeling overwhelmed by your debt?

By filling out this form, you agree to receive our weekly newsletter. Unsubscribe at any time.

 

Step 5 | I Made Biweekly Payments

dollar bills
 
Want to know one of my favorite tricks to paying off credit cards?
 
Split your payments into two each month.
 
This means you’ll have an extra payment go towards your debt each year.
 
Why?
 
Because the biweekly method equals out to 26 half payments – or 13 full payments made each year, compared to 12 full payments made on a monthly payment plan.
 
So here’s what worked for me:
 
I split my monthly bills in half and paid every other week.
 
For example, if I was paying $600/month, then I split it into $300 every 2 weeks.
 
So are you ready to see the biweekly method in action?
 
The graph below shows the traditional payment method in green and the biweekly method in orange:
 
 
biweekly payment method graph
 
 
See how the loan balance reduced faster with the bi-weekly method?
 
This trick is effortless. Just change the way you make the payments.
 
Quick note:
 
Make sure that your lender implements your payments correctly.
 
For example, you need those second payments to go towards your balance instead of forwarded towards your next bill.
 
You can double check by logging in and checking your account or by calling your lender.
 
__________
 

“The second vice is lying, the first is running into debt.”

-Benjamin Franklin

 
__________
 

Step 6 | I Started Saving While I Spent

woman holding money
 
Do you like to keep things simple?
 
Me too.
 
You don’t always have time to clip coupons, but you love saving money.
 
My advice? 
 
Use a cash back app like Ebates to save money on everything you buy.
 
So what is Ebates?
 
Ebates is a rewards program that gives you cash back when you shop online.
 
I’ve earned over $1,000 since 2013.
 
And last year, when my oven decided to kick the bucket, I got $63 back from that purchase alone.
 
So here’s what you do:
 
Sign up for an account and use the search bar to find the store you want to shop at.
 
For my visual readers, here’s how that looks:
Ebates homepage gif
 
As you make purchases, you’ll get cash back.
 
But beware:
 
Since you’re saving money on every purchase, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying things you don’t need.
 
So remind yourself that it’s not a good deal if you don’t need it.

 

Note: The Ebates link above gives you $10 for signing up and shopping.
 

Step 7 | I Sold My Car

woman driving car
 
Let’s face it.
 
Wasting money on something that sits idle 90% of the time isn’t the smartest idea.
 
What am I talking about?
 
Cars.
 
Here’s the deal:
 
I had $18,565 left on my car loan.
 
And if there’s one thing I learned from the Total Money Makeover, it’s this:
 
The total value of all your cars shouldn’t be more than half of your annual income.
 
And most people who are learning how to pay off debt fast with low income realize they’re driving a car they can’t afford.
 
Thankfully, my car wasn’t more than half my annual income, so this didn’t apply to me.
 
But I decided to sell it anyway.
 
Why? Because I hated the idea of being stuck with my debt any longer than I had to. 
 
I knew that if I could cut my car loan in half, then I’d be one step closer to becoming debt free.
 
So once I found a buyer for my car, I went to my local credit union and got a loan for $9,000. I used this to buy a cheaper used car.
 
And just like that, I saved myself thousands of dollars.
 
__________
 

“Frugality includes all the other virtues.”

-Cicero

 
__________
 

Step 8 | I Got a Personal Loan

dollar bills lying on envelope
 
When you find yourself on the wrong side of credit card debt – personal loans can be a BIG help.
 
My credit score was right above average, so my bank offered me a lower interest rate than my credit card company did
 
So I consolidated all my credit card debt into that personal loan. I locked in a lower interest rate and lowered my monthly payments.
 
If you remember from step 2, this is similar to how I saved money on my student loans with SoFi.
 
If you can’t find a bank or credit union that’ll give you a personal loan, I recommend going through SoFi instead.
 
They offer personal loans and student loan refinancing. 
 
 

Step 9 | I Started Using Cash

woman showing wallet with money in it
 
Did you know that people who use cards waste 12%-18% more money than people who use cash?
 
When I found that out, I knew I had to try it. 
 
So I started with these cash envelopes because they were cheap and easy to label.
 
In my first month with my cash system, I saved $127.
 
I was hooked.
 
So then I bought the SavvyCents wallet because it’s durable and makes managing money a breeze.
 
After 3 months, I had saved myself $408.
 
Think about it:
 
Swiping a card doesn’t sink in as much as handing over your hard earned dollars.
 
