Gwinnett couple conquers $83,000 of credit card debt

This is a good-news column about conquering debt, brought to you by Courtney and Michael Wacker of Lawrenceville.

Courtney and Michael Wacker (Photo by Robin Henson)

Courtney and Michael Wacker (Photo by Robin Henson)

Buried in a credit card hole and staring at financial disaster, the Wackers managed to whack about $83,000 in principal and interest in a little over five years.

How they got into the mess — fairly typical — and how they climbed out — determination and good advice — can be an example for consumers facing similar messes.

“We had so many cards full of so much stuff that we started just paying the minimum. That was the big trap,” said Courtney Wacker, a 46-year-old former teacher who works in educational testing.

It wasn’t the house or car payments that got the Wackers in trouble. It wasn’t the two kids. It was the plastic.

“You charge it,” Courtney Wacker said. “It’s the American way. I’m going to pay it off later.” Only “later” didn’t come until after the mountain of debt was about to crush them. As their credit scores kept falling, the interest rates on the nine credit cards shot up to as high as 32 percent. By paying the minimum each month, the Wackers were looking at about 30 years to get out from under the load.

Since they didn’t want to be in their 70s before the cards were paid off and since they were opposed to filing for bankruptcy, the Wackers sought help from CredAbility, the nonprofit group formerly known as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta.

First, the nine cards were cut up. Then, a CredAbility counselor went through their budget, put them on a debt management plan and contacted their creditors. The counselor was able to negotiate a critical change — the interest rate on the debt was cut to 3 percent from 32 percent.

“That’s what saved us,” Courtney Wacker said.

Each month, the Wackers paid a figure they’ll never forget — $1,456, which included a $50 monthly fee to CredAbility.

To hit that monthly target, they had to completely change their spending habits. No impulse buys. No meals out. No vacations, other than driving to see family or friends. No expensive Christmas or birthday gifts. Handmade gifts instead.

“We had to adjust to strictly cash, even to pay for gas and food,” said Michael Wacker, a Georgia Power maintenance specialist. “Once that first year got by, we were OK.”

Did it affect your relationship, which began back in high school?

“You have to be able to work together,” Michael Wacker, 46, said. “You have to be patient with each other.”

They had to establish priorities, which were essentially living expenses, plus one other thing — continuing to pay for the kids’ competitive swimming activities. Everything else was eliminated.

As their debt was being retired, their credit scores steadily rose to 750 from the 500 neighborhood. Now, with all of it paid off, the Wackers still plan all of their spending, and pay with cash. They literally have a written, five-year plan detailing how they’re going to tackle many home-improvement projects they plan to do themselves.

Any advice for others?

“If you can’t pay for it, you can’t get it,” Courtney Wacker said. “If you fall into the credit-card trap, don’t wait long to get help.”

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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122 comments Add your comment

Paul Westbrook

April 26th, 2011
7:20 am

Enter your comments here

Michael

April 26th, 2011
7:23 am

Who needs a credit score if you’re going to pay cash? Oh, for emergencies — the scam banks cell to homeowners just like the emergencies the cell phone companies sold to parents so they would pay for expensive phone plans for teenagers. Capitalism is a life long fight against slavery. You think you are free but you are driving to work this morning to a miserable job to get money to pay the bank. Let’s just call it indentured servitude but with a subdivision house and a Chevy Tahoe.

me

April 26th, 2011
7:24 am

Enter your comments here

Time to wise up

April 26th, 2011
7:26 am

Hey government. You cannot spend your way out of debt.

Lizzy

April 26th, 2011
7:33 am

We adopted a policy a long time ago. Before buying something, you ask “Is it a want or a need?” If a need, you got it.If a want, it stayed on the shelf.

jw

April 26th, 2011
7:40 am

Someone needs to remove Michael’s post – this is a good story and great job getting out of that mountain of debt. All of us get caught up in the “trap” – it takes a lot of guts to face it head on and do something about it! Good job and good luck!

me too

April 26th, 2011
7:56 am

Truly inspiring. My family is going through a similar situation and we have also been on a “cash only” basis for about a year now. We still have our credit cards, but they don’t get used….and one day down the road when they’re all paid off, I think we’ll plan a credit card burning party…paid for in cash of course.

sharon

April 26th, 2011
8:06 am

Over and over I’ve heard that you don’t cut up your credit cards because your credit score will drop drastically. So, do you cut them up or not?

