These 7 People Are Paying off $211,000 in Debt — Without Cutting Spending

A woman sits with her phone and dog.
Nancy Frost used a cash-back app to save and make money when she shops. Matt Roth for The Penny Hoarder
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Debt is a bummer.

It’s a thorn in your side, a chain around your ankle — a roadblock on the superhighway of life.

And the deeper into debt you go, the more it can seem like a bottomless black hole, from which you’ll never escape.

But it is possible to pay off your debt — without resorting to eating nothing but ramen noodles. We’ll show you how these seven people paid off a collective $211,000 in debt without making major lifestyle changes. Plus, we’ll share some of our favorite strategies for cutting expenses and getting one step closer to being debt-free.

1. This Young Professional Cut His Monthly Payments by $133

When we connected with Nick in 2018, he was carrying around more than $26,000 in credit card debt. He owed about $800 a month — but a lot of that was going toward interest, not actually chipping away at his debt.

He felt like his wheels were spinning, until he read about an online lending platform called Upstart. With Upstart, he could take out a lower interest personal loan, pay off his credit card debt, then make more manageable monthly payments toward the single loan.

Within two hours of applying for his Upstart loan, Nick received the funds and paid off his credit cards. “It was such a relief — like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

This new five-year loan meant Nick went from paying $800 a month to $667 a month, thanks to the difference in interest. Plus, he’ll be debt free a lot sooner.

You can borrow up to $50,000 from Upstart, though note you’ll need a credit score of 620 or higher. It takes minutes to see if you qualify.

2. These Money Buddies are Paying Off a Collective $70,000

Two friends walk down a sidewalk.
Close friends Sha’Kreshia Terrell (left) and Sau-Sha Hill encouraged each other to pay off their collective $70,000 debt. Chelsea Purgahn for The Penny Hoarder

If all you need is some motivation and accountability, grab yourself a money buddy. That’s what friends Sau-Sha Hill and Sha’Kreshia Terrell did. Between the two of them, they had 12 credit cards and a collective $70,000 in debt.

“At the beginning of each month, we write down a list of clear goals that we would like to achieve before month end and send them to one another,” Terrell said.

Hill added: “Sha’Kreshia would literally take my credit cards out of my wallet and keep them at home.”

When we talked to the duo earlier this year, Terrell had $1,450 of debt left, and Hill had $2,500. Not bad, right?

If you need a money buddy — but maybe don’t want to bring your friends or family into your financial business — turn to The Penny Hoarder Community Group. Members share their favorite ways to pay down their debt and keep each other accountable.

3. Cut Your Grocery Expenses — No Ramen Required

A woman shops at Wal-Mart.
Frost saves and earns money using the a cash-back app while shopping at Walmart. Matt Roth/The Penny Hoarder

Cash-back apps are a great way to save money on groceries — without a ton of hard work.

We’ve chatted with several folks who’ve had success, including Nancy Frost who earned more than $430 in a year. She put that money toward her retirement, but for you, that could be an extra payment you’re throwing toward your debt.

Not sure where to start? Well, take a look at those crumpled receipts in the bottom of your purse and sitting in your passenger seat. Why not turn those into some gift cards? Which you can then use to offset your next Walmart run.

Yup — more than a million people are using a free app called Fetch Rewards, which turns your useless receipts into gift cards. It partners with tons of brands to give you points for every grocery receipt you share. Then you can exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Walmart, Chipotle and dozens of other retailers.  

And it’s perfect for those of us who don’t want to put a ton of work into this. All you have to do is send Fetch a photo of your receipt, and it does everything for you. No scanning barcodes or searching for offers — and you can use it with any grocery receipt.

When you download the app, use the code PENNY to automatically earn 2,000 points when you scan your first receipt — you’ll be well on your way to your first gift card.

See? You don’t have to live off ramen to pay off your debt. You can be livin’ large with free Chipotle!

