When Marc registered for his freshman year at Louisiana State University, Chase gave away free t-shirts if you applied for one of their credit cards.
So at age 18, he took out his first credit card. Twenty years later, he was drowning in credit card debt — $31,000 worth.
“That ended up being the most expensive t-shirt I’ve ever owned,” Marc said. “I was indoctrinated into the buying-on-credit lifestyle before I was emotionally mature enough to handle it and really understand it.”
Marc, a 43-year-old GIS mapping technician, said that handing over a piece of plastic to pay for anything from drinks to groceries quickly became second nature to him. Years later, he was still paying for drinks he bought for people he didn’t know in bars that didn’t exist anymore.
He might have continued making the minimum payments on his three credit cards indefinitely if he hadn’t experienced a life-changing event. In 2008, he forgot to mail a couple of his payments on time, and his interest rate on one card skyrocketed to 29.99 percent, a penalty rate for making late payments.
“That’s when everything fell apart,” Marco said. “I couldn’t make those payments and I didn’t know what to do. My financial life seemed hopeless.”
Taking the first step
One day a co-worker mentioned he was having success following the plan outlined in Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book. Marc asked to borrow the book, and after reading it, developed a laser-focused plan to avoid spending money and get out of credit card hell.
“I quit going to movies, restaurants and hanging out with friends,” Marc says. “Instead I rented Redbox movies for $1 and stayed home alone. I avoided driving on weekends to stretch a tank of gas. My days consisted of going to work, coming home and repeating it all the next day.”
Even though his routine smacked of boredom, Marc felt he was making progress pounding away at his debt. First he paid off his car loan, then began paying off the credit card with the lowest balance. Excited by what he accomplished, he entered this new data on a spreadsheet. But he still owed more than $20,000.
Making headway slowly
Finally, in April 2012, a full three years after starting his getting-out-of-debt plan, Marc paid the last payment on his first credit card.
But he still had far to go. Marc suffered depression from his “hermit-like existence,” and it became more difficult to stay focused on his ultimate goal. A quiet, still voice in his head insisted that he keep going.
“That voice was able to overpower the doubt in my mind as I slowly knocked down my debt, month by month,” Marc said.
Fast forward to a total debt balance of less than $10,000. And then paying off his second credit card.
“I was so ready to be done with it all,” says Marc. “That thought overshadowed my victories.”
The ‘bonus curse’
Marc also suffered from what he called the “bonus curse.” Every time he received a bonus at his job, his car broke down. His co-workers joked that they knew they’d be getting a bonus because Marc’s car was in the shop. It worked in reverse, too: His co-workers would find out a bonus was on its way and then ask Marc what was wrong with his car.
After receiving a mid-year bonus in 2013, Marc got into a car crash. Nobody was hurt, but the insurance company listed his car as totaled. His bosses joked that maybe they shouldn’t give him any more bonuses, but Marc said he’d take his chances.
Celebrating the holiday
On Christmas Eve, 2013, Marc gave himself a much-wanted gift: the final payment on his last card. After nearly five years, he had mastered his plan to become debt-free.
“It was much more difficult than I’d ever imagined,” he said. “Articles, books, blogs and advice columns paint a much rosier picture of the journey than the reality I experienced. It’s so much more than ‘just give up your morning latte and before you know it you’ll be out of debt.'”
Including interest, Marc paid off a total of $50,000 in less than five years. He now lives on a cash-only basis and doesn’t use a single credit card.
He is making payments, though, on Miranda. That’s what he named his brand new ride – a 2014 Mustang V6 Premium. So far, this car has made it through one bonus unscathed.