From $300,000 in Debt to Zero — How Real People Repaid Their Debts Fast

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Alex Emanuel Koch / Shutterstock.com

A recent GOBankingRates’ survey found that Americans are drowning in debt. Fortunately, the survey also found that a majority of respondents — 71 percent — are hopeful that they will get out of debt.

It certainly is possible to pay off even big debts if you make it a priority and take the right steps. These 11 people are proof. They paid off a combined $1,115,763, and most of them wiped out their debts in just a few years — some even did it in a few months. Keep reading to find out what these real people did to pay off debt fast.

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$25,000 Paid Off in Five Months

To get her master’s degree, Brittany Kline borrowed about $32,000 in student loans. Initially, she and her husband, Kelan, weren’t in a rush to pay off her student loan debt. But in August 2018, the couple decided to eliminate Brittany’s remaining student loan debt as quick as possible. “We got sick and tired of having a student loan payment eat away at our budget every month,” Kelan said.

The couple cut back on all expenses — including eating out, entertainment, gas, electricity and even groceries. They also have put a large percentage of the income from their blog, The Savvy Couple, toward the student loan debt. By the end of December, the $25,000 Brittany had left in student loan debt will be paid off — just five months after the couple decided to tackle that debt quickly.

“Our key in paying off our debt successfully in such a short amount of time was changing our mindset from being OK with it to needing it gone,” Kelan said. With the student loan debt eliminated, the Klines will be able to focus more on investment goals. “We want to get to a point where we are saving over 50 percent of our monthly income,” he said. “This will free up money in our budget so we can travel more, purchase a camper we have wanted and not be so stressed out about money.”


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$46,763 Paid Off in Three Years

For years, Deanna Broaddus battled drug and alcohol addiction. “I was a high functioning addict and always maintained a job and paid my bills,” she said. “However, I was poor with my money management.” Because she was spending a lot of her income on drugs and alcohol, she racked up debt using credit cards to buy groceries and pay bills.

When Broaddus got sober in early 2010, she consolidated her credit card debt and reduced her expenses to stay afloat financially. But she didn’t get serious about tackling her $46,763 in credit card, student loan and medical debt until 2014 when a friend taught her how to budget and introduced her to Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method, which involves paying off your debt with the smallest balance first and then working your way up.

Broaddus gained control of her finances by creating a budget, eliminating unnecessary expenses and putting more money toward debt. However, when she lost her home to a foreclosure in 2016, it lead to a temporary pause in her debt payoff plan. But moving in with her parents after the foreclosure freed up more money for debt payments. Broaddus also worked hard in her career to increase her income by 50 percent, which allowed her to boost debt payments. By 2017, she was putting 60 to 85 percent of her income toward her debt — which she paid off entirely by the end of 2017.

Now that Broaddus, who blogs about debt freedom at Ms. Fiology, has gained control over her finances, she has moved to an apartment, is maxing out her retirement accounts and has been helping other women with their finances. “Nothing qualifies you more than overcoming,” she said.

Related: 18 Effective Ways to Tackle Your Budget.

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$50,000 Paid Off in Less Than Five Years

When Kyle graduated from college in 2011, he had $50,000 in federal and private student loans. He quickly realized that he wanted to pay off that debt as fast as possible when started tracking his expenses and budgeting. “I couldn’t live in an environment where I was constantly swimming upstream with student loans,” said Kyle, who blogs at Millionaire Mob and uses his first name only to protect his identity. “I knew I had to do something about it, so I had this urgency to eliminate it at the fastest rate possible.”

Kyle was fortunate to find a job out of college that paid a bonus of 40 percent of his base salary of $60,000. So he lived off his base salary and put his bonus toward debt. He also used side hustles to earn more money for debt repayment. And he refinanced his private loans that had a 10 percent interest rate to a 5 percent rate, which helped him pay off that debt faster.

While paying down his student loan debt, Kyle also was saving for a 15% down payment on a $210,000 condominium. Once his debt was paid off in early 2017, he was able to buy a house with a 20% down payment. Now, he is looking to buy rental property. “By eliminating student loans, I’ve started to think about ways where I can take my wealth to the next level,” he said.

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$51,000 Paid Off in Two and a Half Years

John Schneider and Dave Auten lived fabulously, but spending beyond their means landed them fabulously in debt. Between the two of them, they had $51,000 in credit card debt in 2004. They knew that if they wanted to get ahead financially, they would have to make some changes.

