Joe is a family man who had some unexpected life events that pushed him into credit card debt. This story tells how he paid off $24,000 of debt using ReadyForZero.
Months using ReadyForZero: 9
Accounts paid off: 9 of 9
“I had spreadsheets and all sorts of little goals [written down] but it was nice that the website itself was in tune with exactly what I wanted. It was about paying down debt. Period.”
Nobody expects to get into debt. In the case of ReadyForZero user Joe (pictured above), that was particularly true. He spent most of his life avoiding credit, only to wind up with several credit cards and a significant amount of total debt. We recently spoke with Joe and were fortunate enough to hear his inspiring story of how he got into credit card debt and how he ultimately took the initiative to pay it all off in less than a year.
Joe’s Story: Before Credit
Growing up, Joe’s family wasn’t big on credit cards and he himself never saw any reason to use one — at least not before he became an adult. In fact, he made it through the first two and half decades of his life without using credit of any kind. “I’ve never had school loans,” he told us. “I’ve never had an auto loan. I didn’t even have my first credit card until I was probably 25 [years old]. I just never understood any of that and I didn’t go to college. I mean, I’ve got an eighth-grade education.”
Despite not wielding a college diploma, Joe has done exceptionally well for himself. He’s a self-taught web developer and he is quite skilled at it. His talent and hard work as a developer have allowed him to make a living for himself and his family. (His career would also later help him make rapid progress paying off his debt, but that part of the story comes later…)
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Joe told us his upbringing was pretty simple when it came to finances. He didn’t expect many luxuries, and he was happy with what he had. “I grew up rolling my own cigarettes and you know, I never really wanted much. I bought my first car when I was fourteen or fifteen for $500 and I drove that car until it just died. I fixed it and did the oil changes on it and all that stuff. So I’ve always had that mindset of, you know, buy what you need and make it last as long as you possibly can.”
He carried that mindset with him for a long time. As Joe got older and began to build a life for himself, his financial instincts remained about the same. He still wasn’t relying on credit at all, and as he began to build his career as a web developer, his finances were solid.
Around the same time, he had his first child: a wonderful little baby girl. And although he was a young parent, his financial situation was relatively stable.
Joe’s Story: Falling Into Credit Card Debt
It wasn’t until later on that the first credit card entered the picture. By that time, Joe had gotten married and had three more kids. His career was still doing well and his finances, while occasionally stretched (like any parent), were in good shape.
Joe and his family
When he was 25, despite not needing a credit card before, he decided to apply for one. There were a few reasons for this, but the main one was to build credit. He’d been hearing from friends and family that having a credit card can help you improve your credit score (which is true). “The idea was, ‘Well, I guess I have to get a good credit rating, so I better get a credit card,’” he told us. However, in this case the message should have perhaps come with a warning: don’t get the cards in order to pursue a better credit score if it’s going to lead you into a debt trap.
Sure enough, a few years later a series of unexpected life events threatened Joe’s financial stability.
He separated from his wife for a time, which was hard in many ways, including in how it spread his monthly income thin. Now he was supporting one more household, and the money didn’t stretch quite as far as it used to. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis dragged the U.S. economy into a recession and Joe’s web development business – like many small businesses – was hit hard. With everyone cutting budgets, it became harder for Joe to find clients. “Like everybody else in America, things got really thin — things got tough.”
His income was still enough to pay the basic expenses, but occasionally emergencies or other unexpected costs would come up, and in those moments it was a relief to have the credit cards available. “I definitely wasn’t living off of credit cards or running my business on credit cards,” he said, “but every time there was a little emergency, you know if [my wife’s] car had trouble and I was just getting by, I would turn to a credit card and say ‘Well it’s going to be $1500 to replace the transmission and I’ll take care of that in the next three months.’”
Joe’s Story: Digging Out of Debt
The little (and not-so-little) expenses started adding up, and soon Joe’s credit card balance had grown to be quite substantial.
“The cycle kind of continued until, you know, we just had a lot of [expletive] credit card debt,” he said. He eventually got fed up with it. “There was just a point where I realized me and my wife were working for credit cards. We were paying our bills and everything, but every extra dime was going towards credit cards and there weren’t enough extra dimes to make a significant dent at the time.”
In 2011, Joe had tackled another daunting challenge that ended up inspiring him to take on his debt. That challenge was to quit smoking.
