World-Traveling Single Mom Paid Off 19.5K in Debt in 12 Months

For one traveling mom, jet setting made it easy to rack up thousands of dollars of debt. In a twist, her frequent traveling also helped her tackle her debt, cut her spending and get her finances back on track. In the past two years, she’s paid off over $19,000 in debt, boosted her credit score and even built an emergency fund. How’d she do it?Mostly by reforming her attitude towards personal finance, taking advantage of Credit Sesame’s free credit-monitoring options and rolling up her sleeves to get to work. Here’s the details of Sophia’s financial life, starting with her journey into financial trouble and ending with her the simple steps she took to conquer her unpaid debt.

mother daughter walking together hand in hand

Dany Nix, 6, and her mother Sophia go for a walk in a corn field in rural US. Sophia has been using Credit Sesame since February 2016, and the credit monitoring site has helped her raise her credit score from 527 to 675. Sarah Wellington/Define Personal Finance

The Beginning of Sophia’s Debt

The start of Sophia’s story is pretty common. It might even sound like your personal finance journey. Sophia went to college, earned a degree in speech therapy and racked up student loan debt. She didn’t pay attention to how much she borrowed for her degree, and she didn’t care. Speech therapy was a good field in the healthcare industry, and everyone knows you have to spend money to make money. Student loans are more of an investment in yourself than real debt, right?

After graduation, Sophia had a child. She loved her daughter, Dany, more than anything in the world, but as a single, working mother, her entire paycheck was going to rent and childcare payments. She started putting groceries and bills on her credit card. In the back of her mind, she knew this wasn’t the best plan, but she had to put food on the table for herself and her child.

Eventually, she got tired of her mounting debt and the mounting headaches that came with it. She was living in dread of the nasty letters in the mail and the intrusive phone calls.

Here’s where Sophia’s story gets inspiring. She didn’t give up, and she didn’t wait for things to get better. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves, picked up a second job and cut down her expenses. She moved into subsidized housing with her daughter. She came up with a great system for money management: One of her paychecks went straight to paying off her debt. The other went to living expenses.

Within six months, she’d paid off more than $12,000 of debt. She was debt-free for the first time in her adult life. It felt amazing, but like many personal finance transformations, it didn’t last.

mother playing with baby in park

Sophia Nix plays with her daughter, Dany, in a park near there home. Since signing up for Credit Sesame, Sophia has paid off nearly $19,500 of debt. Sarah Wellington/Define Personal Finance

A Relapse

Sophia spent the next several years embracing her jetsetting ways. She worked in different countries and loved the fun lifestyle. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, the fun came with some financial missteps.

First, she started charging things to her credit card. Sure, it was an outfit here and a night out there, but it added up quickly, especially because Sophia didn’t always pay the balance in full every month.

Second, she ended up in Thailand for two years. She embraced the beaches and Buddhist temples and let her debt slip to the back of her mind. It was hard to transfer money from Asia to American credit card companies. Plus, she loved her job and the country so much she wasn’t sure she’d ever return to the United States.

Sophia admits it was a mistake to ignore her personal finances for so long, but it’s a mistake she’s learned from. When she finally did return to the U.S., set up a budget, she buckled down, and started paid off her bills — but this time, she’d accumulated $19,500, far more than she’d racked up the first time.

mother kiss baby on beach

Sophia and Danny Nix spending time together in Thailand. Sophia uses Credit Sesame to check her credit score three to four times a week and her credit report card once a month.

Assessing The Situation

After the first period of her life, when she’d worked six days a week and dodged collection calls from credit agencies, Sophia already knew how much hard work it takes to tackle debt. She decided to work smarter, not harder, to pay off the almost $20,000 she’d racked up overseas.

Plus, now she and Dany were living in Hawaii. She wanted to enjoy the surf, not spend six days a week in the office. Even though she loved her patients, she also loved her daughter, and she wanted a healthy work-life balance. Sophia knew she couldn’t get that if she used her same approach to pay down debt this time.

The first thing she did was sign up for Credit Sesame, a credit-monitoring online service. This let her see two things: every debt she owed and just how low her credit score had sunk.

Sophia remembers how embarrassed she felt when she saw her credit score. She was a working professional trying to set a good example for her daughter, and she didn’t even have her finances in place. Her credit score of 527 put her in the bottom 25 percent of all consumers. She didn’t want to be in the bottom. That gave her the motivation to get serious — and stay serious — about living a debt-free lifestyle.

She also took advantage of Collection Shield 360, a free service that helped her limit the ways debt collectors could contact her. In the United States, the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act lays out specific rules that debt collectors must follow. However, many companies ignore these laws, and many consumers don’t know about them. Collection Shield 360 helped Sophia learn about her rights and how to enforce them. She was even able to get rid of an old utilities bill because the debt collection firm that bought the debt violated the law by contacting her too frequently.

long pier on beach

Sophia was thousands of dollars in debt when she started using Credit Sesame.

Snowball Method

With Credit Sesame, Sophia was able to see an easy-to-understand list of every debt she owed, the amount of the debt and who owned the account. She used the classic snowball method to get to work. This system, developed by financial guru Dave Ramsey, involves paying off debts starting with the smallest balance first. This gives you a psychological boost as you can easily pay off your first few loans before working on bigger balances.

Credit Sesame also helped Sophia learn more about how credit scores are calculated. The service explains each factor that determines a credit score, including how important the score is. This let Sophia concentrate on the most important parts of her score first.

It also let her keep updated on her score. When she applied for three new credit cards and saw how her score dipped because more credit inquiries were added to her account, she stopped applying for new cards.

Of course, there are many reasons to apply for new credit cards, and oftentimes the small dip in credit score is worth the benefits of a new card. In Sophia’s case, she didn’t want to lose any of the points she’d worked so hard to add to her credit score. Because of the credit monitoring features she was using, she was able to understand how her actions had affected her score and make an informed decision about what to do next.

Permanent Changes

Today, Sophia pays $15.95 to check her credit score as often as she wants through Credit Sesame. She says the fee is worth it because she loves seeing her score. She checks it several times a week, and seeing how much she’s improved helps her stay on track. She never wants to be back in the bottom 25 percent of consumers again.

woman-posing-beach

Now debt free, Sophia lives in Hawaii with her daughter Dany, thanks to Credit Sesame’s credit monitoring service.

It took her about 12 months to pay off the $19,500 she owed, but this time, she wasn’t working two jobs. She wasn’t out of the house six days a week while her daughter sat in daycare. Sophia’s smart approach — and the tools she used — let her keep working a regular job in speech therapy. Instead of working herself to the bone, she used her brain.

Thanks to her careful tactics, her credit score has jumped over 100 points. It hovers around 675, putting Sophia well out of the bottom range. She’s planning to relocate yet again, but this time for good.

Sophia wants to move back to the continental United States. She’s not exactly sure where — as a licensed speech therapist, she can find work anywhere she goes. The important thing for her is the real estate market. That’s right; this traveling mom is ready to own a home! Thanks to the hard work she’s done over the past year, she’ll be able to qualify for a mortgage and provide some stability to Dany.

Sophia is so happy she put in the work to get to a good financial place. By using Collection Shield 360 and Credit Sesame, she built the future she wanted for herself and her daughter. This time, it’s for good.

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