How Am I Paying Off $109,000 of Credit Card Debt?

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My wife, Vonnie, and I are on a journey to pay off 109K in credit card debt through the help of a Debt Management Program. We started our journey in July of 2009, and are expected to be rid of this behemoth mountain of debt in March of 2014.

Some of you may be wondering, what exactly is a debt management program (DMP)? There is a lot of misinformation about the debt relief industry floating around, so I felt it this would be a great forum to explain what a DMP is, and how it is helping my family get back on it’s feet financially.

Program In a Nutshell

Our enrollment process began by providing a list of unsecured lines of credit that we wish to enroll in the program. Our debt relief provider then sent to those creditors a proposal which had the following information:

  • Notification of our enrollment in a debt management program
  • Proposal of a reduced interest rate
  • Proposal of a monthly payment that together with the reduced interest rate will result in the debt being paid in full within 3-5 years.

In exchange for a fixed payment and lowered interest rate, the creditor closes the account, and expects consistent monthly payments. Some even state in their acceptance response letter that they expect you to not open any new lines of credit while enrolled in a debt management program and will periodically evaluate your credit report to ensure that is the case. Each month we make one payment to our debt relief provider (including a monthly service fee to them), and they disperse the appropriate payments to our creditors.

Violation of the agreements may result in creditors dropping us from the program and re-instating the original terms of the account – ie, insane interest rates and larger minimum monthly payments.

The Waiting Game

The first few months of being enrolled in a DMP were the most stressful in regards to the program itself as we waited for proposals to be acted upon, calling creditors daily to try to get any new status, and nudging them to respond. Some creditors responded within days, some within a few weeks, one took almost 3 months.


The proposals are not always accepted. In our case, we had two that were rejected.

Creditor #1: Wanted a slightly higher payment each month. A second proposal was sent with the requested monthly payment and was accepted.

Creditor #2: Our balance was part of a promotional interest rate program. We had to call the creditor and formally request to end the promotional program. Once we did this, the proposal was resubmitted and accepted.

While this was very stressful at the time, I learned over time while talking with and reading about others beginning their program that this was just part of the process.

Who Should Consider a DMP?

Our DMP has been a financial lifesaver for our family, but it isn’t for everyone.  DMPs are well suited for people that are current with their accounts, but are in danger of falling behind and just aren’t making significant progress on paying down their debt.  In a lot of cases (such as ours), enrolling in a DMP will not reduce your monthly payment, but will increase the amount you are paying on your balances due to the reduction in interest rates.  That doesn’t mean, however, that if you’re behind on your bills that a DMP won’t work for you, as sometimes the reduction in interest may make the payment manageable.  Every situation has to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Couldn’t We Have Done This On Our Own?

Many people do just that. They cut their expenses, raise their income, or both and attack their debt one account at a time. It takes discipline and self motivation, and a lot of it. We tried many, many times to do it ourselves, but just couldn’t do it. I like to think of my debt relief provider as my “financial personal trainer.” The bill I pay to them each month provides the structure I need to make consistent headway towards eliminating my debt, and they provide the tools I need to make new financial habits stick – such as budgeting tools, money saving tips, and constant motivation through their online community.

Where Are We Now?

When Vonnie and I make our 38th payment to our DMP this month, we will have eliminated nearly $70K of our debt. It is estimated that we have 19 payments remaining until all of our debt enrolled in the program is paid in full.

My purpose for writing this article is not to try to convince everyone in debt to rush out and enroll in a DMP. As I mentioned, a DMP is not the right choice for everyone, although it was the right choice for me.

The point is that if you’re in debt and trying to find a way out, you have options. A debt management program is simply one of those options. Having options can build hope, and when you’re staring at a stack of bills wondering if it’s ever going to get any better, a little hope can mean everything.

About Travis

28 Responses to “How Am I Paying Off $109,000 of Credit Card Debt?”

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  1. Andrea says:

    Great post! Perhaps I should suggest this to one of my siblings, she just doesn’t have the discipline to get ahead even though she wants to. You and vonnie have done AWESOME!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Andrea, while it’s been a long road, and we still have a ways to go, we’ve learned so much. We’re going to come out the other end of this better and stronger not only financially, but with a better life perspective and stronger marriage.

  2. First of all, congrats on the 70K, that’s huge !! And thanks for the info– I was not sure how debt relief programs worked, it’s good to see that if needed you can negotiate with your creditors.

    • Travis says:

      Thank you very much, Gillian! I’d like to just re-iterate that in a DMP it’s not the customer that is doing the negotiating…this sort of process works only through a debt relief company. Although you can try to bargain with your creditors to get a lower interest rate, the success rate may not be as good, and people may not have the motivation or self-discipline to pay the amount needed each month to eliminate the whole balance in 3-5 years.

  3. Ash says:

    Repaying $70,000 is a big achievement and must have required a lot of discipline. Well done. DMP’s or other debt resolution methods can help people feel positive about their future and that can only be a good thing.

