Learn How One Woman Paid Off Her Nearly $200,000 Debt in Two Years

Aja Dang shares the strategy she followed in order to find financial freedom.

portrait of aja dang leaning over couch
Photo: Courtesy of Aja Dang

Debt, for many of us, is inevitable. Americans use debt to purchase cars, move into new homes, and cover educational costs or medical expenses, which translates to around $5,315 in credit card debt and $28,950 in student loans for the average family in the United States. These staggering numbers can keep people across the country from achieving their financial goals, as well as cause a tremendous amount of stress.

Aja Dang can relate; at one point in time, she had $196,200 in total debt. "I had $1,200 in credit card debt, a $10,000 car loan, and $185,000 of undergrad and graduate student loans," she says. "I thought that debt was always going to be something I struggled with until my youngest dog Luke got sick and I couldn't afford the surgery to take care of him." Her boyfriend offered to help cover the costs of her dog's care but it was the catalyst that motivated her to eliminate the debt altogether.

The Strategy

When paying off debt, it is important to evaluate your current budget. "Where can you safely trim your expenses so that you can apply more money to your debt?" she asks. For some, it may help to take on a second job or a side hustle that brings in extra money. Include the debt pay-off plan in the budget and find ways to reward yourself for small successes. Each step, no matter how small, towards debt payment is a step in the right direction.

Starting small is often the best way to go. "I paid off my debts smallest to largest," she explains. "Because I had really large debts, I thought it would work best for me to tackle my smallest debts first to feel accomplished enough to successfully pay off my larger debts." Progress is also much easier to see on smaller debts, and that can be enough to keep someone motivated to continue with their plan.

Where can you seek help if your debt is large or confusing? Many credit cards are willing to work with customers to set up debt repayment plans that lower interest and make minimum payments more manageable. Free debt counseling through nonprofits like National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) may also offer some guidance or provide proactive relief for debt. While not everyone will need these extra resources, it can be helpful to know that no one in debt has to suffer alone and that there are resources available to eliminate the burden of debt.

Staying Motivated

Dang knew that she was not alone in carrying debt, and her community was there to offer encouragement during her journey. Patience is necessary when paying off large amounts of debt. "There were various points in my life where I was put in uncomfortable and scary situations because of my poor financial decisions," Dang says. "But it wasn't until I almost had to euthanize my dog that I realized that I needed to fix my financial situation for the health and safety of my family. My 'why' gave me a clear sense of purpose that enabled me to focus all my efforts on my goal."

She believes that anyone can take charge of their finances. "The financial situation you're in now can change if you want it," she says. "Paying off debt is one of the hardest things that you'll ever do, so figure out your 'why' and surround yourself with supportive people so they can help push you forward when you feel like giving up."

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