A soup-kitchen type of sacrifice
Molly Stillman's battle with credit card debt started when she was in college. She put school expenses such as books, food and extracurricular activities on her credit card. The charging habit followed her after graduation when she moved to Virginia as a first-year teacher. She signed up for four store credit cards and another card through her vet to pay for her cat's medical treatment.
"I look at credit cards in a very different light now," says Molly Stillman.
"They were handing out credit cards like packages of gum," Stillman, 27, says. "They make it so easy."
At the end of her first year of teaching, Stillman realized she couldn't pay her bills. She had racked up $36,000 in debt on six credit cards. The card with the biggest balance required a $600 minimum payment, a payment she couldn't make. She called her issuer, which referred her to a credit counseling agency.
Two hours later, a counselor with a thick New Jersey accent had contacted all of Stillman's creditors and worked out a payment plan. She also shared with Stillman a very sobering reality: If she only paid the minimum payment, it would take 45 years to pay off her debt. The counselor's plan would take only five years. Stillman committed herself to it.
The plan meant she had to pay $800 to her creditors every month. After paying her debt and rent, Stillman had only $100 left over for the rest of her expenses, including food and gas. That meant major sacrifices.
"It's humbling to stand in line at a soup kitchen and wait among people who are homeless for food," she says. "And I didn't tell anybody. When I went places to get free or discounted food, I would bring grocery bags, so my roommates would think I went grocery shopping."