How Melissa got rid of $47,000 in debt in 39 months

By Kimberly Rotter

Reviewed by Natasha Pearce

Oct 13, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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Like many people, Melissa carried a huge debt load for decades—and felt ashamed and embarrassed about it. With help from Achieve, and some determination and perseverance, she got rid of it. This is her story.

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A familiar path to debt

Few people wake up suddenly in debt. It’s a progression that starts when you’re not in debt. It can be hard to see how deep the hole will be until you’re at the bottom.

Melissa is a divorced mom of two who has always had to make her money stretch.

She landed a job as a secretary for a company in the automotive industry and worked her way up to a design drafter. She knew that an engineering career path had better growth potential, so she put herself through school for an engineering degree. Her hard work paid off. As her career advanced, her salary grew to six figures. 

“But I was never good at managing my money. I was an educated woman without money skills.”

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How does debt get out of hand?

Melissa was an emotional spender. Buying made her feel good. And keeping up outward appearances was important to her. But spending to improve her mood and “keep up with the Joneses” caused her debt to grow out of control. In hindsight, the patterns are clear. 

“You want something because it makes you feel better. You start putting everything on the card and you’re not even thinking about it. It got out of hand.”

She faced all the usual homeowner expenses, plus expenses related to her children’s education and activities. Like many parents, she was surprised more than once by the true cost of raising children.

“I got hit with unexpected expenses that I wasn’t prepared for because I didn’t have money in savings.” And she didn’t have money in savings because she was making payments on credit card balances that never seemed to go away. 

Melissa had more than $47,000 in credit card debt, and it deeply embarrassed her. She felt ashamed about her debt, so she didn’t say anything about it to anybody. When she was invited to do things with family and friends but couldn’t afford to say yes, she made excuses. 

She remembers thinking, “How on Earth am I going to get this paid down?”

Melissa felt like she was constantly living under a dark cloud. She knew she wasn’t stupid, but she felt stupid for making decisions that put her in deep debt. 

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Strategies for getting rid of debt

Melissa always made more than the minimum payment on her credit cards because that’s what she heard you’re supposed to do. But she wasn’t making any headway. She looked for other solutions. She tried debt consolidation loans, but every time she lowered her debt, her emotional spending habits pushed it back up. 

She moved some debt to a balance transfer card with a 0% interest rate for 18 months. “Well, 18 months comes and goes and next thing you know, your interest rate is up around 26%, and you’re trying to find another credit card.”

Fed up with the feeling of always running and never finishing the race, she decided to make a phone call to Achieve. The debt consultant who answered Melissa’s call had successfully gone through her own debt resolution program, and she and Melissa immediately connected. Melissa felt reassured and comfortable from that very first call. 

At first, Melissa was apprehensive about the Achieve Resolution program. The debt consultant suggested that she cut up her credit cards and start using cash and a debit card only. That scared her. She remembers thinking, “Oh my God, how am I going to get by?” 

Melissa realized she didn’t want her children to be burdened by her debt. She was nearing retirement and needed to remove the financial chains she had been dragging around for decades.

She started the Achieve Resolution program the next day.

What it’s like to get rid of debt for good

Melissa made a lot of changes that had an immediate, profound impact on her relationship with money—like making purchases with a debit card. With credit cards, she wasn’t conscious of her overspending. Kicking the overspending habit is easier when you use your debit card. The numbers don’t lie. If the money’s not there, you can’t buy it. 

Life still had more challenges in store. While she was in her debt resolution program, and after 35 years in the automotive industry, Melissa lost her job through a layoff. She decided to move from New York to North Carolina to be closer to family, and she knew that it was more important than ever to take control of her finances.

Melissa sold many of her belongings, to save on moving expenses. Then, although she had always bought everything new, she became a savvy thrifter. She saved money by shopping in thrift shops and online marketplaces. Her spending habits changed for good. Now, even when she can afford it, she’s more mindful about her purchases.

With Achieve Resolution, Melissa was able to significantly reduce her debt. She had excellent results from the program, not because of luck, but through her own effort as well as guidance and moral support from Achieve. She gave it her all and completed her plan 10 months ahead of schedule.

Looking back, Melissa says she wishes she had been more open with her family when she was struggling. She knows they would have been supportive, and she thinks they could have provided ideas or suggestions that might have helped her. She’s not afraid to talk about it now.

Melissa’s debt stress is gone, and she can focus on enjoying her family. She’s retired and can afford to do things like contribute to her grandchildren’s education and donate to causes she cares about. She can also participate in her favorite hobbies, like skiing, which she loves but couldn’t afford for a long time. 

She says her only regret is that she didn’t enroll in a debt resolution program sooner. Her advice to anyone else struggling with overwhelming debt is: don’t put it off. Get help now.

Check out more Achieve Member Stories here.

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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.

Natasha Pearce - Author

Natasha is Achieve’s Director of Social and Community. For over 10 years, she has built communities across social media and blogs through enriching storytelling that helps brands deepen connections with consumers.

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