How One Couple Paid Off $147k of Debt (Even While Unemployed)

By Alaina Tweddale on 14 November 2014 13 comments

Jackie Beck and her husband once "owned" a six figure debt. They'd borrowed for their mortgage, credit cards, education, autos, and home improvement projects. Like most of us do, they'd borrowed over time, barely noticing as their balances grew and interest accrued.

Beck is not alone. The average American borrower owes $225,238 in consumer debt, including $15,263 for credit cards, $147,591 in mortgage debt, $31,646 for student loans, and $30,738 for auto financing.

What set Beck and her partner apart, however, is that they set out to pay off that debt, and after a 10-year journey, they succeeded. Today neither holds a traditional job, they maintain collective annual expenses of less than $12,000, and they're free to pursue their passions. "Anyone can do it, too," says Beck. "You don't have to have debt. Life is a lot easier without it." (See also: How One Inspiring Saver Found True Love, Shook Off Debt Denial, and Paid Off $123,000)

Getting Started

The Beck's get-out-of-debt journey began when they decided to tackle their credit card balances. "We were just really sick of being in debt and feeling like all our money went toward the credit cards and interest," says Beck. Paying off the balance on their cards took a full three years and Beck was unemployed for a lot of that time. "In the beginning, it took us a long time to pay things off," says Beck. "Then we figured things out and we had more money because we had paid more off. You get better at it and it gets faster."

She'd been deferring her student loan payments but, once the credit card bills were paid, that freed up some extra cash. "I'd been living for many years on very little money. I never would have been able to start paying on my student loans if I'd still had those credit card payments," she says.

Beck viewed her student debt as a burden and she couldn't wait to get rid of it. When finally she landed a job, she was able to speed her repayment schedule. "I continued to live on nothing. I put all my money toward my student loans," she says. "Then it went super fast." (See also: How One College Graduate Paid Off $28,000 in Three Years on a $30k Salary)

Maintaining Momentum

Beck's husband was inspired by her student loan success and together they worked to amp up their efforts. They started paying for most of their purchases in cash, foregoing credit cards altogether. Then they decided to tackle their car loan. "After he saw what I did with my student loan," says Beck, "he thought it would be nice to live without the car payment."

Even with successful milestones along the way, the Becks repaid their debt at a measured pace. "We spent a lot of time getting out of the debt we had gotten into," says Beck. "You don't have to live like a monk the whole time. We had more money coming in and it didn't all go toward our debt. We spent some."

The Becks increased spending somewhat over time but even so, they began to view their mission as preparation for an emergency. In the previous years they'd taken turns being unemployed, had undergone surgeries, paid expensive veterinarian bills for their pets, and even totaled a car. They'd taken out a $10,000 home improvement loan around this time, but even though the loan came with a 0% introductory rate for the first 12 months, they realized their attitude toward borrowing had shifted. They were no longer comfortable taking on new debt. "Gradually we realized that debt is dangerous and that something could go wrong," says Beck.

Ultimately, the Beck's took the remaining balance from their savings account and paid off the loan. "Life doesn't work out perfectly and, when you don't have debt, it really changes what you're able to do," she says.

By the time they were able to start tackling their mortgage, their journey had become about more than just safety. They started to view it a road to freedom. According to Beck, "The fewer expenses you have, the longer you can go without a job." (See also: The Freedom of a Debt-Free Life)

Rewarding Yourself

For the Becks, freedom was defined by the rewards they chose for themselves after they paid off their mortgage. Beck had wanted to travel to Antarctica since she was eight years old and her husband had his eye on a new car. "After the house was paid off, we spent another year saving up for those things," says Beck, "and then we went and did them."

Beck also started developing other streams of income and eventually left her day job. "I created the app Pay Off Debt after I paid off my student loan," she says. "I thought other people might want to obsess about debt as much as I do." She also started to blog about her journey at TheDebtMyth.com, and even bought a couple of rental properties, paying for them in cash.

As a couple, they'd also learned to keep their collective expenses low.

"We can live on $12,000 a year if we need to," says Beck. "We basically have no required bills and we're not eating ramen," she laughs. "My husband got laid off a week after I quit my job. Neither of us has a [traditional] job now. People who owe a lot of money don't do things like that," says Beck, "because they can't."

The Beck's get-out-of-debt journey has changed the way they think about money altogether. Now it's common practice for them to make their purchases — even big ones — in cash. They don't carry debt and they can live their lives freely, without the burden of owing money to anyone. Beck is even thinking about a second trip to her dream destination, Antarctica. "I'm totally going back," she says.

Because she can.

Are you paying off your consumer loans? What strategies work best for you? How do you stay motivated and on track? We want to hear about it in the comments below!

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Guest's picture
betsey

I am paying off my mortgage bi-monthly and add an extra $100 every time. That is my only debt.
I have learned to love what I have, get together with friends a lot, and live simply. It's not a boring life. Quite the contrary.

Guest's picture
Jessica

I don't understand. How in the bloody heck can you pay off debt when you're unemployed? I'm to the point of selling my possessions and it doesn't even put a dent in it. Please, what obvious lesson am I missing here?

Guest's picture
Guest

This is a nice fairy tale with a wonderful ending. However, there is not one shred of information on how they supposedly accomplished this. Call me a skeptic, but these claims do not seem realistic.

Guest's picture
Jonathan

This is a really inspiring story! I love to see examples like these where individuals have focused exclusively on dealing with debt difficulties and it has transformed their lives through improved saving habits in the future.

Currently myself and my wife are trying to pay off student loans and it's great to see the balance tumbling down :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Wise Bread should read articles like these for value to the readers before they post them. Nothing in this article gives any information as to how this couple got out of debt. A waste of time to read this.

Guest's picture
Nelly

Well, i might be wrong but I think the moral to this story was that we need to reduce spending, stop borriwing $, focus on paying off debt, and save money so it can be used as emergency for debt payment and for big purchases.
I'm sure they were on unemployment while unwmployed, but unemployment usually doesn't pay much so that's when having savings can help.

Whoever wrote this article wasn't clear enough.

Guest's picture
GuestHilda

Another debt free couple because they have no kids.

Guest's picture
Guest

Kids have nothing to do with it. Its about priorities. Your kids will be happier than you realize if you make time for them, not just but them things. Food for thought.

Guest's picture
Claudia

Inspiring story of the usefulness of debt snowballing--thank you! We plan to sell our home and move into a tiny home. Our goal is to be debt free when we move into Two Cup House!

Guest's picture
Jenny

It says they paid off all of their loans, but how??? And where did they get money to pay for anything else?? I pay student loans monthly and don't buy unnecessary things, but that doesn't help me afford rent and food.

Guest's picture

The moral lesson of this story is never spend money more than what you earn. This is a great story of getting back on your feet and realize that they need to spend their money wisely. You can never get out of debt unless we change our ways. Always ask yourself if what you are spending on is something you need or something you just want because it's cheap or it's beautiful.

Guest's picture
Guest

There is more mystery than facts in this article. What did they live on while they had no jobs. Did they sell their house, inherit money from someone, have a large savings to begin with. Wisebread, If you're going to write an article, please fill us in.

Guest's picture
Nancy

I am struggling just to find a loan but the problem I have I was told to get a co sginer my family does not live in my state