My Debt Payoff Story – I Paid Off $76,453.49 in 19 Months

Finance office desk

 
So I’ve spent some time deciding whether to actually write this article or not. I’ve wondered if it would actually help any of you out there.
 
But then I remembered how motivating other people’s stories were for me.
 
I was not alone. Neither are you. We aren’t the only ones who struggle with student loans, credit cards, and a mountain of bills.

So if I can show one person that it’s possible to learn how to pay off debt fast with low income, then mission accomplished.
 
I became debt free in less than 2 years and here’s how I did it:

 

Step 1 | I Tallied Up My Debt

couple struggling over bills
 
For a long time, I had anxiety when it came to facing my debt.
 
It was like the 10,000-pound elephant in the room.
 
So when I finally got up enough willpower to face it, I sat down and tallied up every single piece of debt I had.
 
I had $76,453.49 worth of debt from student loans, credit cards, my car loan, and medical bills. 
 
I looked at it all – let it sting for a minute and took a couple of deep breaths.
 
This was a hard first step, but I knew if I could get past this part, then I’d have an extremely high rate of becoming debt free.
 
__________
 
“If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”

-Earl Wilson
 
__________
 

Step 2 | I Refinanced My Student Loans

college students graduating
 
When I first graduated from college, I had no idea what student loan refinancing meant.
 
But my student loans accounted for most of my debt. And I knew they weren’t just going to go away.
 
So I started doing my research on student loan debt immediately. 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.
 
This is when I first discovered a company called SoFi.
 
SoFi refinanced my student loans and 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 $18,430.92 in interest and lowered my monthly payment.
 
Here’s the thing:
 
Interest rates are tricky. And they’re what costs us so much more in the long-run.
 
But even though I couldn’t pay off the entire balance right away, I didn’t want to settle for a high-interest rate.
 
(Especially since I knew I could lower it.)
 
This was the little (or technically big) morale boost I needed to kick-start my debt payoff journey.
 
After feeling so down in the dumps about all the debt I had racked up – I’m happy I did this first.
 
These days, student loan refinancing is common. And for good reason, because interest rates will suck you dry.
 
So if you have student loans, look into your options for lowering your rate.
 
(Especially if you’re learning how to pay off debt fast with low income)
 

 

Note: The SoFi link above gives you a $100 welcome bonus.
 

Step 3 | I Fired My Bank

dollar bills and check book
 
At this point, I was basically living paycheck to paycheck.
 
This meant I was getting hit with $35 overdraft charges on a pretty (embarrassingly) regular basis.
 
I was also charged $10 monthly for “maintenance” fees.
 
It was frustrating, and I knew I needed to cut costs in every way possible, so I switched to a Capital One 360 account.
 
There are no hidden monthly expenses and they use an overdraft line of credit rather than overdraft fees.
 
Switching to Capital One 360 helped take off some added stress.
 
I no longer had to worry about the overdraft charges (like when my direct deposit was late and I had no idea).
 
And I stopped worrying about maintenance fees. Little by little, those fees added up.
 
__________
 

“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 | I Started The Debt Snowball Method

stack of coins
 
After using SoFi and Capital One, I started feeling like I was building momentum.
 
I was getting pretty serious about getting all this sh-t under control.
 
By this point, I had stumbled upon Dave Ramsey. And I’m so glad I did.
 
(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:
 
If you’re trying to become debt free, then you need a debt payoff plan in place.
 
Otherwise, you risk getting overwhelmed, discouraged, and falling off the wagon.
 
The Debt Snowball Method is easy and straightforward. Here’s what you do:
 
List all your debts from smallest balance to largest. Then start paying off the smallest debt first.
 
You throw as much money as you possibly can at the smallest debt while making minimum payments on the rest.
 
Keep going until you work your way up.
 
For me, my smallest debt was the $75 I owed to Target. I was able to knock that out and 2-3 other debts within the first month.
 
For the first time in a long time, this meant I actually felt like I was making traction on my debt.
 
That alone gave me so much motivation to keep going.
 
And most importantly, it showed me that learning how to pay off debt fast with low income wasn’t as bad as I once thought.
 

Step 5 | I Made Biweekly Payments

man calculating bills
 
If you haven’t grabbed a pen and paper for this article yet, you’ll probably need one.
 
(As you can tell, this debt payoff plan really is a 13 step process)
 
So here’s one of my favorite uncommon tricks to paying off credit cards (or any other kind of debt):
 
Split your payments into two each month.
 
By changing to this payment method, it means you’ll have an extra payment go towards your debt yearly.
 
Here’s What I Did:
 
  • I split my monthly bills in half and paid every other week. For example, if I was paying $600/month, I split it into $300 every 2 weeks.
 
  • I made sure my payments made it before the due date.
 
  • I double checked that my lender implemented my payments correctly. For example, I needed those second payments to go towards my balance instead of forwarded towards my next bill. (I did this by logging in and checking my account or by calling the lender directly.)
 
I want to show you how the biweekly method works, so I used the Calcxml Calculator to graph it.
 
The graph below shows the traditional payment method in green and the biweekly method in orange:
 
biweekly payment method graph
 
See how my loan balance went down more with the bi-weekly method?
 
The reason this is one of my favorite tricks is because it requires no extra work. You just change the way you make the payments.
 
Not bad, right?
 
__________
 

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

-Benjamin Franklin

 
__________
 

Step 6 | I Started Saving While I Spent

woman holding dollar bills
 
My sister is the queen of saving money. She’s the one who got me reading this book (something I never would’ve picked up on my own)
 
And I remember having a conversation with her one night about how I needed to lower my grocery bill. That conversation went something like this:
 
Her: Why aren’t you saving while you spend?
 
