Meet the Couple Who Overcame $28,000 of Debt Together

Brian and AnneTotal Debt Paid Off: $28,000
Months using ReadyForZero: 30
Accounts paid off: 5 of 5

“When we were working together and seeing the graphs on the chart go down, it was positive. I got really excited about the little trophies [for when an account is paid off]. That made me really happy!”

Is it harder to pay off debt as a couple? Does it take a toll on the relationship? What if the debt belongs mostly to just one person and not the other? Should they still team up to pay it off?

These are the kinds of questions we were curious to find answers to as we sat down to talk with Brian and Anne for our first profile of a couple who has successfully paid off debt together.

Fortunately, they were very open about their experience.

Student Loan Debt As a Way to Get Through College

It’s not easy to pay off debt alone, let alone as a couple. New complications are added into the mix when the debt plan includes two people. In Brian and Anne’s case, they started with a strong foundation, which helped.

Brian and Anne actually met each other in college, in Arkansas, and got married before they graduated. When we asked them “How did your debt journey begin?” and here’s what they said:

Brian: Well, Anne married into it. (Laughs) I had a lot of student loans. That was pretty much it for us. Most of my college was financed through student loans and occasional odd jobs and so we graduated with kind of a collective debt that was actually mostly mine.

Anne: It was all his. (Laughs)

Their good humor about this situation is crucial, considering that many couples might fall into the “blame game” over whose fault the debt was. But Brian and Anne didn’t get into that at all. In addition to their affability this husband and wife both shared a similar financial outlook. They really wanted to get that debt paid off as quickly as possible.

Of course, we shouldn’t assume it was easy. Anne did occasionally struggle with the reality of paying off debt that she had no part in accruing. “It was kind of difficult at times because none of it was mine,” she said. “It was hard [to approach paying off the debt] as a couple because we hadn’t accrued it together.”

However, the desire to be on the same page as a couple always overcame any individual hesitations or frustrations. And that proved to be crucial.

Starting a Life Together… With Debt

After college, Brian and Anne stayed in Arkansas for a few years while getting their careers off the ground. They were happy to finally have an income to speak of after living the frugal life throughout college. But they knew they needed to use their income wisely to build a foundation for their life. If they got too carried away with spending their newfound money they could jeopardize their future.

Brian and Anne“We were trying to figure out how to deal with that money,” Brian told us. At first, they did focus on building up their savings and emergency fund. “We saved a lot of it,” he said. But at that point they weren’t paying down debt very quickly. Brian said, “We didn’t pay down the capital on our debt because we didn’t have those principles in place.”

After a few years of living in Arkansas post-college, the two of them decided to move to St. Louis. Their careers were going well, but they had yet to really get focused on their debt repayment. Fortunately, it was around that time that they took a class that helped them start thinking differently. “We took one of the courses for our church and it sort of gave us a framework for paying off the whole thing – and that helped.”

Working Together to Pay Off the Debt

Now they were ready to get serious about their debt. But they still needed to figure out how to restructure their priorities and keep track of their progress. They started looking for online tools that could help them out.

Happily, they found ReadyForZero in 2011 and were thrilled to have a tool for easily managing their debt repayment in one place. They also found You Need a Budget (YNAB), which helped with keeping their monthly budget on track. “We actually found YNAB and ReadyForZero within less than a week of each other.”

Using these tools helped them stay focused on their goals. Anne said, “We’d do our budget every month and then with ReadyForZero when our accounts updated every month I would always say “Okay, let’s look at the graph!” Looking at the graphs together kept them on the same page. “I think that made it a little more tangible,” she said. “When we were working together and seeing the graphs on the chart go down, it was positive. I got really excited about the little trophies [for when an account is paid off]. That made me really happy!”

“I think seeing that progress being made was a big thing,” chimed in Brian.

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Becoming Debt Free and Pursuing Their Dreams

Brian and Anne started out with 5 loans from 3 different lenders. The loans had interest rates of between 5.25% and 5.6%, which is not the highest ever – but, of course, paying any interest is more than most of us would like to pay!

Brian and AnneAs time went on, Brian got two raises and they had to figure out how to allocate the extra income to maximize their debt repayment.

They also focused on their budget each month and made sure to communicate with each other. Brian said, “We’d come together and make a proposed budget for the month and then say ‘Okay, here’s the gameplan.’ We would sit in front of our computer and look at the income, look at the bills and everything, and then figure out exactly how we were going to do it.”

Working together this way, they were able to both be happy with the result. “It was a collaborative effort, and I think that really helped us,” Brian told us.

They kept going for two and a half years, checking in with each other and staying motivated together. And then in what seemed like a much shorter time than they’d expected, the debt was gone! “I honestly didn’t expect that,” said Anne. “We weren’t planning to be debt-free within two and a half years… I was thinking it was going to take five or six years.”

Suddenly they had reached their goal – their destination that had once seemed like just a faraway dream. And it felt good.

They celebrated the moment with their friends and family. Brian said, “just like any other big project in your life, it helps to have social support. I’ve been telling my parents [about the debt repayment] and being able to share the progress with them was very helpful.” When they heard the news, his parents were thrilled at how far they’d come in a short time.

Now, they are starting to plan their life after debt. “We didn’t really take a vacation in three years and we’re really looking forward to it now that we’re debt free,” said Brian. They are thinking about going to Alaska or somewhere equally far from home.

And more importantly, they’re now planning to make the switch from renters to homeowners. “We’re saving up for a down payment on a house,” said Brian. Without the student loan payments to worry about, they feel confident about taking on a mortgage.

Brian and AnneWith so much success, we wanted to ask them what advice they’d have for people in a similar position to them. Anne summed it up perfectly, saying “I think for me the best advice is just keep at it. Even if your graph doesn’t look like it’s going down, like it’s not a steep cliff, remember that it’s going down little by little and just track each individual account.” We offer a hearty “Bravo!” to Brian and Anne. By focusing on the progress they were making each month, they were able to pay off their debt – and we share their confidence that anyone reading this can do the same!

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  • Well done on getting out of debt guys!!

    What do you think was the hardest part of paying down your debt? How did you overcome this hardest part?