    • Travis says:

      It has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get this far, Ash – but we’re still learning and getting better at handling our finances too. Debt can indeed be overwhelming, and sometimes debt relief programs can provide the glimmer of hope that things can get better. They’re not always the right answer, but I believe there is a large number of people that could be helped by them, but just simply don’t know what they’re options are. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Kathy says:

    Three reasons why I went with a DMP was 1) really liked the idea of making ONE monthly payment and having that ONE payment pay ALL my credit cards, 2) I REALLY wanted to lower my interest rates & I didn’t want to have to ‘fight’ with the credit card companies to get it done…I had too much stress in my life already and 3) my debt was giving me sleepless nights (even though I kept up my payments and wasn’t late on any).

    Yes, there’s a monthly fee with the DMP company acting on your behalf….however, I gladly pay it for the peace of mind that everything is paid on time & in the amount that the credit card companies agreed to.

    I had a two month preiod when I first signed up for DMP where one of my c.c. co’s wouldn’t accept the amount the DMP requested. That in turn put me behind a month (and I was never late!). So, I (over) paid another month’s payment & was still getting calls the next month even after they agreed to the payment schedule & amount. Talk about a nightmare! I was getting about 3-5 calls EVERY SINGLE DAY and it was very disturbing not only to me but to my family as well. I would explain & explain every day that I’ve signed up for a DMP & they’re records are incorrect; that their company has AGREED to my DMP. They would argue & tell me I’m wrong. I would have to basically hang up on those nasty people.

    Finally, I called THEM one day, got on the phone and didn’t get off until I spoke to a manager, explained everything, faxed him copies of everything & he updated/corrected my account. Can I just say that it just goes to show that the right had doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Not that I’d name the co, but, what’s in your wallet?

    My repayment schedule estimates 25 more payments and I’ve just increased the amount of one c.c. on the schedule to double because (JCP) apparently wouldn’t lower the APR & I just realized it’s 23.99%!! Unbelievable! I was paperless statements and for some obscure reason, I decided to look over all of my statements and came across that gem. So, here’s hoping that that baby will be paid off within a few more months & I can snowball the payment onto another c.c..

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kathy! Your story makes clear a point that I neglected to make in my post – and that is that debt relief programs are NOT just “sign up and let the debt relief company do the rest.” To give yourself the best chance at success, customers have to be an active participant in getting things all setup and rolling, and it’s imperative that we check our monthly statements every month to ensure all is going smoothly.

      We have a JCP card as well…and while they also didn’t officially lower our interest rate, they provide an “interest rebate” on each statement which, well, effectively lowers the interest rate. Do you see such a “rebate” on your statements? If not, you may want to call JCP and find out if they got your proposal and would be willing to extend you such benefits as you’ve heard of others (me) that get an interest rebate while on a DMP..

      Great to hear from you again, Kathy!

  5. Dany says:

    the DMP program, you mentioned the creditor will close the accounts? Does this mean your credit will take a big hit for the worse? Is it only for credit cards or other type of loans like car? Thanks

    • Travis says:

      Great questions, Dany! It’s hard to say with any certainty what will happen to your credit score as a result of enrolling in a DMP as there’s so much that goes into calculating your credit score….so I can only tell you what happened to mine. The enrollment did cause my credit score to go down a little initially. but as we’ve made consistent payments my credit score has risen slowly over the last 3 years. It is currently just a shade above 700. You can check your Transunion score for free at anytime at You have to create an account (FREE), but there are absolutely NO other hidden fees. they have other services you can sign up for (and pay), but just to create an account and look at your credit score is absolutely free.

      I would like to mention that while I do check my credit score, I don’t really care much what it is. My focus right now is paying off my debt and becoming financially stable. I figure if I get my finances in order, and pay off my mountain of debt, my credit score will take care of itself.

      Only unsecured lines of credit can be enrolled in a DMP, so car loans would not be eligible.

      Hope this helps……if you have additional questions, please feel free to post them here as I’m sure others would benefit from the interaction. If you’d rather, you could also send me an email at

  6. There’s a section in my book where I talk about DMP and who it’s for. So to see it here on your blog is awesome. You are right on dot about them. I had a friend who was current on all debt (they were all credit card and store card debt) but wasn’t making significant progress and wasn’t splurging any money…not even a tiny bit. DMP worked out great for my friend with all debt paid off. I was so proud!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for sharing, Ornella! I said it in a previous comment, but I’ll say it again……I really believe there are many people that could be helped by a DMP, but simply don’t know it’s an option. Before we hit our financial crisis, I had no idea what a DMP was – but I’m SO glad I found my debt relief provider and started my journey to get rid of my credit card debt!

  7. Congratulations on making a plan and paying off so much debt already. It must feel great to see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m guessing you don’t want to ever apply for credit cards again, but does a DMP lower your credit score?