No More

April 26th, 2011
8:11 am

My spouse and I paid off $48K in credit card debt through CredAbility in early 2009. We were also able to pay off 2 cars early this year. Now the only debts we have are for monthly utilities and car insurance.

Art

April 26th, 2011
8:17 am

Great job! It would have been real easy to declare bankruptcy and go on the government dole… You’ve got to respect someone who owns up to their “mistakes” and makes things right. “Sharon” cutting up credit cards is different from closing the account; that’s what causes your credit score to drop. Keep your account open… use the card just once a year or so and your credit score will stay up.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
8:20 am

@sharon, you cut them up, just don’t close the accounts. I’ve done that and it’s worked for me. I am slowly but surely climbing out of credit card debt. I don’t have a tremendous amount of CC debt, so it’s been easier for me. I can’t imagine having $83K in CC debt. I applaud them. It gives me hope that by the end of this year I will be CC debt free!!!!

Michael

April 26th, 2011
8:27 am

Actually Art, if you file Chapter 7bankruptcy you pay 0%, it’s done in 4 months and you DO NOT go on the government dole. The banks want you to think that about yourself and your neighbors.

If you file Chapter 13 you pay 0 to 100% of the debt at 0% interest for 36 to 60 months. But you are still a slave to your credit score. In both Chapters you can walk away from that $100,000 house with the $200,000 mortgage.

cs

April 26th, 2011
8:37 am

Credit cards will, if you let them, take all your money from you. If you pay off the balance every month, they are YOUR slave. You get 30 day interest free loans. Credit cards companies call the people who pay their balance every month “freeloaders”. That one comment from them tells you what they want to do. Just like the oil companies that make $40 billion in profits every 3 months and then ask the Federal gov’t for more “help” because they can’t “afford” to drill offshore or to build a refinery (which they still have not built) to make more gas. Since Ronald Reagan, American business has become a monster that takes everything and gives little or nothing. Wake up America!! Get rid of your debt, get a job that actually does something (electrician, construction, plumber for example) and spend more time with family, not the TV and video games. It is your choice.

Cletus

April 26th, 2011
8:46 am

First sign of trouble: NINE credit cards!

JL

April 26th, 2011
8:59 am

It works, We are about 9 months away ! What a relief already..

Ntuj

April 26th, 2011
9:06 am

My wife and I have 8 credit cards(Amazon, Chase(2), PayPal, Wachovia, American Express(2), Master Card) plus JC Penny, Norstrom, Sears, Macy’s, Lowes, Home Depot, Khols and ZERO balance on all of them. ($102,000 income) WTF is wrong with you people? We use CC only if we know we can pay the balance off in no more than TWO(2) months. What about a $600 washer? BUY only when you have 6 months of free interest.

Elliot Garcia

April 26th, 2011
9:09 am

If only Obama would read this article……

Amazing

April 26th, 2011
9:30 am

To Elliot,

Your comment should say if only Democrats and Republicans would read this article. It is interesting how Republicans forget the bloated spending that began under the previous administration.

Cynthia

April 26th, 2011
9:33 am

I applaud this couple for digging their way out of this much debt. Their determination paid off and I’m glad they are using cash which in my eyes is King.

What ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 26th, 2011
9:35 am

Obama only cares about distroying the American way and our economic system. Thats his plan. No president could be this stupid to put this distruction in play by accident. Come one. Obama will not read your article.

Elliot Garcia

April 26th, 2011
9:36 am

Yes, Amazing, it began under the previous administration and has gone “buck wild” with this administration…..So what are you going to do about it??? Obama threw gasoline on that fire…..

What ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 26th, 2011
9:37 am

@Amazing,,,, your comments are funny as the bloated spending under the last President was done by a totally democratic controlled house and senate.

Gerald

April 26th, 2011
9:55 am

Great victory for them, only one can negotiate this deal themselves dorectly with their creditors. Then establish a “Debt Stacking Plan” (smallest to largest based on set amount you are able to pay) to get rid of the debt for good. That $50 monthly fee could have gone to reduce the debt as well. Take control and bypass the middleman!

Kat

April 26th, 2011
10:10 am

@Gerald: Obviously, this couple felt that they needed the extra help. If $50 a month gets them to the right place, then so be it. Also, you can absolutely negotiate with creditors to lower your interest rate. But, a drop from 32% to 3%? Wow! I can guarantee that they NEVER would have gotten that low of a rate on their own. Maybe down to 20% or even 18% where most rates start these days.

