How This Jetsetting Mom Paid off $17.5K in Debt in 16 Months

A daughter and mother walk near the water in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Gabriela Nyang, 8, and her mother Elisabeth go for a walk in Fairbanks, Alaska. Elisabeth has been using Credit Sesame since January 2017, and the credit monitoring site has helped her raise her credit score from 495 to 663. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

At the end of 2016, Elisabeth Nyang decided to get serious about her finances.

Again.

She’d already conquered a $25,000 mound of mostly credit card debt in six months back in 2012. Now she needed to pay off another $17,500 in a mix of credit card debt, overdue bills and lingering student loans.

It’s not like Nyang, a traveling speech therapist, intentionally collected the debt. It just kind of happened throughout the course of her moves between Vancouver; Washington, D.C. and Beijing.

It was in Beijing that it became difficult to transfer money back to the U.S. China makes that tricky. Plus, her American credit score was irrelevant in the foreign country, so it wasn’t a major focus for her.

But in late 2016, the single mom was set to move back to the U.S. — to Fairbanks, Alaska — and she wanted to get her credit score up to snuff.

Nyang started researching the best credit-monitoring tools and landed on Credit Sesame’s glowing online reviews. The service lets you see your free TransUnion credit score and credit report card.

She was convinced.

Since signing up for Credit Sesame in January 2017, Nyang has paid off that $17,500 pile of debt and raised her score from 495 to 663. That’s a 168-point jump.

How Nyang Dipped Into Debt in the First Place

Elisabeth Nyang gives her daughter, Gabriela, a kiss. Since signing up for Credit Sesame, Elisabeth has paid off her $17,500 of debt. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

The first time Nyang started accumulating debt was after she gave birth to her daughter in 2009 in Canada, where she faced $1,700 a month in rent and up to $1,500 in monthly child care expenses.

That was basically her entire monthly income.

“I didn’t want to use my credit card, but I had to,” she says. So she charged all her other living expenses to it. “I wasn’t in the habit of paying it off, and everything kind of came to a breaking point.”

Although she lived in Canada, which works on a different credit-scoring model, Nyang was still receiving phone calls from U.S. debt collectors.

“I remember at one point, all I thought about was money and how stressed I was,” Nyang says. “I woke up one day, and I was tired of having all that debt. I just didn’t want phone calls anymore.”

So she decided to tackle it. She worked two part-time speech therapy jobs six days a week. One paycheck went directly toward her debt; the other went to her living expenses. She moved into more affordable housing, which she compared to subsidized housing here in the U.S.

Using this strategy, Nyang alleviated that $25,000 burden in a matter of six months.

But Old Habits Die Hard

A woman uses her computer at home.
Nyang checks her credit score for free using Credit Sesame. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Following her first experience with debt, Nyang started feeling comfortable again but admits, in retrospect, she must have felt a little too comfortable.

“I felt happy, but then the problem was that old habits die hard,” she says frankly. “Let me treat myself! Let me use the card! I’ll pay it off! Over time, you start carrying balances again.”

After several moves and two years living in China, she once again found herself in debt — this time to the tune of $17,500.

In China, where it’s difficult to send money to the U.S., Nyang fell behind on her payments. In hindsight, she admits, the difficulty in transferring money was just a great excuse — out of sight, out of mind.

But when she decided to move back to the States in December 2016, she knew she needed to get her finances on track — again.

“I can’t live like that,” she remembers thinking.

She signed up for a free Credit Sesame account in January 2017.

How Nyang Paid off Her Debt — Once and for All

A mother and daughter snuggle together on the couch.
Gabriela and Elisabeth Nyang snuggle together on their couch. Elisabeth uses Credit Sesame to check her credit score three to four times a week and her credit report card once a month.

Nyang now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

In a little more than a year, she’s been able to pay off that $17,500 in debt. Here’s how:

    1. First, she signed up for Collection Shield 360. It’s free to enroll, and it helps protect consumers against debt-collection harassment. She had an outstanding cell phone bill erased because of unethical practices.
    2. Then, she employed Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method, paying off one debt at a time, starting with her smallest balance first.
    3. During this time, she signed up for eMoneyPool, an online lending circle that allows users to save for short-term goals and build their credit.

All the while, she kept tabs on her balances through Credit Sesame. There, she could easily see which debts she owed to whom.

Even though all of her bills are paid off, Nyang still uses Credit Sesame. In fact, she’s upgraded to the pro account, where she pays $15.95 a month for daily updates. (The free account updates your credit report card once a month.)

For her, being able to check her credit score and credit report regularly is worth the fee. She checks her credit score three to four times a week and her credit report card once a month. Basically, it’s a habit.

It’s a good habit. It helps her ensure all of her balances are paid, her accounts are safe and there are no mistakes on her credit report.

“I like how everything’s in layman’s terms,” she says. “It’s user-friendly, and it’s easy to understand.”

She particularly likes Credit Sesame’s credit report card feature, which grades each factor that affects your credit score — A through F. These factors include:

  • Payment history, which includes negative marks and/or late payments.
  • Credit usage.
  • Credit age.
  • Account mix.
  • Credit inquiries.

For example, earlier this year, Nyang’s credit usage grade dropped to a B. She was able to quickly look at Credit Sesame’s insight and realize she hadn’t paid her credit card bill in time for it to report as paid to the credit bureaus.

She learned from her mistake, and now pays well ahead of time.

As Nyang Settles, Her Credit Score Continues to Rise

Now that Nyang raised her credit score, her next big step is moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she plans to purchase a home. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Right now, Nyang says she’s in a good place financially.

“I feel so much better,” she says. “I really learned my lesson. You have to change your behavior to have better finances.”

She’s even built up an emergency fund, which proved useful when she recently owed $3,900 in taxes. Although it was unexpected — and stung — Nyang was able to dip into her emergency fund to quickly pay it off.

For her, having healthy finances isn’t just about a good credit score.

“For me, it’s more of a peace of mind,” she says. “I want to keep my money and not owe people.”

But Nyang will continue to check her credit score and credit report card regularly through Credit Sesame.

Now that her score hovers around 663, Nyang feels ready for her next big move from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she plans to purchase a house.

Yes! The world traveler has decided to lay down some roots.

At least for a few years.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also uses Credit Sesame to keep tabs on her credit score and take proactive steps to increase it.

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