“We paid off our $51,000 of credit card debt in two and a half years by first getting crystal clear on what we most wanted,” Schneider said. What the couple — who are the creators of the Debt Free Guys blog — wanted was to be able to save for a secure retirement, pay for travel with cash and give back to the queer community.

With a motivation for paying off debt, the couple was able to cut back on going out, travel less and find more free and cheap things to do with friends. They also reduced grocery costs by shopping with a list and creating weekly menus based on what was on sale. And they lowered all of their credit card interest rates to 0 percent by taking advantage of balance-transfer offers. That — along with spending less — helped them pay down debt by 2007, Schneider said.

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$80,000 Paid Off in Less Than Three Years

While Lance Cothern was dating his wife, Victoria, in college, he learned that she was borrowing money to pay for school. By the time she graduated in 2011, she had $80,000 in private and federal student loans. “She knew she didn’t want the massive debt hanging over her shoulders, so she had always planned to pay the debt off faster than the typical repayment schedule,” Cothern said. And he decided to help her.

Victoria moved in with Lance after graduating. He paid the rent, and she put her money toward paying down her loans. She focused first on her highest-rate debt — a $20,000 private student loan with an 8.125 percent rate. They kept their expenses low by continuing to live like college students and found ways to make extra money. Victoria, who is a nurse, worked extra shifts. And Lance launched the blog Money Manifesto. “Since I knew we’d likely end up getting married, I saved up any extra money I had and set it aside to pay off the student loan debt once we were officially married,” Lance said.

Within a few months of getting married in July 2013, Lance put the $10,000 he had saved toward Victoria’s debt. By combining their finances, using both of their incomes and the income from Lance’s blog, they had all of Victoria’s debt paid off by March 2014. They’ve continued to live frugally since then, and Lance was able to leave his accounting job to blog full-time in 2015.

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$100,000 Paid Off in Six Years

During college and graduate school, Chris racked up more than $85,000 in student loan debt. He also accumulated $2,000 in credit card debt while in school. And he took on a $15,000 car loan shortly before getting married. All told, he had more than $100,000 in debt. But it wasn’t until he realized how much he was paying in interest on his debt that he became motivated to pay it off quickly.

“When I was doing year-end taxes, I realized that I paid more than $5,000 in interest on my student loans alone the previous year,” said Chris, who prefers to use his first name only because he blogs anonymously at Apathy Ends. “We were making entry-level salaries at that time, and burning that much cash on interest payments alone spurred us into action.”

So in 2012, they started focusing on paying down the principal balance by making extra payments every month. They did this by putting the majority of their salary increases toward debt through automatic payments. Then, Chris refinanced the remaining $44,000 in student loan debt he had three years ago at a lower rate. During the past three years, he and his wife put $15,000 annually toward his debt until it was paid off in March 2018. “Now that my student loans are paid off, we have an extra $1,250 per month that allows us to pay for health coverage and childcare for our two kids without tapping into the money we save and invest every month,” he said.

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$105,000 Paid Off in Three Years

You don’t have to have a big salary to pay off a lot of debt quickly, as Diana’s story shows. Diana is teacher who has paid off $105,000 in student loan debt in three years. She blogs at Diana on a Dime and prefers to only use her first name because of her teaching position.

Diana decided she wanted to quickly pay off her $201,000 in undergraduate and graduate school debt in 2014 while she still was in graduate school. She made a plan and put it into action in November 2015 after getting a teaching job. Her minimum loan payments were $2,000 a month, but her salary with her first teaching job was about $3,000 a month. “Living in New Jersey meant that I basically couldn’t live on my salary and these payments,” Diana said. So she moved back home with her parents. She also limited her expenses to just the necessities, with only the occasional happy hour or take-out meal. And she picked up a lot of side jobs after school and on weekends — such as tutoring and babysitting. “All of the extra money goes directly to debt and a large chunk of my paycheck does as well,” she said.

In November 2018, she hit the three-year mark of her debt payoff journey and had eliminated $105,000 in debt. She still has a long way to go, but paying off as much as she has quickly changed her life. “I am no longer anxious and stressed about my situation because I have been able to cut my minimum payments down to $1,000 a month,” Diana said. “It’s much more manageable and I have hope for the freedom in my future once it is all gone.”

