She Paid Off 17 Credit Cards … And $21,000

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Jackie Bryan could have paid off the last of her family’s $21,000 credit card debt six months ago, but she and her husband Jason decided to stick it out to the end of the 48-month process.

“Money’s not the problem,” Bryan said. “We could pay it off right now, but we noticed the last couple of months that every time we made a payment, our credit score would go up and that’s a really nice reward for getting things on the right track.

“But more than that, we just wanted to finish what we started, which sort of has been our (financial) problem all along. In the past, we’d get in trouble, turn things around, then get distracted and get ourselves in a mess again. You know the old saying that life happens? Well, a lot of things in life have happened to us.”

Jackie and Jason Bryan have been married 20 years and a lot of things have, in fact, happened in their lives. They have six children; have owned four houses in three different states; rented two more houses; and lived through two battles with credit card debt. When they make their last payment in July, they will have buried $21,343 of debt spread over an astonishing 17 credit cards!

“We are done with credit cards and I mean DONE!” Jackie said, with as much emphasis as she could muster. “Most of the time, we’ve had enough money to pay bills, but I’m just not an organized person and I didn’t do a good job with money management,” Jackie said.

The problems started with $5,000 in credit card debt that Jackie brought into the marriage. She received the card while in college and it became a toy that caused trouble.

“I thought I’d use it just to buy gas so I could get to work and school,” she said. “Then I found out I didn’t have to say no when the Gap had a sale on jeans.  Next thing I know, I’m buying Christmas presents for everybody in my family and it all added up pretty fast.”

The Bryans wiped out the $5,000 debt shortly after getting married, but then came the bundle of kids and enough relocations because of Jason’s job to keep the local Mayflower mover on speed dial.  Jackie also had student loans to repay and between the dizzy schedule involved raising six children and the various due dates for payments on 17 credit cards (mostly department store brands), car loans and mortgages, things got lost.

“There was a time when I was paying as much in late payments as I was on the balance owed,” Jackie said. “I kept thinking “Oh, we won’t make that big a mess again,’ and then we did.

“One day, I just decided it was time to grow up and set a good example for my kids.”

So, she got on a debt management plan with InCharge and restructured her financial life. InCharge went to work on reducing the interest rates for the 17 credit cards she was carrying and Jackie went to work changing her spending habits.

She shopped for school clothes at local thrift stores. She bought furniture and appliances off Craigslist, at yard sales, or while she was in the thrift stores. She limited the number of times the family dined out and bought a used car with cash rather than making payments on a new car.

“You don’t have to lower your standards to save money,” she said. “My kids still wear designer clothes; we still have some really nice, antique furniture at home that I’m really proud of and the mini-van I drive does the job.

“We just didn’t buy it all new. Nobody can tell, but we certainly saved a lot of money this way.”

And instead of living off only Jason’s income, Jackie created some part-time work for herself selling on ebay. She said she makes about $1100 a month from August through November, more than enough to pay for her family to take a two-week Christmas vacation to see their family back her hometown.

Along the way, she has ditched every credit card she owns and eliminated car payments. She has the bills set up on automatic pay and keeps an emergency fund handy. The Brooks have a 30-year mortgage with a goal of paying it off in under 15 years.

Two of her children will enroll in college in 2018 and she hopes they’ve learned enough about debt to get through school without credit cards and student loans.

“We’re done with debt now, that part of our life is over,” Jackie said. “The people at InCharge gave us a reasonable amount of time to pay off our debt and now we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re at the point where we learned our lesson – twice! – and now it’s time to start building some wealth and looking forward to retirement.

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.