“It’s Paid Off” – How I Became Debt Free & Saved for a Vacation
Hugh Stoute grew up in Barbados, the beautiful island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies and plans to vacation there this summer.
The circumstances won’t be vacation perfect. He’ll make the trip under difficult circumstances months after the death of his mother last fall.
But at least in one way, Stoute acknowledges, an emtional trip is already a success.
“It’s paid off,” he said, happily. “Hotel. Airlines. Everything. It was $4,900 and it’s paid off.”
Stoute is 75, could pass for 55 and speaks like an excited teenager when talking about the life-changing story of becoming debt free through the debt management program at InCharge Debt Solutions.
“If I hadn’t gotten into the InCharge Debt Solutions program, I would’ve still been paying off credit card debt into my 80s,” he said. “Hoping to get it paid off by the grave.
“I told InCharge any recommendation you need from me I can give. They put me in a position where I can live a peaceful life.”
Losing One’s Peace of Mind to Debt
The toll credit card debt takes can’t be calculated by simple math. Even in circumstances where accumulating debt hasn’t wrecked credit scores and ruined relationships, it can sabotage one’s peace of mind.
For Stoute, there wasn’t a big life event that caused him to go into debt. But suddenly it felt as if a big life change was necessary to get out from under it.
A good job wasn’t enough to keep him solvent. Stoute had a successful career as a senior sales rep living in New York for Kraft Foods before transferring to Coral Springs, Florida and later moving to Columbus, Georgia.
No matter the ebb and flow of income and the fluctuating cost of living in his places of residence, credit card debt was the one constant.
His debt didn’t suddenly spike because of missed payments or the kind of extravagances that often entice even the most practical people. So how did this happen?
As the lone income earner in the family for a number of years, he said he simply tried to help his daughters and sons out financially and live to a certain standard as they established themselves in the workforce.
“I never missed a payment,” Stoute said. “My credit rating never took a big hit since I made all the payments. My rating is pretty much the same now as it was then.”
But in 2018 he had $12,224 in credit card debt and the scary thought that if he didn’t find a way out of the minimum payment trap, he’d never escape it.
He admits he was “hesitant” about debt consolidation. He did his own research, heard from a few companies that suggested a face-to-face meeting. He wasn’t ready for that.
Not long after, he was conducting another Google search when he came across InCharge Debt Solutions and read about its nonprofit credit counseling.
“I saw they were located in Orlando and I was in Georgia,” Stoute said. “I wanted a program where if something went wrong, I could travel there and handle it.
“So, I spoke to a counselor who gave me some suggestions about what I could do to get out from under my debt. My counselor was great. I thought about what she said for a while, and it made sense.”
Stoute remembers having $6,000 on a JCPenney credit card. Two American Express cards had him another $3,000 in debt. Those were his biggest credit card debts but not his only.
“You know what credit card companies do,” he said. “They start you out at 14% interest and soon you’re paying 26%.
“I was paying $135 a month to JCPenney but only a tiny amount was going to the principal. (Credit card companies) encourage you to just make the minimum payment, and you can never get out of debt that way.”
How InCharge Helped Hugh Reduce Interest Rates & Pay Off Debt
Once he entered the InCharge debt management program, his counselor worked with his lenders on his behalf. Through the program, the interest rate on his debt was reduced to under 10%. He made one payment to InCharge every month.
“I realized I didn’t need the things I thought I needed when I was younger, things like new clothes, etc.” said Stoute. “So, I shredded my cards and started the program. InCharge would send me an email prior to the 5th of every month and then they sent my $291.05 to the credit card companies.”
Month after month, he made one payment and that payment was funneled to his creditors. Eventually, a friend helped him refinance his house when the rates were low. That put him on an even better path.
“I told him I probably wouldn’t be alive long enough to take on a 30 year mortgage so we did 15,” Stoute said. “I was able to pay off my car loan and get out of the InCharge program early. Knocked it out. I have zero debt.”
After 44 months in the InCharge debt management program Stoute graduated, and he is only too happy to share his success story with anybody it might help.
“InCharge was really good for me.” he said. “I still get these credit card offers in the mail, some offering $200 cash back. I don’t need credit cards. Not one. (Well) I keep one to travel with and that’s it.”
Which is exactly what he’ll do with his family this summer under emotional circumstances. Happy at least that his plans don’t include having to check his overweight credit card debt.
About The Author
After a 45-year career in journalism, Robert's focus is helping consumers cope with personal finance issues. Finding solutions to paying off credit card debt, mortgage payments and that darn student loan, is far more fulfilling than explaining why the Cleveland Browns can't win (It's the quarterback!!). Robert wrote about the Browns and all Cleveland sports as a columnist at the Plain Dealer before transitioning to television sports commentary at WKYC. Now, his passion is helping people navigate their personal finances.