In this series, NerdWallet interviews people who have triumphed over debt using a combination of commitment, budgeting and smart financial choices. Their stories may even inspire you to pay off your debt.
As newlyweds, Talaat and Tai McNeely had opposite money habits: Tai was more conscientious about her finances, while Talaat had a pile of bills. This husband-and-wife team managed to repay the debt fast and now share financial advice on their website, His and Her Money. Here’s their story, related to us in an email exchange.
What was your total debt when you started your repayment journey?
Talaat and Tai: When we first got married, we had around $30,000 of debt that we paid off within our first year of marriage. That debt included a car loan, personal loans and credit cards.
What is your total debt today?
Talaat and Tai: We are debt-free!
How did you end up in debt?
Talaat: I went into the military and had no one to instruct me on how to spend and save my income. I was an 18-year-old that basically hit the jackpot. I started to buy whatever it was that I wanted. I grew up with my parents being tightwads, and I wanted no part of that. I wanted to do the opposite, and I ended up having the debt to show for it.
What triggered your decision to start getting out of debt?
Tai: Once we made the decision to get married, we wanted to get rid of this debt. The main reason was because I had absolutely no debt whatsoever. I despised debt so much that I paid off my $13,000 vehicle at the age of 19 in 13 months!
What steps did you take to reduce your debt? What resources or services did you use?
Talaat and Tai: We started to learn as much about the topic of finances as possible. We would watch financial programs to learn and grow. We started to create a budget, and we worked it! We followed Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey religiously.
Did you make any lifestyle changes?
Talaat and Tai: The major lifestyle change that we made was living off one of our incomes and using the other to get out of debt and build savings.
How has your life changed for the better since you got out of debt?
Talaat and Tai: Our lives have changed tremendously. We have freedom! We can do whatever we want to do, and money is not an issue. We now teach others how to do the same thing!
Finding the best debt payoff strategy for you
If you’re looking to manage your monthly payments, you could benefit from consolidating your debt. With debt consolidation, your existing debt is rolled onto a credit card or loan, with a lower interest rate. You can estimate the kind of interest rate you might qualify for using a personal loan calculator. Depending on your unique debt situation, a 0% balance-transfer credit card or a personal loan could be possible options for consolidation.
The McNeelys are a good example of how, with the right strategy in place, anyone can pay off debt. Note that NerdWallet prefers the debt avalanche approach to paying down your balances because it’s the shortest route and saves more on interest. This calculator will show you how.