5 Extreme Ways People Paid Off Their Credit Card Debts

Merchant Marines
Merchant Marines

We've all heard of the usual ways people try to save or generate more money to pay off their debts: cutting out the daily latte, brown-bagging lunch, getting a weekend job, or starting a side business selling clothing, toys, or beauty products.

But some people go to extremes to find ways to accelerate their debt payments and get rid of the IOUs once and for all.

We asked credit counselors across the country to share some of the more dramatic approaches their clients have used to get out of debt.

Join the Merchant Marine. Bruce McClary, currently director of media relations for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Seattle, worked with a client in Hampton, Va., who was determined to pay off $25,000 in credit card debt. Her delinquency on one account led to a domino effect that sent her interest rates on several cards spiraling up to 36 percent.

Her solution? Eliminate rent and utility payments altogether -- by joining the Merchant Marine as a crew member on a container ship. She started a debt management program and had payments automatically applied toward her card balances while was at sea. After a few months, she even increased the size of her payments and was able to repay her entire debt in two years.

"She admitted that life at sea was not easy and that there were times she questioned her choice," says McClary. "The container ships were very large and staffed with very few people. It was a challenge to stay entertained and occupied between work shifts. She read a lot of books and spent a lot of time writing letters since there wasn't any Internet access on the ship."

Move into a shed. Erin Chapman, a housing counselor in Atlanta with CredAbility, is working with a client who got divorced, lost his job briefly due to a disability, and had refinanced into an interest-only loan in 2007. He's managed to keep up with his mortgage payments, but has fallen behind on his credit cards. Now he's hoping for a mortgage loan modification so that he can get back on track financially and then begin to pay off $23,000 in credit card debt.

"He has rented out both sides of his large [duplex] home and moved out into a shed at the back of his property in order to make ends meet," says Chapman. "He doesn't even turn on the heater in order to save expenses. He plans to get a roommate for one of the sides of the home and have his son move into the shed, since it would be easier on his health."

Become an eBay black belt. While many people sell items on eBay, not all of them are as resourceful as one client who went to the Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Central Oklahoma in Bethany, Okla., and was put on a debt management plan to pay off about $30,000 in debt over four years.

The woman began to send in extra money -- on a frequent basis -- to pay off her debt. Turns out she was earning that extra money through eBay.

"She told me that she found a way to inexpensively buy basic items like cookware and underwear, and was able to sell them on eBay to people who lived in really rural, remote areas," says Cristy Cash, director of counseling with CCCS of Central Oklahoma. "She said most of her clients had P.O. boxes in places like Alaska and Canada. She was doing so well that she paid off her debt in full in two years instead of four."

Sign up for active duty. A woman who was in the Air Force Reserves for 33 years entered a debt management program with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Greater San Antonio to pay off $53,000 in credit card debt. But her reasons for doing it were bigger than financial concerns: Her fiance had told her he wouldn't marry her until she paid off her debts.

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"Her motivation was that she wanted to get married, so when she went on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she used her sign-on bonus and saved the rest of her income from the deployment to pay off the remaining debt on her plan," says Cynthia Hazel, marketing director of CCCS of Greater San Antonio. "She paid a total of $9,435 in two months so that she could become debt-free."

She and her fiance were married on Nov. 11, 2011. She retired from the Air Force last year, owns a flower shop, and is still debt-free.

Sell a prized possession. Another credit counseling client in Oklahoma was on a debt management plan and owned a guitar that she believed was valuable. She still had $20,000 in debt hanging over her head and was eager to pay it off, says Bob Cook, a credit counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Central Oklahoma. She took the guitar to a music shop and discovered that it was indeed very valuable. She sold it for $20,000, and paid her debt off in full.

What's your most creative idea for boosting your income to pay off debt?

Michelle Lerner is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.

Photo Credit: The United States Merchant Marines