@Ntuj: I’m not sure you realize that your statement comes across as smug? Why not only use one card, such as a Visa or AmEx rather than carrying around all of this little store-specific cards? And, if you make more than $100k, then you should carry a balance at all – even over two months.

Way to go to the couple in this article!!!

mojo

April 26th, 2011
10:13 am

Please don’t say charging it is the American way(as stated in the article)…there are many of us that go without the “nicer” things just so we can pay for it in cash!

Shaft

April 26th, 2011
10:15 am

Declaring bankruptcy doesn’t allow you to easily “go on the government dole” like it used to before the reforms.

I filed Chapter 13 in 2005 with $75,000 in debt – my bankrupcy was discharged in November 2010 (yippee) – I paid EVERY penny of the debt that I owed.

I wasn’t eligible for Chapter 7 since I have a good income – those days of just filing and not paying anything are over. I tried CredAbility – it just didn’t work for me.

However, congratulations to the couple in the article – I know first hand how good it feels.

teacher

April 26th, 2011
10:15 am

It does take discipline, but you can get yourself out without having to wimp out and declare bankruptcy or abandon your house. Man up people!

Savvy

April 26th, 2011
10:42 am

Congrats to the Wackers!! So sorry this great article about you, turned into politcal fodder.

Tennis Player

April 26th, 2011
10:54 am

First, to Courtney and Michael Wacker, GREAT JOB!!! It is a great feeling to be cash only.

To all those that feel a credit score is important…think about this, what is a credit score used for….CREDIT. Move to a cash system, and that credit score is less and less important. Also, if you have 20 percent down on a house…banks will be less concerned about your “credit score”…same goes for a car.

Mishap

April 26th, 2011
11:01 am

@Tennis Player,
Banks still care about your score regardless if you have 20% down. I brought 30%+ for my car and it still took a little hunting and walking out on gouging dealers to get a good interest rate. When it came to my house, I brought 20% down, ~9% debt load w/ the aforementioned car, and a mortgage less than 2X my annual gross(for a regular W2 job I was at 3 yrs at a certain company that created the credit score). They still had me detail every minute detail of my income, retirement accts (down to ones w/ 2k in them), and my tax returns for my entire work history.

Also, you need credit to even get a cell phone on a contract. It may not be a very high bar but it’s a hurdle if you’ve blown up your score.

sugarapple

April 26th, 2011
11:23 am

Congrats on a significant milestone in your life. I am now trying to reduce my 23,500 credit cards debt.

I am paying cash for everything now and will save to buy my next auto cash and it will be a used auto.

God bless

KenneMa

April 26th, 2011
11:27 am

Courtney and Michael – GREAT JOB! You both should be so very proud of yourself. Not only did you help your family at this moment, you taught your children a very valuable lesson as well. Congratulations!!!!

Angie

April 26th, 2011
11:36 am

If you think you can negotiate lower interest rates with your credit card companies on your own, you are DREAMING! With the new government regulations in place controlling the fees they can charge, they have no incentive to lower your rates. I tried negotiating with all my lenders before signing on with Credability. None of them would work with me. After I signed on with Credability, only one called me to offer to negotiate directly with me. I negotiated with them but left all the other creditors with Credability. I now have a payment plan that works, have made significant changes in my spending choices and am working toward being credit card debt-free. I made the mess myself and I am working to get out of the mess.

semausmom

April 26th, 2011
11:36 am

They did a fantastic job! Kudos to them…

We read Dave Ramsey’s book entitled The Total Money Makeover. It’s an awesome book. We paid off 3 credits cards since December using his debt snowball technique. We plan to be free of consumer credit card debt by the end of this year. The whole credit card thing is such a trip. It’s easy to get into and hard to dig yourself out of, but you can do it with hardwork and focus!

DDB

April 26th, 2011
11:42 am

Great Job to The Wackers! My fiance and I did not have quite this much debt, but we will be completely debt free of our $18,000 debt in a little less than 2 months! How? Because Dave said sell the car!!

WISEGIRL

April 26th, 2011
11:42 am

WHY IS IT OBAMA”S FAUGHT WHEN NOT SO BRIGHT BUSH AND DADDY GOT US HERE???

