How I’ve been paying off $10,000+ in credit card debt since my early 20s

Trying to figure out your adult life after college is difficult. It’s especially complicated if you have credit card debt. a little more than three-quarters of university students have credit cardsand of those, 27% have a balance over $2,000, according to a 2022 survey by US News and World Report. Debt doesn’t always come from international adventures, clubbing, or endless online shopping sprees. Instead, it may come from bridging salary gaps, covering unexpected expenses, or trying to live in an increasingly expensive world.

Brittney Carroll got her first credit card in college, but it wasn’t until after graduation that her spending skyrocketed, racking up more than five figures in debt on three cards. Now 28 and pursuing an acting career in New York, Carroll has spent the past year recounting how she paid it back. debt on TikTok. Here, she told Elite Daily how she increased her balance – and then how she mastered it.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I grew up as one of four kids in Montgomery, Alabama, and my mom always had multiple jobs. I was very money conscious, and I was pretty good at it too. That’s why I decided to live at home during my university studies while I majored in theater performance. I knew I would have student loans, but I knew those loans would be even bigger if I had lived in school. I had a credit card in college, but I was good at it. I would use it if I needed it and always pay it back at the end of the billing cycle.

But then graduation came, and there was so much expense just to graduate. I had to pay for my bonnet and my dress; I had to pay to receive my diploma. All that expense just to finish school ended up costing almost $1,000. I knew how to budget, so I was able to pay it back. After graduating, I played musical theater roles all over the country, and even saved up enough to have money to hang out with friends. But then, six months after graduation, I had to start paying off my student loans. I was only making about $300 a week, and they were charging me $300 a month. I was able to take part-time jobs to pay off my student loans, but the uncertainty of when I would receive my income, coupled with trying to get my acting career off the ground, was a struggle. I knew something had to change and realized it might be a good idea to find a more permanent day job in one place rather than traveling from gig to gig.

Every time I was close to maxing out my card, the credit companies would raise my limit.

I took jobs in social media management and moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Moving costs are added; it was about $1,000 to move and furnish my apartment. From then on, I couldn’t track my credit cards. I would pay the minimum, but I would also use my credit card every month. It wasn’t irresponsible: I paid for things like gas and groceries. And I really needed to rely on my credit cards when I had to quit a job in April 2021.

It was my first time quitting a job, but the workplace was so toxic that I had to leave. For a few months, I threw myself into odd jobs until the summer, when I landed a more permanent position. The money was good, but I was still only paying the minimum on my credit cards and car loan. Even with monthly payments, I was barely making a dent in my balances. The following summer, when my lease ended, I sat down and watched where my money was going. I realized: I had $11,000 in credit card debt on three cards. On top of my student debt and car loan, I realized I had racked up $50,000 in debt by age 26 – not really realizing it was happening.

Every time I was close to maxing out my card, the credit companies would raise my limit. For me, it was predatory. I had not applied. I hadn’t asked. And when you live off your cards, it’s hard not to spend up to the limit. Because I paid my minimum payments, my credit rating was good, but I knew I would never move forward unless I did something drastic.

One of my goals has always been to move to New York and pursue a career in musical theatre. I faced a hard truth: I couldn’t move with this amount of debt. So I put myself on a six month plan. I moved in with my parents and started putting all the money I paid in rent towards my credit card debt. I also worked with a credit union and got a personal loan to consolidate my debt. This accomplished two things: I would have a lower interest rate on my debt than on my cards, and I wouldn’t have to worry about my interest rates going up, as I knew on my credit card. My loan terms called for a monthly payment of $200 over a five-year period, but I tried to put at least $500 a month into my loan. I also sold my car and was able to use the money from the sale to help pay off my balance as well.

I haven’t fully repaid my loan after those six months. But I reached my savings goal of $4,000 and felt comfortable enough with my loan repayment plan to move to New York. In January 2023, I still have just over $4,000 left to repay on the personal loan. I also wanted to save some money for my move, and I had a few unforeseen medical expenses that threw me off my plan a bit. But I’m on the right track and I feel good. I still have five figures of student loan debt, and to be honest, I feel like I could pay that off forever. But paying off my consumer debt has given me some peace of mind.

If people are in debt, I would say: Consider a personal loan and see how it could save you money.

I also think it’s important to sit down and see what all of your balances are — not just on your credit cards, but on all of your loans, including your student loans. The number can be really scary, but when you see it, you can do something about it. For me, I knew the total was holding me back from my goal, which was a career in New York. You need that one thing that’s more important than going out or living alone or whatever your credit card lets you do. It is important to have something to work on.

Finally, it is shameful and embarrassing to admit to being in debt. But it’s not. And that’s why I wanted to go public with my debt on TikTok. At first I thought, Let me record videos and share them when my debt runs out so the story would be “I can do this and you can too.” But I wanted people to see me in the middle. I want to try to help people in the process. It’s vulnerable, but it’s real.

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