How I Paid Off $30,000 In Credit Card Debt
Jason Probus doesn’t seem like the type of person who’d wake up one day and suddenly realize he’d buried in debt.
He’s a planner, all the way back to high school when he signed up for the Air Force’s delayed entry program. Probus joined the service five days after graduation and was eyeing the future. His goal was to put in 20 or 25 years and retire in his early 40s with a military pension.
He’d get a degree in Industrial Technology while in the Air Force. That would set him up for a nice second career, which would give him another pension. Then his Social Security would kick in and he’d live forever on Easy Street.
“My ultimate plan is to be triple-dipping,” Probus said.
So how did a planner like Probus get detoured from Easy Street to Debt Gulch?
“That’s really easy,” he said. “I lived beyond my means and let it all stack up.”
Probus ran up almost $30,000 in credit card debt. When you’re staring at a stack that high, and it’s getting higher every month with interest charges, about the only consolation is that you have plenty of company.
The average U.S. household with any credit card debt owes $16,748, so Probus’ stack was almost twice as high as most charge-a-holics out there.
He enrolled in a debt management plan at InCharge Debt Solutions and halfway through the five-year plan, he’s more than halfway out of the $30,000 hole. Like millions of people, Probus has discovered it’s a lot easier to get into debt than to get out.
First, it takes a plan. Second, it takes commitment.
That’s why Probus has traded in his smart phone for an old-fashioned flip phone. No need to run up data charges. He cut the cable-TV cord and is throwing every spare penny into his debt-management plan.
“It’s definitely made a huge dent,” said Probus, who’s a staff sergeant stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
He’s rediscovered the discipline that allowed him to plot a comfortable future when he was a teenager. That wasn’t that long ago considering Probus is only 27 years old, but he fell into a familiar trap almost as soon as he set out on his quest for financial security.
“I don’t know why they give a $20,000 credit limit to a 20-year-old,” Probus said.
They do it for people like Probus because they know service members have steady paychecks and aren’t likely to stop showing up for work. And while the military demands discipline, young people still like to have fun.
When Probus enlisted, he was living on his own for the first time. Most of the bills civilians worry about (housing, medical, education) were taken care of. He had spending money, so he spent it.
He also got married, and a baby daughter soon followed. He and his wife, Amber, each needed a car. They decorated their rental house with nice things bought on plastic.
The debt started to mount, and then Probus was sent to Korea for a year. Amber and daughter Shelby moved in with her parents, which saved money. And Probus got a nice bump in pay for being abroad.
It was good chance to attack his debt. Instead, the extra money just burned a hole in pockets from Asia to America.
“We got big-headed and both started doing things extravagantly,” Probus said.
Amber treated Shelby to good times, and Shelby’s daddy treated himself to some fun. He’d take trips and go out a lot with friends. The joy ride lasted until he returned state-side and realized what he and Amber had done.
“We literally wasted a year where we could have been completely debt-free and had money in the bank when I got back,” he said.
Probus was transferred to South Carolina, and he bought a house through a V.A. loan. There was a mortgage and car payments. Then along came Baby No. 2, Jaxson.
They were living payday-to-payday, with credit cards covering whatever shortfall came along. They were just making minimum payments every month on the cards.
If a consumer has $30,000 in credit card debt, the minimum 3% payment is $900. That sounds like a lot, but with a 15% interest rate it would take 275 months (almost 23 years) to pay it off and the total after final bill would be $51,222.13.
Probus and his wife did the math one day, looked at each other and blurted out the obvious conclusion.
“We can’t keep doing this,” they said.
A friend mentioned debt-relief programs that he’d seen advertised. Probus did his due diligence and decided to give InCharge a try.
“It seemed more legitimate than some of the things out there that didn’t feel right,” he said.
An InCharge counselor worked with credit card companies to reduce interest charges. Instead of making a slew of payments, the debt was consolidated and Probus makes one monthly payment to InCharge, which distributes the funds to creditors.
Through planning and dedication, the Probus family has cut its debt to $14,000. Every spare penny is being thrown at the debt. The plan is to pay it off and build up $10,000 in savings.
“We’ll call it a zero balance,” Probus said.
Will he treat himself to anything when that goal is reached?
“Oh hell no,” he said. “No, no, no.”
The treat will be having money to pay for ballet lessons if Amber wants them, or take a trip to Disney World and not have to do it on a credit card.
“When the kids want to do stuff, we won’t have to say no,” Probus said.
When the kids are gone, he and Amber will have a lot of good times to look back on as soon as that triple-dipping starts. Their road to financial security hasn’t gone exactly as planned, but with help from InCharge, they’ll end up where they always wanted to be.
“We were buried and really needed a program,” Probus said. “We’re not all the way there yet, but it’s a good feeling knowing we will be.”