Total Debt Paid Off: $40,000
Months using ReadyForZero: 19
Accounts paid off: 4 of 4
“The fact that we made the amount of headway we were able to in a year is awesome. We couldn’t have done it without the help of friends and family.”
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with milestones. I remember my excitement over nearing my “pre-teen” years, reaching my teen years, then high school. I imagined college, moving to another city, and… getting rich and buying my parents a house on the beach.
A lofty goal to be sure! But when I thought about measuring what success would look like as an adult, I decided that “making it” would mean giving my parents a home (before you think I’m too altruistic, keep in mind that I fully intended to buy myself a house on the beach as well). Years later, I now realize that “getting rich” isn’t a goal – and that there are unlikely to be any beachfront houses in my future (thanks in part to my habit of living in very expensive cities).
As lofty as my early goals were, it’s not out of the ordinary to view homeownership as an important milestone in adulthood. I even remember learning in high school that the “American Dream” was to have a house with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids. Unfortunately, the current rise in debt (especially student loan debt) is stealing this American Dream for many. But not everyone’s! Read on to learn about one couple who fought debt while working to achieve their dream of homeownership… and are well on their way to those 2.5 kids!
The Seeds of a Dream: Looking for a Home
Christian and Laura’s debt fighting journey began when they realized they wanted to become homeowners. They were tired of dealing with the hefty rent load in their expensive location of Northern Virginia. But as they sat down and ran the numbers, they realized that their dream of homeownership wouldn’t be realized in their current state of finances.
This is usually the time when it’s easiest to become discouraged. But Christian and Laura didn’t let that happen. Rather than allowing a less than perfect financial situation slow them down, they got to work.
They started researching and a post on the popular financial blog Money Under 30 led them to ReadyForZero. In just one year of using ReadyForZero they’d go on to pay off nearly $40,000 of debt and achieve buying the home of their dreams. Here’s how they did it.
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Paying Down Debt to Obtain a Mortgage
Christian and Laura knew they needed to pay down their debt if they ever wanted to be approved for a mortgage. But besides their credit card and student loan debt, they also had a new baby and a wedding to finish planning. That’s when they realized they could use these life changes to help propel their financial goals.
The first step was to move into Christian’s parents house. Not an easy move to make but they decided the savings were worth the sacrifice. They entered into an agreement to pay Christian’s parents $500 per month in rent so they could save money but still contribute to the household.
Even with that savings, a baby and wedding to plan meant Christian and Laura had no shortage of expenses to deal with. But what they saw was opportunity to involve their loved ones in their dreams. Instead of filling their wedding registry with china and monogrammed towels (they actually ended up getting a set of those as well), they registered on Hatch My House.
This creative thinking mixed with solid determination helped them save enough money to make a serious dent in their debt:
“We got married in November and we ended up getting a decent amount of money from that as well as some money that was set aside from family members for ‘when the time is right you’re going to need it’. Over the year from March until December we paid off close to $15,000 on our own and put another $3,000 aside. From the wedding through Hatch My House we raised about $1,300, and other cash wedding presents along with the money that we worked out with our family ended up bringing us close to another $15,000.”
As grateful as they were for their help from family (both for letting them move back in and through wedding gifts), Christian and Laura knew they had some work to do to get into a home. That’s when they decided to meet with a mortgage broker and ask for advice:
“We went to our realtor and said we want to start looking in January. At the end of December she put us in touch with a mortgage broker who looked at our finances and said, ‘These are the steps you need to take.’ So we did everything we could, everything we had put aside, all of our wedding money and everything we just threw at debt at the end of the year and paid down another big chunk of debt. Then around mid-January we looked at a couple houses.”
No matter what kind of goal you’re trying to achieve, talking to experts who can help you get there is a great way to expedite your success. In Christian and Laura’s case, that success came a lot sooner than they’d planned…
By January they were looking for houses but their original idea of obtaining a starter home went by the wayside when they found out they had a second child on the way. That’s when they found the one, the home of their dreams.
“In late January, we happened to see a property that was in the same neighborhood we were at but my wife thought the house was way out of our league. She said, ‘I’m going to send it to my mom and tell her she should move down here so we’d be in the same neighborhood if we bought in the older section.’ Her mom said we should check it out so we asked the realtor if we could stop by just for laughs. We went and were just awestruck by the place.”
Suddenly the house that was out of their league became something to strive for. But the only way to know for sure is to do the math – so they sat down with their realtor to crunch numbers. Although the house was $15,000 over budget it was also a foreclosure, which meant room for negotiation. So they put in an offer for their budgeted price and it was countered at $5,000 more. Realizing an extra $5,000 was doable for them over a 30 year mortgage, they accepted (they also got the bank to cover some of the closing costs).
But as all home searches go, there were a few more snags.
First, the bank came back and told Christian and Laura that they’d need to pay a greater monthly payment in order to be eligible for the loan, which would require them to pay off one more student loan. Luckily, since it was their first year filing taxes as a married couple and with a child, they were able to use their sizable tax return to pay off the additional loan. Then, upon inspection they identified the sewage system on the property was malfunctioning. Although the house was to be sold as is, they convinced the bank to fix the sewage system, which (if the bank had said no) would have either cost the couple another $5,000 or lost them the deal.
After that their luck turned around. As Christian and Laura headed to closing with only $1000 Earnest Money Down and relieved of almost $40,000 in debt they waited to see the final numbers. It was then that they found out, they would get their EMD back and all closing costs were covered by the bank and lender credits, as well as a remaining lender credit that shaved over $2,000 off of their principal balance and they found out that the new sewage system increased the value of their home! From then on it was smooth sailing:
“The closing date was March 26th, so it was a year and two days from the day that we moved into my parents that we closed on our own home. We sit in our house occasionally and go, ‘How did this even happen?’ We were looking at starter homes. We were looking at townhomes that we could fix up and sell. This isn’t a starter home, this is a home that we can live in, we can raise our kids in. We ended up just finding the right property for us at the right time and we’re in a great position to move forward.”
On the Road to Further Debt Payoff…
Now that they’re in their home and just had baby #2, Christian and Laura have debt payoff even more on the brain. Since they moved in with his parents, Christian has been making biweekly payments to save on interest. They have also used ReadyForZero to make it easier to get on the same page with their payoff progress:
“Part of the biggest struggle between my wife and a lot of debt being in my name was she wasn’t seeing the progress through everyday actions. I kind of felt it was more my responsibility to take care of so I was trying to chip away at it, but then with ReadyForZero she was actually able to see how quickly things were starting to get paid off. When we’d get to a point where that payment was going to be gone and we’d have that extra money to start applying to something else, that really helped in calming the waters.”
Carrying the weight of responsibility is a common thing when one partner brings more debt the relationship. But, as Christian says, coming clean (with yourself and your partner) is an important step to take:
“I’m sucking up my pride and looking at that number on ReadyForZero. It was putting in all those debts and watching that number rise. It was also telling my wife about my debt. Leveling with her was definitely a big shock to the pride.”
This difficult but necessary step has allowed Christian and Laura to turn their lives around. But with that said, owning a home is a major responsibility. Now that they’re no longer paying only $500 a month in rent, they have looked for other ways to boost their income and debt payoff:
“We’re figuring out how to balance the house and expenses that come up with home ownership, so it’s part of that growing process. We do a lot of yard saling and Craigslist buys and turn things around that we’ve found on Craigslist, repaint stuff and repurpose stuff that or find people that are offering items on Craigslist them turn around and sell them. It’s been a little bit of a transition but now that things are more stable we can work on a real budget because we have a steady projected expenses, so that helps a lot.”
At the end of the day, no goal can be reached without sacrifice. But more often than not, the sacrifice pays off in ways we may never expect. For Christian and Laura, it means reaching their dreams only two years after the day they thought they’d never make it!
“The fact that we made the amount of headway we were able to in a year is awesome. We couldn’t have done it without the help of friends and family…Where we were living to where we’re living now, there’s not that much of a difference in rent and we still would have been living paycheck to paycheck, just trying to keep up with the cycle and not getting anywhere.
It wasn’t a cakewalk but it was worth it. And two years from now or three years from now – even the day that we got the keys to this place – all of the struggles of living in my parents’ basement and everything else was just history at that point. It was quickly realized that it was worth the sacrifices to make the next step.”
We all have something that we need to strive for other than the peace of mind and financial freedom that is debt payoff. For Christian and Laura, it was a house. For me, it’s funding a solid retirement account. What’s your light at the end of the tunnel?