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$107,000 Paid Off in 33 Months

Kevin and Erin Jones wanted to buy a house, have kids and live off one income, but there was something standing in their way: $107,043 of debt. Kevin had $63,000 in student loans from graduate school, and Erin had $30,000 in student loans from a second degree. Plus, they had a $14,000 car loan. They owed more than $1,100 in minimum payments on that debt each month. “It had reached this point where we had to address it and both of us were fired up about getting rid of it,” said Kevin, creator of the blog Debt Free Happens.

They made paying off their debt their No. 1 focus. The Joneses created a budget and cut out unnecessary expenses such as lunches out and cable TV. Kevin switched to a cheap flip phone, and they frequently declined offers to go out with friends. In addition to cutting costs, the Joneses put all raises, bonuses and extra cash toward debt. They even put off buying a house. They had saved about $20,000 for a down payment but decided to pay off their debt first. “So we took the money and put it towards the debt and never looked back,” Kevin said.

It took 33 months to pay off the more than $107,000 they owed. Once it was gone, Kevin said it felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.

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$116,000 Paid Off in Three Years

Not only did J pay off $53,000 of debt, but she also paid off her husband’s $36,000 in student loans and $27,000 in loans her parents had taken out to pay for her and her sister’s college educations. And she did it in three years.

J, who blogs anonymously about financial independence and retiring early at Millennial Boss, decided in 2015 to pay off her student loan, credit card and car loan debt quickly after being inspired by a blogger who wrote about paying off $90,000 of debt in 10 months. She also was engaged at the time and didn’t want to carry debt into her marriage.

What helped her pay off her debt was getting a master’s degree in computer information systems and landing a higher-paying job. When J moved for a job in 2016, she and her then-fiancé downsized from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment and made $4,500 selling stuff they no longer needed on Craigslist — money that went toward her debt. She also sold her car, which eliminated her auto loan debt. Bonuses from her work helped her pay off her husband’s $36,000 in student loan debt. And she used income from her Millennial Boss blog to pay off her parents’ PLUS loans. Now that J has no debt, she said, “We can focus on our future goals of owning our dream house and becoming financially independent.”

Related: 16 Key Signs That You Will Always Be In Debt

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$135,000 Paid Off in One Payment

Mike Yanda had been chipping away at his student loans since graduating college in 2010. Then he went to law school, and racked up even more student loan debt. “Honestly, until this year, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pay off my loans despite making a payment each month that was comparable to my mortgage,” said Yanda, who was paying about $1,700 to $2,000 a month.

He and his wife had paid off her student loans and were growing frustrated with how long it was going to take them to pay off his loans and how much interest he would pay. Yanda had been building savings from the income he earned from his digital marketing agency and Laptop Empires, a company he created with a partner to teach people how to build online businesses to make money from home. As his businesses and savings grew in late 2017 and early 2018, he decided to get more aggressive with his loans — so aggressive that he decided to pay off the $135,000 he owed in one payment.

“It was honestly a bit scary to think about making a six-figure student loan payment and wiping out a good chunk of our savings even if it would save us a ton of money in the long run,” Yanda said. But he said they were confident they could rebuild their savings because his businesses were doing well. Even if his businesses tanked and he had to start over, at least he could do it debt-free, he said.

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$300,000 Paid Off in Five Years

In 2010, Steven Donovan came to a realization: He had $100,000 in debt. Donovan had been living in denial about how bad his debt situation was for years. He had graduated college in 2005 with nearly $60,000 in student loan debt. He also had borrowed money from his parents, racked up credit card debt and had a car loan. He was working as a caddy at a golf course and couldn’t afford his monthly payments. Donovan told himself, “OK, you can’t go through life and expect to do well with a bunch of credit card debt and student loans.”

So he started reading and listening to every piece of information about personal finance and paying off debt he could find. Donvoan sold his car, which eliminated his monthly car payment, and relied on public transportation. He got a job at a bank and looked for ways to increase his income with side hustles and then put the extra cash toward his credit card debt. After starting on his debt payoff journey, though, he got married in 2011 and then bought a three-unit home in 2012 in Chicago with a $250,000 mortgage. He and his wife lived on the top floor, and Donovan rented the other units — which gave him more money for debt repayment.

His wife also had debt — a $200,000 mortgage on a rental property in Miami. So Donovan decided to tackle that, too. He managed to pay off his $100,000 in debt and her $200,000 mortgage within five years. Earlier this year, they sold their home in Chicago and moved to the paid off house in Miami. Now, Donovan hopes to help others take control of their finances as a money coach at Even Steven Money.

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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting of this article.