- Life & Money
- Everyday Money
- Managing Debt
- Julianne Pepitone
- Dec 21, 2017
How I Paid Off $20K in Debt and Found a New Career
Looking at Michael Weaver’s life now, it’s hard to believe he was once drowning in debt and fielding daily calls from collectors. Weaver, 43, is the picture of the American dream: He has a successful career in IT, owns a home in Texas and enjoys life with his longtime girlfriend.
But earlier in life, Weaver was a self-proclaimed “irresponsible kid.” As soon as he turned 18, he received his first credit card application and sent it in. He quickly spent the $500 limit and applied for a second card. Then, he maxed out that card and applied for a third. “It became a bad habit from day one,” Weaver says. “There didn’t seem to be anybody who wasn’t willing to give me a card.”
At age 18, Weaver was an avid guitar player, and his new credit cards allowed him to buy all kinds of music equipment. His debts began to spin out of control when he moved from his home of San Antonio, Texas, to Tempe, Arizona, with a friend to attend a trade school for audio engineering — taking on additional student loans to do so.
After nine months, Weaver decided that an audio engineering career wasn’t for him and moved back to San Antonio. He worked as a bartender for a while, which led to some bad habits. “We’d take our earnings from the evening and immediately go bar hopping, tipping each other well,” Weaver says.
All the while, Weaver’s debts piled up: He owed $8,000 on credit cards, coupled with a financed car and student loans that brought his total debt to over $20,000. "I was struggling to make rent and utilities, much less the credit card payments," Weaver says. "I decided to just stop making those card payments at all.”
He kept up the car payment because he needed transportation (and because his mother had co-signed that loan). He also continued making his student loan payments because “I knew those could hurt me the worst in the future," he says.
A few months after Weaver stopped paying the credit-card bills, the collectors started calling. They called day after day — sometimes multiple times a day — and they sent letters too. He tossed the letters in the trash and let the phone ring.
He was “going aimlessly through life,” he recalls, with no real plan or direction. He was a 30-year-old bartender, ducking constant debt-collection calls.
Then he met Jessica Lohmann, a sales associate at Dillard’s, who inspired him to change. “She never really sat me down and said, ‘Get your act together,’ ” Weaver adds. “I don’t think I was even ready to hear that. But she was just who she was — a hard worker, a responsible person — and I was inspired by that.”
The pair talked about Weaver’s lifelong interest in computers, and Jessica said, “Why not go to school for that?” Something finally clicked. It was “time to buckle down and become an adult,” Weaver says.
The journey wasn’t easy, and it took Weaver years to become debt-free. First, he took Jessica’s advice and signed up for computer-networking classes at the local community college. Because he had to save up for school — and then study for those courses — Weaver’s priorities had to change. “Bar hopping and the like just seemed to fall away, which eliminated a good chunk of my spending.”
When he finally read his debt-collection letters, he saw that the credit card companies had sold the debt to collection agencies, which were willing to accept lower amounts than he originally owed. “They basically took any amount I would give them, so I worked at them one at a time,” Weaver says.
His new career, meanwhile, got a boost when he landed an interview in the IT department at SeaWorld, where Jessica now worked. “I was finally on a professional, real career path, so that made it a lot easier to save up,” Weaver says. He continued sending everything he could to the collections agencies, including every penny of four years’ worth of tax refunds, until those credit card debts were finally paid off. And when he moved on to a new job at an energy company, he immediately began putting in overtime hours to help pay off the last bit of his student debt.
“She never really sat me down and said, ‘Get your act together,’ But she was just who she was — a hard worker, a responsible person — and I was inspired by that.”
By early 2013, at age 39, Weaver was finally debt-free. Later that year, he bought a house, and now only keeps one credit card, which he pays off in full every month.
Meanwhile, he and Jessica have been happily dating for nine years, and he has since been promoted at his job.
“When I think back to my life before, it’s just, wow — I don't want to ever be in that situation again and would not wish it on anyone,” Weaver says. “My advice, especially for those who are very young, is not to do what I did. If you can’t afford something with the cash you have, you can’t afford it. It just isn’t worth it.”
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