How Friendship Is Helping These Women Crush Their Combined $70K in Debt

Two young women smile while walking down a path at a park.
Sha’Kreshia Terrell and Sau-Sha Hill walk through Faulkner Park in Tyler, Texas. The two became accountability partners in 2015 to support each other's efforts to pay down credit card debt. Chelsea Purgahn for The Penny Hoarder

Friends Sau-Sha Hill and Sha’Kreshia Terrell used to have a game: How many credit cards each could get approved for?

Hill and Terrell, both 27, started working together in 2014 at an AT&T billing center in Texas. Their game began when Terrell got approved for an Amazon credit card. Hill was so excited for her that she applied for one and got approved as well.

“Neither one of us knew how credit cards worked,” Hill said. “We just knew we could get them. I remember Amazon had no interest for like 15 or 18 months, but I didn’t know what that meant. Then the interest hit me all at once.”

And over the course of a year, they ended up with 12 cards between them — and a cumulative $70,000 in debt, mostly from credit cards.

But the excitement from the new cards gradually wore off.

Hill’s debt peaked at $30,000 after she maxed out her cards and took out a personal loan to pay them off. After that, she tried to be more responsible, but something would always “come up.” She’d end up spending on the cards again and taking out another personal loan to pay them off.

“I created a cycle for myself that I couldn’t get out of until this year,” Hill admitted.

Terrell’s debt reached $40,000, mostly on credit cards. She had a moment of clarity one week after she worked overtime at her 9 to 5. She was so excited to take home that extra money, but her excitement was short-lived.

“The overtime was basically like another whole paycheck for me, and I didn’t get to keep any of it except for like $50,” she said. “That was the day I was like, ‘OK, I worked hard just to give my money away to credit card companies.’ And I couldn’t take it anymore.”

How They Became Accountability Partners

Two young women walk past a store's window displays.
In 2018, Sha’Kreshia Terrell and Sau-Sha Hill began doubling down on their debt-payoff efforts. Last year alone, the friends paid off $27,000 of their combined $70,000 of debt. Terrell has $1,450 of debt left, and Hill has $2,500. Chelsea Purgahn for The Penny Hoarder

Terrell wanted to keep her hard-earned money, and Hill wanted to save enough to break the personal loan cycle she’d gotten into. So in 2015, they decided to work together to see how fast they could get rid of their debt.

“It wasn’t something we were planning to start,” Terrell said. “It really all started by accident.”

Since they hadn’t planned to be accountability partners, they didn’t have a formal protocol. They just did what worked for them.

“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. “If I see a deal that I know she will fall for, I quickly pull out my phone and send her a text to remind her of her goals and to motivate her to move past the deal.”

The friends also take more tangible measures to help each other out.

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

They no longer work together, but they still talk daily, and they discuss their finances frequently.

“It’s a habit for us now,” Hill said. “We’ll either call each other, text each other, she’ll shoot me an email. We’ve been doing it for so long [that] we’ve figured out each other’s spending triggers.”

Hill says her spending trigger is her big heart. Any time someone is in need, she wants to buy a gift card for them.

“She has a kid, too, so she wants to give her kid the world, of course,” Terrell said. “I have to remind her that she has everything in the world already.”

Terrell admits to making too many fast-food trips. She’s not a great cook, but she’s working on it to get her fast-food spending down.

They’re Almost Debt-Free. Here’s Their Next Goal

Two women in a store shop for home decor items.
Sau-Sha Hill and Sha’Kreshia Terrell’s partnership hasn’t just changed their spending habits. “Our conversations have gone from talking about going out to eat or shopping to talking about goals and what we want out of life,” Terrell said. Chelsea Purgahn for The Penny Hoarder

In 2018, they both began doubling down on their debt-payoff efforts. This year alone, the friends paid off $27,000 of their combined $70,000 of debt. Terrell has $1,450 of debt left, and Hill has $2,500.

Being so close to freedom from debt has its own challenges. Hill recently had to talk Terrell out of buying a new car.

“She talked me through and said, ‘You need to come back to reality and look at the numbers,’” Terrell said. “And I did. I didn’t buy it, and I was able to pay the majority of what I had left [on my car] off.”

And Hill showed Terrell that if she paid off her credit cards, she could save $10,000 in six months and pay cash for a car.

So the ladies’ next goal — one of many — is to upgrade their cars… in cash.

Their partnership hasn’t just changed their spending habits.

“Our conversations have gone from talking about going out to eat or shopping to talking about goals and what we want out of life,” Terrell said.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.