How 2 People Paid Off $15,000 or More in Credit Card Debt in Under 2 Years

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More than four in 10 credit card holders have over $15,000 in credit card debt, according to our recent survey. With an average interest rate of 15.32%, according to the Federal Reserve, you could be on the hook for more than $111 in interest alone every month as you pay off the debt.

Paying off that much debt can be a daunting task, but it’s possible if you create a good plan and stick to it. That’s what two people did successfully. Krystel Calubayan, a personal finance blogger, and Mark Durrenberger, a financial planner, shared their stories, including how they got deep into debt and what they did to shed it. Here’s their advice for folks who are going through the same thing.

How 2 free round-trip flights turned into $15,000 in debt

Calubayan got her first credit card while she was in college, but quickly added a second one when she graduated. “I thought it was the adult thing to do once you graduate from college,” she says. “I was dating someone long distance and was often traveling. I wanted to get the points.”

She was approved for an airline credit card that gave her two free round-trip flights worth about $500 total. But she didn’t realize that she’d pay for those airfares several times over in interest charges.

“I used that card all the time,” she says. “I was putting things on it. I wasn’t managing my spending at all. I was shopping ridiculous amounts, eating out, traveling. It just kept adding up.”

A year or two after she got the card, the bank increased her credit limit, which triggered a snowball effect. She maxed out that card and then resorted to using her first credit card to spend even more.

It wasn’t until her then-boyfriend caught on in 2013 that Calubayan realized the enormity of her situation. “We would go out on dates, and I’d cover the bill,” she says. “He didn’t necessarily know how much I made, but he knew it wasn’t enough to cover whatever we were spending it on.”

Every time he’d ask her where all the money was coming from, she’d blow him off. Finally, he sat her down and told her she needed to come clean.

“I will never forget the look on his face,” she says. “I thought he was going to break up with me on the spot.” He didn’t do that but told her that he didn’t think he could see a future with her if she didn’t fix her finances. She had amassed a total of $15,000 in credit card debt by that time.

How the blogger paid off debt

The first thing Calubayan did was to start tracking her spending using budgeting app Mint. She had had no idea where her money was going, so she didn’t know where to cut back.

After a month or two of tracking expenses, she realized she was spending too much on shopping and eating out. So she set a goal to spend less on these discretionary items and other unnecessary things. She also took on two side jobs: working as a receptionist at a local hair salon and as an event planner at weddings on the weekend.

By increasing her income and decreasing her discretionary spending, Calubayan says she paid off the $15,000 in debt in just 11 months — that’s $1,364 per month on average.

The road to repayment wasn’t always easy, though. “It’s hard to just automatically change your spending,” she says. “You go from going on trips all the time and eating out all the time to doing none of that. Changing your mindset is a huge roadblock that you have to battle.”

Calubayan says her boyfriend helped her stay focused by reminding her of her financial goals when she was tempted to overspend.

Another key to her success was getting rid of her cards. “I think cutting up my credit cards and not having them available to me was one of the best things I could possibly do,” she says. “That was my trigger. If it was in my wallet, I was going to use it.”

To this day, Calubayan doesn’t use credit cards, opting instead for cash and a debit card. She understands that some people can use cards responsibly and enjoy their benefits, but she knows she’ll likely get sucked right back into a vicious cycle of debt. “It takes time to recover from that,” she says.

Calubayan blogs about her experiences of paying off debt and saving money on the All She Saves website.

How an irregular income and no budget turned into $25,000 in debt

As Calubayan was paying off her credit card debt in 2013, Mark Durrenberger was just getting started. He was a financial planner working on commission and had a couple of good quarters of high income, so he started spending more money.

“That ended up being an aberration,” Durrenberger says. “My income dropped, but I kept spending on credit cards at the level that I had gotten used to spending.” Eventually, he racked up $25,000 in credit card debt.

He used to monitor his finances with Mint but stopped keeping track because he knew he wouldn’t like what he saw. As a certified financial planner, he might have even felt like an impostor.

“I was helping people put their financial lives in order,” he says. “But based on how I was getting paid, I was ignoring my own situation.”

Durrenberger realized gradually that he needed to make a change. “I just started feeling guilty every time I spent money,” he says. “Going out for dinner with a friend — it took the enjoyment out of it.”

Finally, in June 2015, he decided to do something about it.

How the financial planner paid off debt

Over the next two years, Durrenberger paid off a little more than $1,000 in credit card debt per month. The first step in that journey was changing his job situation.

“Getting a steady income so that I could have a budget and stick to my budget was key,” he says. He essentially was doing the same work, but for an employer that paid a steady salary rather than getting paid on a commission-only basis. To avoid the temptation of overspending again, he opened a second checking account and requested his employer to split his paycheck.

His spending money went into his main account and his debt payoff money went into the second. By automating the repayment process, he made sure that at least a minimum amount went toward paying off his credit card debt each month.

Durrenberger also used a few balance transfer credit cards to decrease the amount he was paying in interest. Many such cards offer 0% APR promotions for 12 months or more, during which no interest is charged on outstanding balances. For the most part, he paid off the card balances before the 0% APR promotion period ended. But he didn’t pay off one card in time.

