How One Man Used Accountability to Pay Off $25,000 of Debt

John HeadshotTotal Debt Paid Off: $25,000
Months using ReadyForZero: 29
Accounts paid off: 3 of 3

“When I saw that ReadyForZero was only focused on debt reduction, that really piqued my interest. I was in the target market of those trying to reduce or get rid of their debt and having a convenient, 24 hour way of seeing your debt, its effect on your finances, and having a way to view your eventual pay-down date was pretty cool.”

John is a tech-savvy Californian who wanted to get rid of his credit card debt and car loan once and for all. As one of the earliest adopters of ReadyForZero, he’s been able to pay off over $20,000 of debt with encouragement from his friends and our online tool.

Read on to find out how a clear payoff plan paired with friendly accountability was the key to John’s financial success.

Lesson 1: Credit card debt can happen to financially secure people

We tend to think of high credit card debt as something that keeps a person up at night. But the ease with which you can swipe your card can actually make the debt feel intangible and less than noticeable… especially when you’re making a decent wage and you don’t struggle to meet monthly living expenses or feel the financial pinch. But when debt goes from nuisance to problem – that’s when you start to take notice.

We were lucky enough to sit down with John for an inspiring phone interview. He jumped in by explaining the circumstances that got him in debt, sharing “I didn’t have any debt from student loans, so that was very fortunate. But what happened was I left college with some credit card debt, not a whole lot, but maybe $3,000 or $4,000 – which during college is a lot. But when you’re out in the real world working, it doesn’t seem like that much.”

Once John left college, he was focused on his career and social life but wasn’t concentrating on his credit cards – even though they were accumulating interest.

“I just never focused on it all that much to be honest. I just never really paid attention to it and I never paid it off. I was making pretty decent money, however I just wasn’t paying my debts down. It was just more of a lingering balance sitting around and I was just paying the minimums.”

It wasn’t until he began listening to Dave Ramsey that he started paying attention to his financial situation and made his first go at turning that debt around using the Dave Ramsey plan. While it helped him to focus on his finances it wasn’t quite enough. “I started doing his plan and it just didn’t really stick because a lot of it is self-control. It just more outlines on how you should be doing it.”

He wanted something more to help motivate and organize his debt repayment. That’s when he stumbled on ReadyForZero. “I found ReadyForZero on a TechCrunch article and I thought it looked interesting. When I saw that ReadyForZero was only focused on debt reduction, that really piqued my interest. I was in the target market of those trying to reduce or get rid of their debt and having a convenient, 24 hour way of seeing your debt, its effect on your finances, and the having a way to view your eventual pay-down date was pretty cool.”

John's Credit Card Graph.png

Paying off debt, one account at a time!

Lesson 2: Accountability is a powerful motivator

Beyond using the core product to help create a plan and interact with the repayment visuals, John took advantage of another feature of ReadyForZero: the accountability function. Users can opt in to send updates of their progress to specified friends of family members. Sharing your progress holds you accountable to your financial decisions and helps to keep you honest about your repayment.

John relied on accountability as a way to motivate his repayment. He said,“The e-mail reminders that get sent out to your trusted friend was actually a pretty awesome help to me. I have a friend, one of my roommates from college, who I keep in touch with about personal finances and what we do – and want to do – with our money. I listed him as my trusted friend.”

“He kept me honest and called my bullshit out when I wasn’t actually paying things down, which was a good reminder to myself. It’s easy to avoid things when you’re the only person seeing it; but when it’s exposed to other people, it socializes what you’re doing and puts some psychology behind it… [debt] is one of those taboo topics. Not many feel comfortable discussing their salary or want to reveal what their debt is, but if you are willing to open that up to one of your friends, it’s a small step that can actually make a big difference.

While he acknowledges that it’s not for everyone, feeling a little discomfort was a crucial part of the process. “I don’t know if everyone has the same experience but it’s like embarrassing yourself in public speaking to make you a better speaker. You have to drop your comfort level in order to do that.” Once he was able to get beyond the initial embarrassment, he saw the incredible value in the sharing his debt updates with his friend.

Lesson 3: Easy products make good habits

In addition to the accountability option, he told us that he also found the ease of use something that kept him using ReadyForZero as he continued working towards his goal. “It was really easy to check in just five minutes, being able to see how you were doing and close it and be done. Between the daily progress and the notifications I would get, it almost became a habit, like the ‘brushing your teeth analogy’. You just do it every day. When seeing trackers and progress reports where the graph goes up with additional debt, that sucks.”

