When I left my marriage four years ago, I knew that there would be certain problems that I’d have to deal with, including a large amount of debt that was collected while my household income was significantly larger than it could ever be on my own. Through the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, I struggled to just pay the regular bills, and a lot of other expenses had to wait, but now I’m ready to conquer this summit. I’ve been doing it in phases.
Phase 1: Acknowledge the debt exists
My plan isn’t a difficult one, in fact, I’m positive you can follow each of these steps and do the exact same thing yourself, no matter how much debt or how much money you have. Step one was actually owning my problem.
It came to a head back in September, when I had a pretty major breakdown and confided in a friend about just how deeply in trouble I was. She’s a math teacher, but has always also been a practical sort, so I knew that she was going to have my back.
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And she did. Just the simple act of owning the debt that I’d been ignoring made it feel like maybe I could deal with it at all, and unburdening myself of the stress behind it freed up my headspace so I could move forward.
Phase 2: Determining how much I could pay back at once
I have a lot of debts that went south on me when I left my husband. There’s no lie there. It’s what happens sometimes, divorce is absolutely brutal on personal finances. But I had also been tracking my finances for a while, so even if I wasn’t paying off those debts, I knew how much I was paying out and how much I had to work with. Spoiler: It wasn’t much.
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Having those figures in front of me, including how much I was paying for housing, utilities, groceries, and medical, made it possible to make a budget for debt repayment. I knew that I could manage a certain amount reliably, and with anything above that, I could pay extra or put into a savings account to hold in case I was short one month.
Hooboy, this was the hardest part. I was plain afraid of these collection agents. They were very scary. The good news is that although I was very afraid of them, they were very nice to me, and many had self-service online systems. They just wanted my money, and I wanted to give it to them, so we found a way to come together.
With my budget in hand, and knowing how many accounts I had to pay, I started making deals. $25 a month for this account, $25 a month for that account, and no account more than $100. It’s a long-term sustainable deal and all set-up on autopay, so it’s very hard to mess up as long as there’s enough money in my account at all times.
Phase 4: The long, dark drudgery of the soul
I’ve been paying on these debts for several months now, and have made some substantial progress, but it’s hard to keep going. It gets hard to see the benefit in giving these people money every month, even though I know that I owe the debt and I need to do this for my credit and general human decency.
What I’ve done to combat that is create spreadsheets that not only track my payments so I know each has been made, but so I have a little box I can check every month, from which I get a passing whiff of dopamine. Each month, one of my sheets tells me how many payments are left and how much debt I’ve paid down, which makes it easier to keep going.
These spreadsheets also, as it turns out, helped when one of my accounts was accidentally closed a few weeks ago and the payment didn’t come out as it should have. If I hadn’t known there was an issue, if it hadn’t registered to me that one payment had been missed, this account might be headed to court. But because I was missing my little dopamine burst from that one, I saw it quickly and contacted the collection agency, and after about a week, it was fixed. I made that missing payment today.
Phase 5: The future
Right now, it doesn’t feel as if I’ve got a lot of momentum going with my debt repayment plan, but it’s moving. By the end of this year, I’ll have about 20% of my accounts paid in full, with 60% on track to be paid in full before the end of 2025. Once I pay off some accounts with shorter timelines, I can roll that money I was using into the longer payoff schedules so that they get paid off sooner, too.
And my credit score is gaining, bit by bit. I get regular emails from Credit Karma notifying me that my bad debt is being paid down, and that’s a pretty good feeling. It’s nice to know someone notices the hard work I’ve been doing.
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