Cash systems have a built-in accountability system, too. Because when you’re out of money, then you’re out of money.
 
No more inflating your lifestyle with credit.
 
__________
 

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

– Seneca

 
__________
 

Step 10 | I Threw My Tax Refund At My Debt

man showing money in wallet
 
Because what better way to use money that you weren’t planning on having anyway?
 
My company doesn’t offer bonuses, but if they did, then I would’ve thrown that at my debt too.
 

Step 11 | I Moved 

keys hanging in door lock
 
Nowadays, I’m a homeowner (I never thought I’d be able to say that) but back then I was a renting a 2-bedroom, 2 bath apartment.
 
My apartment was in a great area, had a nice view – and did I mention it had an amazing swimming pool?
 
Yeah, well…while all that stuff was fine and dandy, the truth is – I couldn’t afford that apartment.
 
Why did I need 2 bedrooms just for me?
 
I was full speed ahead in my debt-free journey. I was doing whatever it took to finally get that massive burden off my back.
 
I downsized to a 1 bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a good area, without the view, no pool, and no gym.
 
This alone saved me hundreds of dollars each month.
 
And no, I didn’t even miss that pool.
 
__________
 

“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

 
__________
 

Step 12 | I Got a Side Hustle

woman holding money
 
Do you need extra money?
 
There are two things I tell people who are learning how to pay off debt fast with low income:
 
Spend less or earn more.
 
And ideally, you should try to do both.
 
So here’s what I did:
 
I started teaching English online with VIPKid. This meant every morning before work, I was teaching English to Chinese kids.
 
This put an extra $1,000 to $2,000 in my pocket each month.
 
Best of all?
 
I was able to do it from home.
 
So if you’re interested in applying to VIPKid – then you can read more about it in Kristen’s article:
 
 

Step 13 | I Said ‘No’ A Lot

man typing on laptop
 
You know how it is.
 
It’s hard to say no to friends and family, isn’t it?
 
I get it. But even though it’s not always easy, you have to learn to say ‘no.’
 
I passed up vacations, dinners, and wasting money. I scaled back my lifestyle in every area.
 
I focused on the BIG picture.
 
Because I knew I’d be happier in the long run if I was able to get this debt behind me once and for all.
 
I started cooking more at home using recipes that I found in this cookbook. I quit going to the movies and started using Amazon Instant Video instead.
 
Little by little, these things added up.
 
And over the course of 19 months and these 13 steps, I finally became debt free.
 
Let me be the first one to tell you:
 
Being debt free is awesome.
 
And I know this feels like a s-l-o-w journey, but quitting won’t speed it up.
 
You can do this.
 
So, commit to the process. To focusing on your goal. To getting that burden off your back.
 
Start making tiny ripples.
 
That’s how change begins.
 
Are you ready?
 
Debt Breakdown Worksheet

Tired of feeling overwhelmed by your debt?

By filling out this form, you agree to receive our weekly newsletter. Unsubscribe at any time.

 

Keep reading...

44 thoughts on “How I Paid Off $76,000 in 19 Months”

  1. Awesome stuff! Kudos to you 🙂 I also recently refinanced my student loans and it made a big difference! Thanks for the great tips!

    • Of course Karina. I was so thankful that I was able to refinance my loans – it helped a lot!

    • You’re very welcome. 🙂

  2. I found this to be very educational and helpful. I believe I will try this and see how fast I can get out of debt and learn better financial habits. Thank you for writing and sharing this information.

    • You’re welcome Connie! You can do it! Email me if you have any questions. 🙂

  3. Awsome!….very motivated to get my debt paid off!…. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Of course Stephon! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Great article. Thank you for sharing your story. Im startingmy debt freee journey now. I should have done it a long time ago.

    Thanks,

  5. Honestly one of the best I’ve read. Right down to the doing your own nails. $50 month saved right away. Love it Thanks for inspiration and being so real

    • Thanks Theresa! That was such a nice comment.

  6. Thank you for this. Been running myself ragged trying to supplement my income with retail work. Definitely going to look into VIPkid. Love the bi-weekly payments idea as well. This article may be a life saver for me.

    • Girl I hear you! Look into VIPkid and Gogokid. They’re both great options and the lesson plans are pre-made. I’m glad you enjoyed this article. Email me if you need anything. 🙂

  7. What level of education does one need to teach with Vipkids…?

    • I believe you need a bachelor’s degree Josephine.

  8. Great story thank you for sharing, especially the bank fees they charge us A monthly fee to have an account to receive free official checks and money orders and we been there over 20 years. We both have direct deposits in this bank. We just giving money away.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I got tired of all the little expenses cluttering up my budget – and bank fees were definitely one of them.

  9. Hello,
    Great post! Just wondering where you found a bank to give you a personal loan to pay off credit cards? We are looking with above average credit.
    Thanks🙂

    • Great question! It was a local bank that’s only in my surrounding area. But since you have average credit, I’m sure you’ll be able to find one near you. Or you could use SoFi to get a personal loan. Their online process is super simple. Hope this helps!

  10. What were you making at your regular full time job while you were doing this? I’m currently in Baby Step 2, the Debt Snowball, and I’m curious what other people around my age are making to pay off their debts.

  11. Awesome tips. I am definitely going to use some of them. And I love your blog. Will be visiting more for more tips. Need to get better with money. Thank you so much

    • Thanks so much Jane! 🙂

  12. This was a great blog and I really enjoyed learning about the tips you shared. I’m purchasing that wallet too. Thanks for the tips.

    • You’re welcome Lillian! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And I know you’ll love the wallet – it helped my budget so much!

  13. Great article! How many hours a week were you working at VIP Kid to bring in that kind of extra money?

    • Thanks Julia! Usually about 3 hours each morning (Mon-Fri) and sometimes on the weekend!

  14. Great story!!I’m going to follow some of your steps,thanks. Ester

    • Thanks Ester! Goodluck, you can do it!

  15. I’ve learned a lot that can help me with my financial situation from this article. Thanks for sharing your story

    • That’s what we like to hear! Thanks for commenting.

  16. Most people in debt don’t have good or even average credit. How’d you keep such a good credit score? I’m asking because I have very low income & horrible credit because of my student loans & hospital bills etc(but only had 1 CC with a very low line as soon as I turned 18)The area I live in is very expensive & not even a good area. I don’t even have enough to put a roof over my & my daughters head & had to move back in with my mother since I’m no longer in a relationship but it seems even across America is getting way too expensive unless you live in the middle of no where & I don’t drive & those types of areas don’t usually have public transportation. May I ask if you know of cheaper areas to live that aren’t super rural because you seem so financially informed & because being low income you could afford such a big place & Im sure you don’t want to be asked directly where you live(especially over the net!) Thanks in advance for answering my questions & I love the Snow ball idea!! Definitely keeps you from giving up. I still don’t get how you save bi-weekly. Maybe I’m slow?? I’ll look @ it again to try to get it. Also wanted to add to check your credit report to clean up things that are older than 7 years(besides student loans😜) a lot go away but stay on your credit report if you don’t have it removed. Also you can get your student loans out of default(but only one time, then keep up w them w your combined loan plan) I just figured that out to add to your awesome tips! The worst is to ignore that’s why I have such a low credit score

  17. Thank you very much…

  18. Thank you so much for this article. I am drowning in debt and had no idea how to get out, and this is so helpful. Very motivational and can’t wait to feel free as well!

    • Woohoo Sam! Let us know how it goes! Cheers to financial freedom.

  19. A great article with real solutions to fix debt for good!

  20. How does this help your credit?

    • Paying off debt (especially large amounts) will help your score tremendously.

  21. Hi we’re really trying to get out of debt and finally.start saving some money.and we want no debt in our next bit of our future at all.and really would love to know how to do it to as this seems really inspirational to us as we would just like to take a leaf out of your book.as how would we go a bout paying stuff off.as we don’t know much about the debt snowball.and don’t really know how it works.but am willing to learn and am willing to do what it takes to get us back on track with everything.and am going to try it.and have heard of dave Ramsey and have saw a couple of his shows on YouTube. And am now going to watch a few more.and am buy daves book.to read.only we are over the pond and in England and we are eager to do this

    • You can do it Diane! The debt snowball is the way to go. I can’t wait to hear your success story once you’re debt free. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  22. I’m currently on my get out of debt road as I like to call it. My husband and I are aiming to have $98,000 paid off by Jan 2022. It seems so far away. But I read a motivational story of someone who has succeeded getting out of debt every single day. By the time my debt is gone I will have read a minimum of 1000 stories and I am so grateful for people who share them. I truly need that motivation every single day. So thank you so much for sharing

    • You can do it Camille. Part of the journey is staying motivated, so it’s smart that you read debt-free articles. Thanks for commenting.

Leave a Comment