This woman reduced her credit card debt by $12,000.5 tips to steal her


It's easy to give advice about paying off debt. But when you're in it, it feels like you'll never get out of it. Oriana Nesbit knows this feeling.

Like many Americans, the 49-year-old case manager from California began using balance transfers in 2023 to help her pay off six credit cards. As of January, she had paid off $12,000 of her debt. While it's a huge accomplishment, she doesn't expect the rest to pay off until December.

It would have been easy for Nesbitt to give up and accept that she would live in debt for decades. But she is determined to keep going, despite the daunting battle ahead.

“If you give up, you're not going to make any progress,” Nesbitt said. “No matter how much progress you make each month, as long as you make a little bit, you win.”

Alaina Fingal, certified financial coach and CNET Money Expert Review Board member, agrees, noting that there's no right way to pay off debt. But if you feel like your progress on paying off credit card debt has stalled a bit, or maybe you're not motivated to try, Nesbit has some tips to help you stay on track.

1. Find the debt repayment strategy that works best for you

As a single mother who spent much of her time raising her children instead of saving like she knew how, Nesbitt struggled to get out of debt. The interest rate on her card was a whopping 28%, so she felt like she was never making any progress in reducing her balance.

“Initially, I tried to put as much money as possible through large payments,” she said. “But when you have interest rates that high, you're constantly fighting interest rates.”

After receiving an unsolicited balance transfer offer in the mail, Nesbit realized that the temporary zero-interest period was her chance to finally reduce her balance without ever-increasing interest hampering her efforts.

She started by transferring the balance from the card with the highest interest rate, then took advantage of another offer to transfer two more cards during the year.

Even if you can't pay off your entire balance, a lower interest rate offer can help you pay off most of your debt faster because more of your money will be used to pay off the balance.

Before submitting a credit card application, be sure to read the fine print and make sure you know what the interest rate will be after the introductory period. “Most companies will raise interest rates to make up for the losses from special offers,” Fingal said.

2. Track your spending

With work, family and life all keeping her busy, Nesbitt finds it helpful to use a long-term budget. By reviewing her expenses from the previous year, she can plan for the full year, taking into account both typical monthly expenses and expenses that may only occur once a year, such as her car registration fee.

“This budget helps me save money every month—I don't have to think about it,” she said.

Nesbitt, who describes herself as a “permanent planner,” said she realizes that budgeting for the entire year may seem overwhelming to some, but it allows her to focus on organizing it at the beginning of the year. By reviewing her budget every month, she avoids unexpected expenses.

To avoid burnout, she budgets for more than just bills. She saves some money each month for vacations and some extra money at the end of the year to buy holiday gifts.

“I even donated an extra $5 for my birthday,” she said.

What helps one person pay off debt may not work for another, but tracking your spending is crucial. Fingal recommends trying a variety of methods, such as budgeting apps and spreadsheets, to find a tool or strategy that works for you.

“I've used apps in the past, but paper and pen have always kept me motivated about my progress,” Fingal said.

3. Commit to a goal, but be flexible

Nesbit organizes her budget by using Excel spreadsheets to track her regular spending, savings and 401(k) contributions. She gets paid every two weeks, so she budgets her first paycheck each month to cover most of her expenses, as well as the minimum payment on each credit card. The second paycheck is where she aggressively pays off her debt.

“My plan is to put as much money as possible on the second payment on my credit card at the end of the month,” Nesbitt says. “It changes every month, but no matter what, it's definitely better than the minimum each month.” Credit card payments) are over 50% higher. I try to at least double that – that's my goal.

When one card is paid off, Nesbit puts any extra money toward paying off the card with the second highest interest rate. This strategy, known as the debt avalanche method, could help her save more on interest over time.

4. Don’t deny everything about yourself

An all-or-nothing diet is difficult for anyone to maintain. Nesbit will not use her balance transfer card for anything other than paying off her balance. She only allows herself to use her debit card for expenses outside of her regular budget, which helps her avoid overspending. But she wanted to earn credit card rewards through travel, so she continued to use one of her existing credit cards for planned purchases.

“Rewards cards are for groceries — when I go to the grocery store, I stick to a budget and then I pay instead of using a debit card,” she said. “So I still use it every month, but I use it for things I budget for so I can simply pay it back.”

Credit cards are more convenient than cash, and if you're used to earning rewards, it can be difficult to stop using them completely while you're paying off debt.

But even temporarily stopping using your credit card can help you avoid the temptation to overspend, Fingal says. If it's easy to overspend using just one credit card, consider getting a financial card that offers rewards.

“If I know I'm going on vacation, I'll stop using my credit card and use a debit card to make sure I don't go over budget,” Fingal says.

5. Know the “why”

Nesbitt's ultimate goal is to pay off debt, move into a smaller home and retire early. By focusing on these larger goals, she reshaped her perspective on money and debt.

“A lot depends on one's attitude towards money – whether you think it's for use or for saving,” she said. “I think a lot of people view a line of credit as something they can use rather than something they save for emergencies.”

Debt payoff strategies may sound great on paper. But if you don't realize how your thoughts about money are putting you in debt, or keeping you in debt, you'll have a hard time sticking to your plan. “Understanding triggers is critical to developing a solid financial strategy,” says Fingal. By understanding your motivations, you can develop healthy financial habits that help you spend your money on the things that matter most to you.

Nesbitt continues to make progress toward her goals, saying seeing her balance shrink — even if not as quickly as she'd hoped — helps motivate her to get out of debt.

“I'm happy with the progress I've made and I'm going to keep going.”

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