“That was a kick in the pants,” he says, but he thinks he likely saved money on the debt he paid off during the promotion.

Like Calubayan, Durrenberger also stopped using his credit cards. “Credit cards make it so enticing with the points and the miles,” he says. “If you can handle it, that’s great. But if you’re in debt, you can’t worry about that.”

Durrenberger uses credit cards now, but he doesn’t rely on them as heavily as he did, opting to pay in cash half the time. “I’m more diligent about staying on top of things, checking how much I have on my credit card,” he says. “I’ll spend some and pay it off each month.”

Since paying off his credit card debt, he has published a book called “The Modern Day Millionaire” and blogs about money management at

What’s next for you

If you can learn anything from the experiences of Calubayan and Durrenberger, it’s that there’s no one best way to pay off credit card debt. The key is to find out what works best for you.

There are some common elements, however. For example, if you keep spending on your credit cards while paying them off, it can feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. So, consider cutting up your cards or sticking them in a drawer until your balance is down to zero.

Adopting a budget is crucial to any debt repayment strategy. Without knowing where your money is going, it’s hard to figure out which areas to cut back. And if you don’t budget regularly, you could easily fall back into your old spending habits.

As you consider your own credit card debt situation, take some of the tactics that Calubayan and Durrenberger used and come up with a few strategies of your own. Consider using tools such as balance transfer credit cards or debt consolidation loans to help you get rid of your debt. Then stick to your budgeting and repayment plan. It might take time to get there, but the freedom of being debt-free is worth it.

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Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
LenderAPR RangeLoan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 6.990% APR to 14.865% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.255% APR to 12.555% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 1, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.255% APR assumes current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 4.425% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

    To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull.See Consumer Licenses.
  2. Minimum Credit Score: Not all applicants who meet SoFi’s minimum credit score requirements are approved for a personal loan. In addition to meeting SoFi’s minimum eligibility criteria, applicants must also meet other credit and underwriting requirements to qualify.
  3. SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.
  4. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (

2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Payoff.

Payoff Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

3 Important Disclosures for FreedomPlus.

FreedomPlus Disclosures

  1. All loans available through are made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. All loan and rate terms are subject to eligibility restrictions, application review, credit score, loan amount, loan term, lender approval, and credit usage and history. Eligibility for a loan is not guaranteed. Loans are not available to residents of all states – please call a FreedomPlus representative for further details. The following limitations, in addition to others, shall apply: FreedomPlus does not arrange loans in: (i) Arizona under $10,500; (ii) Massachusetts under $6,500, (iii) Ohio under $5,500, and (iv) Georgia under $3,500. Repayment periods range from 24 to 60 months. The range of APRs on loans made available through FreedomPlus is 4.99% to a maximum of 29.99%. APR. The APR calculation includes all applicable fees, including the loan origination fee. For Example, a four year $20,000 loan with an interest rate of 15.49% and corresponding APR of 18.34% would have an estimated monthly payment of $561.60 and a total cost payable of $7,948.13. To qualify for a 4.99% APR loan, a borrower will need excellent credit on a loan of $15,000 with a term of 24 months, and qualify for at least two of the following discounts: (1) add a co-borrower who has sufficient income; (2) use at least fifty percent of the loan proceeds to directly pay off existing debt; or (3) show proof of having at least forty-thousand dollars in retirement savings – contact FreedomPlus for further details.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

5 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 15.49% APR to a high of 34.49% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

6 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage & history. The APR ranges from 6.16% to 35.89%. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 7.99% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 11.51%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $187.99. The total amount repayable will be $6,767.64. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at time of application. The origination fee ranges from 1% to 6% and the average origination fee is 5.49% as of Q1 2017. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months or longer.

7 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Earnest does not lend in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

* The actual rate and loan amount that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination and other factors. Funds are generally deposited via ACH for delivery next business day if approved by 4:30pm CT Monday-Friday. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

** Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33

* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

* Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification and review process. You may be asked to provide additional documents to enable us to verify your income and your identity. This rate includes an Autopay APR reduction of 0.5%. By enrolling in Autopay your payments will be automatically deducted from you bank account. Selecting Autopay is optional. Annual Percentage Rate is inclusive of a loan origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC. Please refer to Upgrade’s Terms of Use and Borrower Agreement for all terms, conditions and requirements.

** Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank via ACH within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes this transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days.

7.73% – 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upstart
6.26% – 14.87%1$5,000 - $100,000Visit SoFi
6.99% – 35.97%*$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upgrade
8.00% – 25.00%2$5,000 - $35,000Visit Payoff
4.99% – 29.99%3$10,000 - $35,000Visit FreedomPlus
5.99% – 18.99%4$5,000 - $50,000Visit Citizens
15.49% – 34.49%5$2,000 - $25,000Visit LendingPoint
6.16% – 35.89%6$1,000 - $40,000Visit LendingClub
6.99% – 18.24%7$5,000 - $75,000Visit Earnest
9.95% – 35.99%8$2,000 - $35,000Visit Avant
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.