By SARA RUSSELL and ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — For those facing a mountain of debt, the burden can seem daunting, embarrassing and impossible to tackle.
And while many across the country have debt from student loans, credit cards or other sources, the situation can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re facing it alone.
Bernadette Joy felt that way in 2016, when she garnered $300,000 in debt.
The 34-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, had just gotten married, graduated with her MBA and was starting her career when the cost of her student loans, two mortgages and sky-high credit card bills took a toll on her finances.
“We went from zero debt to $300,000 of debt in a very short time period,” Joy told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “I felt so much shame, and I felt so much guilt. I grew up in a family of financial professionals. I should have known better.”
When she and her husband, AJ, tried to tackle all the debt, they said they felt alone.
“We kept it a secret and didn’t really tell anyone, and that made it really challenging,” she said. “I ended up crying on my office floor.”
While it seemed daunting at first for the couple, they eventually started whittling away at that pile of debt. In their first year, they paid off $72,000.
During the process, Joy stuck to a five-step program she created called “CRUSH” to help her reach her money goals. The CRUSH Method, which is similar to the Dave Ramsey Method, balances financial goals with the flexibility to enjoy life.
Here’s how CRUSH works:
C — Create a new money mindset
R — Reverse engineer your life goals
U — Use the tools available to you
S — Set a budget and stick to it, using tools that are easy for you to understand
H — Hustle, hustle, hustle
For three years, Joy stuck to the CRUSH Method and was able to pay off all her debt in 2019 through multiple side hustles, including a dress rental company and teaching classes on SkillPop.
Now, she’s helping others tackle their debt and making sure everyone gets a happy financial ending. Through #DebtCrushers, a membership program specifically for millennial professional women struggling with the shame and anxiety around student loan debt and credit card debt, Joy helps women “crush debt to live and do better.” So far, among her members, she’s helped pay off a combined $500,000 in debt.
Her program has also helped people let go of the shame and anxiety associated with debt.
“The more we talked about it with people, the more that we removed the stigma around paying off debt,” said Joy. “And I wanted to provide that community.”
Joy is continuing to provide that sense of community during the pandemic, where there has been a national trend to pay off debt.
“Now is a pivotal time to pay off debt,” she said. “The question continues to be, during the pandemic, ‘Should you pay down debt or save?’ The answer is always to work to eliminate debt as long as you have income stability.”
Here are more of Joy’s tips for tackling debt:
Be in your best mindset when you look at your finances
Having a clear, calm state of mind will help you make the best decisions for your family.
Consolidate your finances
If you have 10 accounts that you need to tend to — even if you can’t make progress paying them off — getting down to seven or eight will relieve some of the stress of worrying about multiple accounts, and allow you to really focus.
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