How I Paid Down $50K In Debt

Credit cards nearly landed me in bankruptcy. But bailouts aren’t for me. I took a pass on iPhones, flat-screen TVs and fancy laptops and pulled my finances back from the brink.

Posted:
 
credit20card
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

For years, I told my friends the same thing. “I made this mess; I’ll fix it!”

The mess I made wasn’t uncommon; I had gotten myself deep into credit card debt. How deep? About $50K deep. Ugly, I know.

But I retired that debt, plus about $15K owed to the IRS, and it took only four years and three months. What’s better, I did it while working at jobs that I really love doing.

The reason I am writing this is that if I can do it, other people can, too.

My story is probably a lot like yours. From the time I received my first credit cards in the late ‘80s, I became comfortable carrying a lot of debt. The minimums were low and manageable. And as a writer, I fell prey to what a filmmaker pal calls the freelancers' curse. That’s when you spend your paycheck three times: once when you get the assignment, once when you finish the work and a third time when you actually get paid. Visa and Mastercard took care of two of those three. But I neglected to take care of Visa and Mastercard. Soon after the dotcom crash and 9/11, I found myself without my accustomed level of freelance writing assignments. I decided to tough it out living off my cards from time to time.

I figured that work would rebound, but before the uptick arrived, I had gone from paying minimums in a timely fashion to being afraid to answer the phone because 4 out of 5 calls were related to my credit card delinquencies.

Then one day in late summer of ’04, I got a call from a collection agency and had an “aha” moment. I was 90 days late on a credit card payment, but this guy was talking to me as if I’d shot his wife. I’m pretty easygoing, but I don’t take being talked down to, especially not by an angry stranger. After I hung up, I looked at my options. A bankruptcy filing was certainly the easy route, but I don’t like easy routes. And I don’t generally like government fixing my problems if I can do it myself.

 

Diversification was key to my strategy. I had been a full-time music journalist for 20 years, but demand for music writing had been declining for years, so I began to write about film and sports. Both of which I liked and knew something about.

I also lucked into a gig at a cheese counter that was near several stellar wine shops. I had worked in the food business as a side line in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and knew enough about cheese and wine to offer advice people valued. A friend of mine suggested I set up a consultancy where I hold private and public cheese tastings.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM