Financial educator slashes $20K of debt to become a first-time homeowner

By Jackie Lam

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Feb 02, 2024

Read time: 3 min

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Imagine making a living helping others with their money, but internally thrashing in financial despair. Such was the case for Tamara, a self-employed financial educator who taught others financial basics and helped them repair their credit. 

Her clients didn’t know that she and her husband were in a debt hole themselves to the tune of $20,000, barely making ends meet. She felt like she was living a lie. 

Today her debt is gone, and she owns her first home. This is her story.

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A pandemic layoff

Tamara's money woes began during the pandemic. Her husband, Terry, was a Los Angeles chef. COVID-19 changed everything, and with the hospitality industry being hit the hardest, Terry got laid off. 

“There are times when you just don't know when you're going to be knocked down full force," says Tamara. "I feel like that's what happened to us. We were just feeling so hopeless and scared.”

Tamara became the sole breadwinner for their family of four. It was hard to afford the $3,000 rent on their three-bedroom townhouse in the City of Angels.

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An onslaught of medical bills

Things continued to go downhill. Terry was hit with a trifecta of debilitating health ailments: diabetes, high blood pressure, and Stage 3 kidney disease. Tamara says that the doctor warned Terry to take his health seriously for the sake of their family. “He said, ‘The inside of your body is like a burning inferno that’s going to fall down,’” she remembers. "The diagnoses were a huge blow to us because we'd already lost half our income." 

With the "do this now or die'' sirens going off, the couple immediately researched the best course of action that would steer Terry toward a clean bill of health. They landed on a one-year homeopathic program. And while good health is priceless, the cost of the program was $15,000. Plus, there were other out-of-pocket costs like lab work, prescriptions, tests, procedures, and visits with medical specialists. 

Better health, worse finances

With barely $1,000 in her bank account, Tamara felt like she was spiraling into a deep vortex of debt with no way to claw out. She put the $15,000 on a credit card. That opened a floodgate.

In a short amount of time, her credit card balance had ballooned to $20,000. 

The treatments worked. Terry's kidneys stabilized, his diabetes is fully under control, and his blood pressure hovers in the normal range. 

Tamara’s credit card minimum payment was around $1,000 a month. She also had a $300 monthly car payment and other expenses. Tamara tried to make her payments while working full-time and taking care of her family single-handedly. But after about six months, she could no longer keep up. She missed payments. Her credit score tanked. 

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The feelings of shame that go along with debt 

For Tamara and Terry, debt and shame went hand in hand. Depressed and desolate, Tamara put on some weight and let her self-care go. "I felt like a fraud because here I am telling people how to have a good credit score, how to budget, how to save, how to get rid of debt. I'm not all these things I'm teaching," she says. "I fell into the trap of not being able to control my budget and credit." 

Beginning the journey out of debt 

The couple decided to move their family into Terry's mother’s one-bedroom apartment. It was the last thing they wanted to do. Tamara and Terry swallowed their pride because they felt it was the only way to start on the road back to financial stability. They were thankful they weren't sleeping in a car, and saving on housing expenses meant they could afford to make minimum debt payments. The couple was eventually able to save up enough money to buy a secondhand RV and get out of the apartment. 

But most of their $20,000 in debt still lingered like a dark cloud. 

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Tamara asked for help 

When Tamara learned about Achieve, she picked up the phone and made the call. After talking with an Achieve loan consultant who walked her through several options, she applied for a debt consolidation loan. Tamara was shocked when she was approved. The money was in their bank account the next day. She and her husband Terry used the money to consolidate their medical debt and pay off the loan on their car. 

Besides paying off major debts, Tamara replaced a 27% credit card with an  Achieve personal loan with an 18.6% APR. "Before, I was paying hundreds of dollars in interest each month, so I wasn't even making a dent in my balance," says Tamara. 

"It's almost surreal. It’s been a few years of us climbing out of that feeling of hopelessness," says Tamara. "Now, I feel inspired to share my story. I feel inspired to offer hope, because I've been on the other side."

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Where are they now 

Fast forward to the present. Tamara and Terry saved enough to move out of their RV and buy their own home in Las Vegas. They can afford those nice-to-haves they've always wanted, like dance and theater classes for their young girls. 

A couple of years ago, being homeowners didn't seem possible. Their credit was shot, they were flat broke, and creditors laid claim to almost every dollar they earned. Now their bills are paid and they enjoy researching investment opportunities together.  

"This journey has led us to be healthier, happier, more connected, and a stronger family unit as a whole," says Tamara. “It's better to take care of your inner world first. Then, you can take care of those around you. That's what wealth is." 

Jackie Lam - Author

Jackie is an Achieve contributor. She is an accredited financial coach (AFC®) who has written for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, CNET, USA Today's Blueprint, and others. She coaches artists and freelancers.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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