He also told us how ecstatic he was the moment he paid off his first credit card and saw the the progress bars filled, “I have never been more excited to see that color orange on the website [indicating a paid off account]. It was awesome because that was the first card I paid off. It was a credit card that I’d had since my freshman year of college. It’s like kicking any habit. It was just nice to finally not have to worry about that card.”

John's Gold Bars.png

John’s gold payoff bars

Lesson 4: Paying off debt frees you to pursue other financial goals

After two-plus years and a lot of hard work, John became completely debt free. His car loan and credit cards are now entirely paid off. And he’s breathing a lot easier. Having his debt out of mind (and rightly so) allowed him to put his focus on other financial endeavors. First? Creating an emergency fund.

“It’s much easier to plan for short to long-term goals, 6 to 24 months out. Being able to think about things like ‘I need to save six months rent’ is something that I couldn’t really focus on if I had the debt that I did. It’s a nice safety net. I am looking forward to having an actual nest of savings that I can just leave and forget about. I can look at other goals, like if I wanted to save for a house or if I wanted to save for other forms of long-term investing like stocks or bonds, or anything. Now it opens those avenues. Maybe a new pair of shoes, which would be nice. The little things.”

Despite feeling financially free, he acknowledged that understanding what it means to be debt free also helped him with his relationship to spending. “I think the biggest change is buying things guilt free. I think I bought a bike on my credit card and I remember thinking this isn’t really my bike yet. The credit card company loaned me the money for it and now I am paying them back. It’s a good feeling when it’s yours.”

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Lesson 5: Being mindful of your purchases helps you to stay on track

What advice would John pass along to anyone currently paying off their debt?

“Be aware and keep track of what you are spending. I think that one of the easiest things to do is just forget that it happens. The benefit of having a credit card is you can swipe it and it seems to have no effect on you. It seems like you don’t have to actually give up anything except a little bit of your credit or add on to your debt. That is nothing, right?”

So where is John now?

John Car 2

Enjoying his financial freedom. “Yeah it feels awesome. I had my first paycheck come in where I didn’t have to pay anything. I didn’t have to say ‘Hey this paycheck goes to the car.’ Actually my money is still sitting in my account. It’s awesome.”

John is so grateful he found ReadyForZero when he did and that it helped him become debt free. He hopes others will take advantage of it too, because he knows how it can change their mindset toward paying off debt. As a last tip he shared his thoughts on illuminating what it meant to take control of his debt repayment. “It was like the Rent-a-Center places where they will sell you a bed for 20 bucks a month, but you have to pay for some absurd timeframe, 20 years or so. It’s easy to forget the math behind it and how it’s really going to affect you. So it was really good to see that in the ReadyForZero product.”

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ReadyForZero on iPhone

Want to get out of debt? Make a plan, track your progress, and get mobile alerts on your iPhone, wherever you are.

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  • Jon Bellemore

    Can’t wait to get there. 4 years

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Awesome, Jon! You will get there! By the way, are you using ReadyForZero to track your progress? If not, check it out: https://www.readyforzero.com.

  • Valerie

    I love reading about others’ successes!! It’s so inspiring!! Congratulations to John. And everyone else in this community who are plugging away day by day to rid themselves of their personal debt albatross. I can’t wait until I’m where John is-I’m on my way.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      That’s great to hear, Valerie! I’m glad John’s story was inspiring! I hope we’ll get to share your story on the blog whenever you’re done with your debt. That would be so awesome.

  • Matt

    this was me 3 years ago…and 6 years ago, I keep paying off all my debt then getting crushed by life

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Hi Matt, sorry to hear that! It’s one of the hardest things – to get out of debt and then have to go back into it. I actually just read a post this morning about the challenges of staying debt free: http://blondeonabudget.ca/2014/05/21/what-a-year-of-being-debt-free-has-taught-me/.

      By the way, have you tried out ReadyForZero? I’d love to know what you think. Maybe one day you could be one of our success profiles! Best of luck to you.

      • Matt

        Yes I am using it now. I’ve always hated debt. Student loans paid off, bought my car in cash, but somehow still winded up racking up the debt. Just consolidated some consumer debt with balance transfers (2% transfer fee). Do you have an email for my thoughts?

        • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

          Yes, I will email you separately! Looking forward to talking more. Thanks!