    • Travis says:

      Thanks, Kim….it does feel great to watch the number of payments left on our program to be steadily decreasing! You’re absolutely right – I have ZERO desire to apply for another credit card. We are now starting to again get credit card offers in the mail (really???) and I just rip them in half and throw them in the trash. It’s difficult to say with any certainty what enrolling in a DMP will do to your credit score since that calculation is so complex and so many things go into a credit score. But, in my experience (and what I’ve read about others who enroll in a DMP), enrolling in a DMP does cause an initial decline of your credit score, but over time as consistent payments are made the score begins to climb again. But as mentioned in a previous comment, I don’t much care at the moment what my credit score is… focus is paying off my debt. I figure if I pay off my credit card debt, and get my finances under control my credit score will take care of itself. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  8. Thanks for the explanation and for not cramming it down my throat. I see this could be an option for those who try it on their own first and are not successful.

    I think a follow up post on how to find a reputable Debt Management Program would be helpful since there are varying levels of professionalism, fees, and success rates in the DMP industry.

  9. Kris says:

    Awesome! If that’s what it takes, then it’s a good idea. Some people talk about DMP’s like they are the enemy, but it really can be a sensible option. And BTW, there’s nothing wrong with debt settlement either, if used properly. The problem is that people think of it as an easy way out, but it’s just one option for certain situations. It saved my financial like at a very trying time. Keep up the progress!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Kris! You’re right…..there’s such a stigma attached with being in debt and debt relief programs. The fact is, people deserve to get out from underneath financial problems, and sometimes help is needed. I do believe that one should look at the options and take the right option for them. Sometimes it’s paying down the debt on their own, sometimes it’s a DMP, DSP or even bankruptcy. People also have to look at the behaviors that got them there…sometimes its by nothing they have control over (medical emergency), but in many cases (like mine), lifestyle changes and significant behavioral changes are necessary as well.

      I’m very glad to hear that a DSP program was able to help you out and get your back on your feet….I read about people in settlement programs often, and know it is a very trying course to take!

  10. Congratulations! Paying off more than half of your credit card debt halfway through the program is a great achievement. I bet you will be able to completely pay it off before the program ends.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Cherleen, I certainly appreciate your support! I assume your comment is based on my “partner tweet” to the article in yahoo finance. I should mention that article was from a few months ago when I had hit the halfway point. We’re right on track to complete the program when they said we would (well, I guess 2 months early) – but we’re still very much thrilled with our progress!

  11. Mike says:

    This is a huge accomplishment and you should be proud that you’ve done it! We’re blogging our own bit of debt elimination and I can’t wait for that magic day that we’re debt free! Well done!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Mike! I wish you nothing but success in getting rid of your debt…..heading over to check out your blog and follow you on twitter now!

  12. sewingirl says:

    We got into a DMP some years ago, as part of an arbitrated payment agreement with a hospital for a six figure medical bill, we had no insurance. The DMP program was a lifesaver. No more daily calls from medical offices, and then debt collection agencies. The DMP set the payment as low as possible, they hoped that the hospital would see that we were making a good faith effort, and that the bill was like 15 times our yearly income! After we had paid for about 7 years, the hospital was bought out by another health system, and they fogave the balance of our debt. I would recommend a DMP to everyone!

    • Travis says:

      I’m so glad that you shared your story, sewingirl! Many people do not know that medical debt can very often be negotiated (or willing to be forgiven after some time). It’s great to hear from someone that has been successful using a DMP!

  13. Slackerjo says:

    It’s great that debt is being paid off but I am having a hard time getting my head 109K in credit card debt. Is there a link to THAT story?

    • Travis says:

      Here’s a link to my very first blog post:

      The things it talks about spending money on are insignificant compared to the mountain it began. Essentially it was 13 years of buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted (including high priced items like vacations to Mexico and a hot tub). A major expense for us was hosting dinner parties every weekend where we would supply all the food and all the drinks. When the money ran out, I just supplemented our income with credit cards. It’s hard even now to grasp just how much it all added up to when we were finally forced to deal with it.

  14. Greg Meyer says:

    it can be done without a DMP. As you said, it takes a lot of discipline. The one area I have seen folks have trouble is not using debt while paying off debt. Debt becomes an addiction; once we use it, it’s hard to stop. Personally debt management programs get shot out of the water when one of the spouses decides to continue using debt financing while paying the debt. Cut up the credit cards, hide them, or lock them up. Do what it takes to avoid adding to debt you are trying to eliminate. Don’t let that debt addiction ruin your chances at a clean credit report!

    • Travis says:

      I agree with you 100%, Greg. We’ve come a long way since starting, but we have used a credit line from time to time even while on the program. Every time we do it lengthens the time it takes for us to rid ourselves of that debt……we’ll get there through. Thanks for your comment, Greg!

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