It’s been said that making a change in one area of your life can lead to positive changes in other areas of your life. And in Joe’s case, that turned out to be true. He told us, “[quitting smoking] was something I never thought I would be able to do.” Conquering that challenge gave him reason to be optimistic about another goal: paying off his debt.
“Since I had actually quit smoking, that kind of motivated me to pick something else in my life that I wanted to change. And so I said ‘credit cards — I want to get rid of this thing that’s hanging over us.’”
Joe began tackling his debt and “somewhere around that time is when I found ReadyForZero,” he told us. He liked that it was focused 100% on paying off debt. “There was a very specific focus and that’s what I needed. It certainly wasn’t the only tool I was using at the time, but it was the only one that I didn’t have to come up with on my own. I had spreadsheets and all sorts of little goals [written down] but it was nice that the website itself was in tune with exactly what I wanted. It was about paying down debt. Period.”
According to Joe, this was essentially his New Year’s resolution for 2012. “I joined the site in February 2012 I think, right around there. And it was kind of a New Year’s resolution… that I was going to be done with credit card debt before the end of the year.”
By this point, Joe’s desire to be debt free was so strong it was driving him forward. He said, “whether it’s reasonable or not, I really got out of debt by being pissed off. I mean very angry. To the point where I was calling credit card companies and saying I want to get a reduction in the interest rate.”
He had a list of each of his credit card companies and he was methodical about calling each one on a regular basis. “I [wrote down] when I called them and when I was going to call them back if they declined to reduce the rate… or even if they did reduce the rate I would still call back for further reductions.”
Due to a few late payments when the money situation was tight, the credit card companies had raised his rates almost to the max. “All of a sudden all of my interest rates were 28-29%, and so part of my response was just to get completely pissed off [and use that for motivation].”
He made a plan, using ReadyForZero, and was concentrating on getting out of debt as fast as possible. “I did kind of stick with what mathematically made sense, paying down the highest interest card first,” he said. “But I also targeted some cards from the creditors that I felt offended by, even if they weren’t the highest interest rates — the ones who lowered my credit limits and raised my rates despite me never having made any late payments with them. Because, well, screw them!”
He began paying large amounts toward those credit card bills every month, while temporarily cutting back on other spending. “There was definitely a big priority switch.” He told himself, “I have the knowledge now, and I know if I do this safely and securely I’ll be out of debt.”
He sometimes paid even more than planned, because he was so eager to get a card paid off. “I have to admit that I did not always take the safest route… sometimes I’d get so close to eliminating a debt that I’d put more towards it to get rid of it and then figure out how to pay other bills afterwards,” he told us. “Seriously, anger is a great motivator.”
When he’d get the email updates from ReadyForZero, he’d open them with anticipation and enjoy the good news upon seeing what was inside. He said each time he’d be ready to pay off a card “[I knew] ReadyForZero was going to send me an email and give me the gold bar and a trophy. And I have to tell you, it really feels good when you do that.”
He told us, “I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. When you can’t announce to your friends and family, “Hey look at my credit problems and how I’m now fixing them,” you want to get support from somewhere. ReadyForZero was my cheering section.”
Joe’s Story: Finally Becoming Debt Free
Finally, before 2012 was even over, Joe had done it. He’d paid off his credit cards. He was ecstatic. “All of a sudden it felt like I was making a lot more money than I had been making. I didn’t realize how much money I was really making [due to the credit card payments].” Escaping those monthly credit card payments was a blessing for Joe.
Joe and his kids at the racetrack
And the timing couldn’t be better. He just welcomed his fifth child earlier this year. Joe’s freedom from credit cards will give him and his wife a lot more flexibility as their family grows. It will also protect them from future changes in income. As Joe told us, “I’m a freelancer, so business goes up and down And to be honest we’re kind of heading into a down cycle right now. But all of a sudden it’s not the end of the world for me. If I still had all that debt, it would be a whole different scenario.”
This flexibility has also allowed his wife to take time off from work after the birth of their new baby. Joe told us that while she’s gone back to working part time, it’s really good to not have to go back to full-time right away.
It’s a wonderful new outlook for Joe and his family. “Once you’re not working for the credit card companies, all of a sudden you realize you’re doing a lot better,” he told us.
We’re so happy for you, Joe, and so inspired at the amazing job you did paying off your debt! And really, we’re humbled to have been a part of it. I think we can speak for everyone reading this when we say that we wish you and your family all the best in 2014!