A couple who paid off $224,000 of debt in less than 3 years shares the simple strategy that helped them get over the finish line

  • Leo and Faith Jean-Louis were $224,000 in debt, and it was costing them $2,200 a month.
  • At that rate, it would have taken 15 years and an additional $125,000 in interest to pay it off. 
  • Instead, the debt snowball method motivated them to pay it off in two-and-a-half years.
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider for more stories.

When Leo Jean-Louis, an occupational therapist, and his now-wife Faith Jean-Louis, a pediatric nurse practitioner, got married, they not only combined their lives but their debt, too. They had $211,000 of debt, mainly student loans and some credit card debt. Accumulating interest eventually bumped that number up to $224,000. 

The couple initially thought they’d allocate $2,200 a month towards their debt until they realized it would take them 15 years and cost them another $125,000 in interest to pay it down. Leo and Faith wanted to start building generational wealth for their future children but felt they couldn’t do that until they got their debt out of the way.

They decided to work together to pay it off quicker. That decision got them out of debt in only two-and-a-half years and saved them thousands of dollars in interest payments. 

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Their journey wasn’t easy; they tried different approaches with a lot of ups and downs along the way. Eventually, one simple strategy shifted their mindset and helped keep them motivated until they reached their goal: the debt snowball method. 

They switched from the debt avalanche to the debt snowball method 

When Leo and Faith first started to tackle their debt, they used the debt avalanche method. This is when debt with the highest interest rate is paid down first, while paying the minimum on other debts. Leo was comfortable with this approach because he believed it was the best way to avoid paying more interest. But Faith felt differently.

Using the avalanche method meant some of the accounts they were paying down first had higher balances, which made it harder to see the progress. Faith had just started her career, and embarking on a radical journey to pay off debt wasn’t what she had imagined her first year of working would look like. 

“I knew that the only way we could successfully tackle this mountain of debt is if we both stayed the course. What good is a method if we’re not going to stick to it,” Leo told Insider. “Once she verbalized having a hard time seeing the progress, that’s when we switched to the debt snowball method, and that changed everything.”

The debt snowball method is when the smallest debt is paid off first, while paying the minimum on all other debts. Once the first debt is paid off, you move on to the next smallest balance. Since smaller amounts are easier to pay off faster, Faith was able to see more immediate progress. This motivated her to keep going. 

They celebrated the small milestone victories

Once they had a method they were both happy with, Faith created a poster that had a large thermometer on it; they referred to it as the “freedom meter.” Its temperature points were used to mark target debt payoff amounts. This put a bit of fun into the process and helped keep them both motivated. 

“Every time we paid off a debt, we crossed it off and colored it in. That was part of our regular routine. And we celebrated those small victories along the way,” Leo told Insider. 

In less than three years, Leo and Faith became debt-free and they were able to free up their monthly payments to build generational wealth. They now use their money to invest in their 401(k)s, their Roth IRAs, a Health Savings Account, and a 529 account for their son’s college tuition.

Laila Maidan is the Personal Finance Storytelling Fellow at Insider. She covers personal stories about peoples’ financial journeys. Have a story about a financial accomplishment to share? Email [email protected].

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