4. A Busy Mom Used This Site to Become Debt-Free

portrait of Melinda Smieja
After her daughter was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, Melinda Smieja was overwhelmed with debt. Photo courtesy Melinda Smieja

After her 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 2005, Melinda Smieja faced a slew of expenses. She racked up debt, somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, on 11 credit cards.

She felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to turn until she learned about a website called Credit Sesame. She signed up in about 90 seconds and received her free credit report card, which revealed her credit score (around 480) and the debt she owed.

“I could look and I could say, ‘OK, this is what’s all going on here. This is my debt. This is what’s happening. This is what’s making my credit (interest) high,’” she said.

Armed with the information she needed to begin making moves, she mapped out her debt snowball repayment plan. She paid off the card with the hightest balance, then worked her way down. 

Eventually, she became debt free — and cut up her credit cards. Her credit score consequently jumped up 264 points. Sure, it took a while, but Smieja says Credit Sesame helped her get there — and signing up takes 90 seconds.

Like Smieja, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.

Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

5. She Delivered Groceries to Help Offset Her $2,000 Tab

When then 22-year-old Destiny Frith moved to a new state, she found her credit card balance creeping up and up. It wasn’t anything too major — about $2,000 — but she hadn’t yet secured a full-time job, so she needed to find a way to make money on the side.

That’s when she learned she could use an app to get paid to deliver groceries to people in her area — on her own schedule.

One app we like is Doordash. With Doordash, you set your own hours and work as much or little as you want, meaning how much you make is up to you. 

You’ll earn money for each delivery, plus tips. Frith says the money she earned helped her put a dent in her debt and hold her over until she could find a full-time job.

If you sign up for Doordash now, it’s possible to get your first paycheck this week — just in time for your next credit card payment. 

6. This Young Couple Ditched Their Biggest Monthly Payment

A couple play with their daughter.
Cody and Georgi Boorman live with their two-year-old daughter, Eloise, comfortably in their Moses Lake home after paying down their debt. Paul T. Erickson for The Penny Hoarder

Between student loans and car payments, Cody and Georgi Boorman owed $83,000 — while living in Seattle, where the cost of living is quite high. They knew they needed to do something, but they weren’t sure what.

So they started with one of their largest burdens: Their car. They decided to trade it in and get something more economical. That freed them up from their largest burden and allowed them to throw more money toward their debt.

If you’re reading this article thinking, “Uh, I can’t just get rid of my car,” we get it. That’s a big move. But you can still make major cuts in the amount of money you spend on your car. You could save up to $670 a year on car insurance alone.

A free website called The Zebra will shop for car insurance for you — in just two minutes. 

All you have to do is enter basic information about your car and driving history, then The Zebra compares prices from more than 100 companies to find you the best price.

If you find a policy you like, you can sign up online instantly.

Imagine putting an extra $670 toward your credit card this year!

7. These Homeowners Tapped Into The Value of Their Home

It happened fast.

In a little over a month, California couple Wilmer and Kimberly Swerdfeger had accumulated $20,000 in credit card debt — a result of unexpected home repairs and an emergency eye surgery.

Between paying high interest rates and juggling multiple bills, Wilmer needed a way out. That’s when he considered tapping into his home’s equity — the money he’d paid toward his mortgage — with a home equity line of credit (HELOC). A HELOC (typically) offers better rates than personal loans, because your home acts as collateral.

After feeling burned by a few offers from banks, Wilmer turned to Figure, an online lender. It offers home equity lines of credit for up to $150,000, with APRs starting at 4.99%*.

He got approved for a five-year line of credit with an APR of 5.75% — that was way better than the 21.99% credit card interest he faced. Oh, and his funds were in his account the next day — so he could immediately pay off his credit cards.

“It was like, ‘Wham, bam bam,’ and everything was paid off,” he says. “Now I just owe Figure. It took a lot of stress off.”

It only takes five minutes to check your rate with Figure. If you like what you see and your application is approved, Figure will initiate funding within five days*.

*Terms and conditions apply. Visit figure.com for further information. Figure Lending LLC is an equal opportunity lender. NMLS #1717824