WISEGIRL

April 26th, 2011
11:46 am

why is it obamas fault, when not so bright bush and his daddy got us here. are they thinking about ‘america” now, heck naw, they on the ranch getting richer and laughing cause yall so dumb just like them!

bisbell

April 26th, 2011
11:46 am

reminds me of an old Saturday Night live skit. “If you don’t have the money, don’t buy things!” Hilarious skit because it’s so true, yet no one adheres to it.

WISEGIRL

April 26th, 2011
11:47 am

daddy bush and offspring are on the RANCH laughing at AMERICA..they screwed it up and can careless

Dirk the Jerk

April 26th, 2011
11:49 am

It’s interesting how a bunch of saps have convinced themselves that not declaring bankruptcy is some kind of righteous honor thing. The banks and Donald Trump laugh at your naivety.

Marci Girardin

April 26th, 2011
11:51 am

I aplaud both of you. There’s nothing like financial freedom. I think debt-free should be the new status symbol! Congratulations!

W

April 26th, 2011
11:57 am

Ntuj -You Da MAN – 8 Cards and $100k+ a year…I am sure you will never be in debt.

Keep drinking the kool-aid WISEGIRL.

PAY CASH PEOPLE…CASH IS KING.

FYI

April 26th, 2011
11:57 am

Going to a credit consolidation company like they did DOES NOT SAVE YOUR CREDIT SCORE…seek advice to find out if filing BK may be a better alternative..sad to say it but when it comes to the credit system..BK wins over credit consolidation..2 years after filing BK you can buy a home again under FHA guidelines.. the same will not apply when doing debt consolidation over 5 years…

I think its great that they did it..but each person’s way to handle a financial crisis is an individual decision(no I did not file BK nor do I have debt nor am I a lawyer)

FYI

April 26th, 2011
12:00 pm

I also agree w paying cash..I have been doing that for years..credit card is only for emergency purpose..all vacations, paid for, college education paid for..I love it!..

It is quite obvious ...

April 26th, 2011
12:03 pm

…. that WISEGIRL is a MORON.

MH

April 26th, 2011
12:10 pm

Congrats to the Wackers – awesome job!

For those of you cash only folks that think that you don’t need a credit score or history, think again. Your credit worthiness or lack there of will follow you around forever, and either limit you or help you tremendously. Everything from insurance rates to employment relies on your credit credit score, and NO it’s imporance is not going away. You cannot exist in modern times without credit. It will cost you more if you can’t prove you are worthy. Cash only is a good thing, but it will cost you more!

Mer

April 26th, 2011
12:15 pm

Been through this. Was $49,000 in credit card debt due to carrying over debt from ex-husband and putting taxes on a credit card. I’m now down to $17K in debt and should be paid up by September. I still use my Delta Skymiles card (Amex) for almost everything and use Skymiles shopping rewards (you get 2-5 miles for every purchase made). I don’t trust using my debit card over the internet. I pay tons of $$ towards my Amex balance every month. It’s been a struggle, but I’ve come a long way.

gagirl

April 26th, 2011
12:20 pm

I agree that ‘Ntuj’ came off as smug. Good for you that you make over $100k/yr. But what is the need for EIGHT cards??? Seriously? You just blew any credibility with that statement. You seem to be bragging yet Sears has one of THE highest interest rates. I don’t know what one could possibly charge at Kohl’s either. Oh well, to each his own. Visa is accepted everywhere so I roll with my ONE card which is for emergencies only. At any rate, I am debt-free (w/ the exception of my mortgage) and loving it. Financial freedom changes the game entirely. I know what it’s like to duck and dodge phone calls from creditors. It is no fun. All of the things I thought I had to have, I did not. I am still breathing w/o them. Kudos to all of you currently trying to get out of debt. I applaud the couple in this article. It may not be easy but it IS worth it.

Marina Mejia

April 26th, 2011
12:23 pm

I’m calling them soon and setting up an appointment!

concha

April 26th, 2011
12:41 pm

I had $42,000 of credit card debt with some cards interest rates as high as 24%…I paid that debt of in 4 1/2 yrs.I enrolled in Consolidated Credit. the highest interest rate on any of my 7 cards drooped to 4-11%….It was hard work but I did it…Also, i do nit make a lot of money. Now, I am realizing that because you did a consolidation, it does affect your credit score…It shows on your credit report that you were in a program to help manage your debt.