4 tips one woman used to pay off her credit card debt in 2 years

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Nov 01, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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Debt isn’t forever, even if it feels like you’ll never be free.

Getting rid of debt can feel like a road to nowhere, especially when you’re watching your balances inch lower in tiny increments, despite all of your efforts to move the needle. The bright light at the end of the tunnel can be hard to see when you’re in the thick of it.   

It is possible to get rid of debt. Even overwhelming debt. Most people can make it happen within a few years or less—and often in a lot less time than they’ve been carrying around the debt.

When the day comes when your balances are zero across the board, you’ll feel a wash of relief. You might also be thinking about a big question: What next?

Having paid off roughly $100,000 in debt from student loans, credit cards, and a car loan, I know exactly what the before and after feel like. I hope that some of my lessons can help you with your own debt recovery journey.

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To reduce debt, you need a plan

Debt won't go away on its own. There are many ways to get rid of debt, and how you plan to pay it down matters. 

When I decided to pay off my debts for good, I thought about what kind of strategy would work best. I didn't have a lot of savings I could use toward debt, and I wasn't making a lot of money. 

My plan looked like this:

  • Stop using credit cards completely (which meant creating—and sticking to—a realistic budget)

  • Focus on paying off my smallest debt first (aka the “d ebt snowball method”), which was a furniture store credit card with a $900 balance 

  • Keep making minimum payments on the rest of my debts

  • Work on finding ways to make more money so I could dedicate extra cash to debt repayment

Your plan might look completely different, and that's okay. What's important is figuring out what's doable for you, based on how much you owe and where you are financially. 

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Motivation matters 

Here's something you need to know about paying off debt. You can have the best repayment strategy in the world, but it won't matter if you're not committed to sticking to it. 

When I first started working on my plan, I was staring down around $75,000 in combined debt, between student loans and credit card debt. A $24,000 car loan got added into the mix when I was about two years into my payoff journey. 

But by that point, I'd paid off all my credit card debt and made a sizable dent in my student loans, so it wasn't as big of a financial setback as it could have been. 

The key to making progress (while also saving money) was my mindset. 

From the beginning, I had a specific vision of what kind of lifestyle I wanted to have. Debt wasn't a part of that picture, which gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. If you're struggling to stick with your debt payoff plan, think about what you really want to get out of it. 

Would you like to have a healthy savings account? Fund your retirement? Treat yourself to a nice vacation? Start your own business without a loan?

Creating a clear vision of the life you want to have post-debt can help you stay focused on taking the next step (and the next, and the next) to get closer to your goal. 

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How long does it take to get rid of debt?

I paid off all of my credit card debt, which was around $25,000, in about two years. For the next two years, I decided to throw every penny I had at the car loan, leaving my student loans for last. 

Six years after I plotted my course, I made the last payment on the $40,000 in student loans I'd been dragging around for years. Aside from my mortgage, all of the consumer debt I'd been chipping away at was gone. 

Six years might sound like a long time to some people. Or it might sound incredibly appealing to some who have been dragging around credit card balances for a decade or longer. It’s what it took for me. Here are some other possible scenarios:

  • If you qualify, you could take a personal loan to consolidate your debts and pay off the loan in 2 to 5 years, at a monthly payment that works for your budget.

  • If you can’t afford to fully repay your debts, you could negotiate with your creditors to lower the amount you owe. You can DIY negotiation or work with a professional debt resolution company. Most debt resolution program participants get rid of their unsecured debts within 2 to 4 years.

  • If you qualify, you could take a home equity loan to consolidate debts and pay off the loan over 15 years at a lower interest rate. 

  • You could DIY your debt payoff the way that I did and finish on a timeline that’s right for you. An app like the Achieve GOOD App can help you track progress.

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The debt's gone—now what? 

I didn't jump up and down or shout from the rooftops, but I did congratulate myself on reaching my goal. And then I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, which was to focus on saving and giving. 

Was taking six years to pay off debt worth it? Absolutely, since it allowed me to get to a much better place financially. As to how long it takes you to get rid of debt, only you can answer that. 

Regardless of whether it takes you six years or you're working with a different time frame, the most important thing is to keep moving at a steady pace that works for you. And it's never too soon to start thinking about the next phase and how you want to define financial freedom

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

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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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