Me: What do you mean, like use coupons?
 
Her: Well, coupons are an option, but I mean more like saving money on the stuff you’d normally buy anyway.
 
Me: How do I do that?
 
Her: You should try Ebates. You’ll save money just by shopping like normal.
 
She knew that couponing wasn’t my thing. I just never manage to stick with it.
 
But Ebates was something I knew I could do. (If you can’t tell already – I’m a big fan of keeping things simple)
 
If you don’t know, Ebates is a rewards program that gives you cash back when you shop online.
 
I’ve earned a lot of money since I’ve started using it.
 
Like last year, when my oven decided to kick the bucket, I got $63 back from Ebates when I bought my new oven online.
 
Plus these days, there are certain things I only buy online because I find it cheaper.
 
Like printer ink, for example. I can usually find a better deal on ink by shopping online and using Ebates.
 
If you haven’t seen the Ebates commercial, here’s how you use it:
 
You sign up and use the search bar to find the store you want to shop at.
 
Here’s what I mean:
 
Ebates homepage gif
 
As you make purchases, you’ll get cash back.
 

 

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

Step 7 | I Sold My Car

Woman sitting on car with phone
 
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 vehicles shouldn’t be more than half of your annual income.
 
(After talking with so many people who are learning how to pay off debt fast with low income, many are driving cars 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 needed to.
 
And 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 used Nissan Versa.
 
My dad and I took the car to a mechanic for an inspection before I agreed to buy it (always do this!) and this little car has been with me ever since.
 
I want to upgrade in the future but for right now I’m still happy with it.
 
__________
 

“Frugality includes all the other virtues.”

-Cicero

 
__________
 

Step 8 | I Got a Personal Loan for my Credit Cards

money and checkbook
For anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of credit card debt – personal loans can be a BIG help.
 
My credit score was at least above the average (average is around 650), so the bank offered me a lower interest rate than my credit card company did
 
Then 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 so much 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.
 
You apply online and you’ll know if you’re approved usually within minutes.
 

Step 9 | I Started My Cash Only System

man showing money in wallet
 
So by this point, I had heard the research about how people who use cash spend 12%-18% less than people who use cards.
 
I wasn’t completely hooked at first, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
 
I bought the SavvyCents wallet to help me organize and keep track of my money. I told myself that I was going to try it for at least 3 months.
 
3 months went by and I really found myself enjoying my new system.
 
I knew exactly how much money I was spending. Plus, I wasn’t tempted with impulse buys because I only carried enough money to buy what I needed.
 
If I would’ve thought about it before, I would’ve switched to a cash system earlier to avoid overdraft fees.
 
But better late than never.
 
__________
 

“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 calculating bills with pen and paper
 
My refund was money I wasn’t expecting to have anyway, so I wasn’t going to let myself waste it.
 
As soon as my refund deposit hit – I threw it all towards paying down my debt.
 
I also got a raise at work, so I split half between debt payments and the other towards household expenses.
 
My company doesn’t offer bonuses, but if they did, then I would’ve thrown that at my debt too.
 

Step 11 | I Moved 

front door with welcome sign
 
Nowadays, I’m a homeowner (I never thought I’d be able to say that) but back then I was a renting a 3-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 3 bedrooms just for me?
 
This is the kind of stuff I look back on and shake my head at, but it’s a part of my story – so I had to include it.
 
As you can tell, by this point I was full speed ahead in my debt-free journey. I was doing whatever it took to finally get the massive $76,000 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.
 
__________
 

“Christmas is the season when you buy this year’s gifts with next year’s money.”

 
__________
 

Step 12 | I Got a Side Hustle

woman putting money in pocket
 
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, do both.
 
Here’s the deal:
 
Most of the money from my main job was going towards staying afloat.
 
I needed something extra.
 
I started cleaning houses on the side and babysitting for some friends here and there.
 
Those were great little income boosts, but I wanted something a little more stable.
 
So 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 and I was able to do it from home.
 
I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with teaching (except maybe some tutoring I had done in my early college days).
 
But, I did have experience with babysitting and I’m comfortable with kids.
 
If you’re interested in applying to VIPKid – Teacher Tina has a great YouTube video about the VIPKid application process.
 
And if you want to submit your application for VIPKid, click here.
 
Even though I’m debt-free now, I still like teaching.
 
It’s fun, easy, and the kids are always happy to see me. It pays well too. ($18-$22 per hour) 
 

Step 13 | I Said ‘No’ A Lot

woman drinking coffee while using laptop
 
It wasn’t always easy, but I learned I had to start saying ‘no’.
 
I passed up vacations, dinners, going to the movies, shopping trips and so on.
 
I scaled back my lifestyle in every area and focused on the BIG picture.
 
Yeah sure, I was missing out on getting my nails done or a nice dinner.
 
But 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 on Pinterest and this cookbook. I quit going to the movies and started using Amazon Instant Video instead.
 
Lastly, I stopped going to get my nails done with my friends and started doing them myself.
 
I use this nail set. They don’t last as long, but they’re only a few bucks so you can’t beat it.
 
Little by little, these things add up.
 
And over the course of 19 months and these 13 steps, I finally became debt free.
 
I’ll be the first one to tell you:
 
Being debt free is awesome. It was worth every bit of sacrifice it took to get here.
 
I owe nothing to no one. I actually have savings now. It’s changed my life.
 
And it can change yours too. It just takes time, dedication, and focus.
 
Are you ready?
 
Share this picture:
 
how to pay off debt fast on low income

28 thoughts on “My Debt Payoff Story – I Paid Off $76,453.49 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.

  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!

Leave a Comment