Shedding $120,000 in Credit Card Debt Saved Her Life

When Francine "Franny" Bostick looks back at where she was six years ago, she shudders at the memory. She not only faced financial ruin, but also was on her way to a potentially catastrophic health crisis.

"My blood pressure was soaring and almost impossible to control," Bostick remembers. "Honestly, if I hadn't gotten help with our credit card debt I probably would have had a stroke."

At the time, Franny and Jim Bostick had accumulated more than $120,000 in debt on 13 credit cards. The amount had accumulated during more than a decade of spending beyond their means.

Bostick says they simply got in the habit of buying anything they wanted. "We spent money on eating out, new appliances, new clothes and gifts for our kids," says Bostick. "We went on vacations and used plastic to pay for everything."

The Not-So-Golden Years

At an age when most people should be preparing to retire, the Bosticks were worrying about paying the next month's bills. Bostick says their finances were so precarious that they had started using credit cards to pay for their groceries and utilities -- and even using one credit card to pay the bill for another.

Unfortunately, while the Bosticks' debt was extremely high, it's not unusual for older Americans to carry a credit card balance.

According to a study in 2012, "Older Americans have the highest average balances of any age group, with those 65 and over holding $9,283 in credit card debt."

The Turning Point

Bostick says she was never late on a payment and so creditors hadn't started coming after them. Still, she spent many sleepless nights worrying about how they would pay off the balances on their baker's dozen cards.

In addition to her stress over the mounting bills, Bostick was dealing with another source of stress: Her husband was in the early stages of dementia. His illness meant the burden of handling their financial crisis fell primarily to her.

She says she and her husband never considered declaring bankruptcy because they knew they had used the money for their own pleasure and felt obligated to pay it back.

Because she was embarrassed by their level of debt, Bostick says she waited for almost a year after learning about the Housing and Credit Counseling agency in Topeka, Kan., before making an appointment for counseling.

"I used to joke with my kids that the only thing they could fight over after we were gone would be who would pay the credit card bill. But they never knew how bad it was until after we had paid it off," says Bostick.

The Reality of 'Working It Off'

The Bosticks put themselves on a tight budget and paid $2,496 per month for nearly five years to pay off their credit card balances.

Jim Bostick was able to work 30 hours per week delivering auto parts to contribute to the household budget. Franny Bostick has been working at Kansas State University for 30 years, currently as a custodial supervisor.

On top of an already long work day at the University -- 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Franny took on a part-time custodian job in order to bring in additional income to pay off their credit card debt. For four hours a night, four nights a week, she cleaned buildings in the local school district.

On top of those two jobs, Bostick started an Avon business.

"Someone with a really good Avon business moved and gave me some of her customers, which really helped me get that business going," she says. "Now I've brought my daughter on as a partner to keep up with the customers."

Balancing Act II

After three years of working at all three jobs, the success of her Avon business and a promotion and raise at the university enabled Bostick to give up her night job.

Still, despite the income boost, the Bosticks looked for more ways to cut their spending wherever they could.

They stopped eating out except for an occasional hamburger, eliminated vacations except for a trip in their camper to a nearby lake, and cut back on cable TV and Internet services. "I learned to clip coupons and to bargain shop," says Bostick. "I started shopping in stores that I wouldn't have been caught dead in a few years ago, and you know what? They have just as good products as the fancier stores."

The Bosticks now have a rule that if they want to spend more than $50 on anything, they have to go home and think about it. "We usually realize it's something we don't really need," she says.

A Bittersweet Future

Now that their credit card debt has been paid off for more than a year, Bostick says she has been able to build an emergency fund. And not only is her health better, but her credit score has improved by about 100 points.

Unfortunately, her husband's dementia has worsened over time, so Bostick says he doesn't fully understand the relief she feels and the depth of their accomplishment in overcoming their debt crisis.

However, soon Bostick will be able to spend more time with her husband. "I always thought I'd have to work until I was 80, but now I can actually retire," she says. And she's already set the date: 12/12/12.

Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.

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what major credit cards put you in debt?

December 16 2014 at 6:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, That is awsome comeback story. Doing whatever it takes to get the job done is an attitude that needs to be admired and put to work in all our lives!

December 10 2012 at 7:01 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

almost a senior, paid off and closed ALL credit cards in 2008 in preparation for retirement. Now I can sleep knowing my kids are protected!

November 18 2012 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good for you for being responsible for your own financial mess. I wish more people would live within their means. If you ever look around your house..........especially in the can always come up with a bunch of things that you can say to yourself.........".well that was a waste of money, I don't even use that". I think if people stopped, went home, considered if they REALLY need something or not would really help people with their spending. Probably 90% of the time, you won't go back for it!

November 18 2012 at 10:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Kudos to them for paying off their debt and not declaring bankruptcy. What I don't understand is how they can go from so much debt to retirement in so little time. Did they have substantial savings that they weren't touching to pay off the debt?

November 18 2012 at 9:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It is amazing how easy it is to fall into a huge debt of many kinds. Credit card debt is especially difficult because of the exorbitantly high interest rates. The key to paying down any. Debt is to reduce interest paid down as low as possible. A home equity loan or other secured loan on requires three or four percent which is Hugh when you compare that to the twenty nine percent most credit cards charge. Additionally you cannot only pay the fact ten times the minimum will quickly knock the legs from any large debt. Finally financial prudence is not rocket takes only common sense to change the bad habits that got you in trouble. Personally I along with family members have had to face similar circumstances and were able to succeed by first facing and acknowledging the debt and making it job one to pay it down. Once you've achieved your goals there is no better feeling..a feeling you'll never feel with bankruptcy.

November 18 2012 at 7:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Wow, I am a doctor and I will never be able to retire. I still have continuing education to pay for and conferences I must attend which mean travel. I work and will always work 12-14 hour days. And health care is in the tank. Great life.

November 18 2012 at 5:54 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to murphymomm123's comment

well you probably live in a house that befits your "status" and drive a car that you shouldn't. How often do you eat out, and where do you shop? All the exclusive stores, I'll bet. I don't feel sorry for you-I probably earn a tenth of what you earn-I just live well below my means and will retire within the next 2-3 years-with no pension, but investment income from my savings. P.S-I work for a medical group and know what my docs earn...AND what they spend.

November 18 2012 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I admire her for not declaring bankruptcy. She did the responsible thing.

November 16 2012 at 8:37 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

She should have claimed bankruptcy. I did, 15 years ago. It was a great relief to get that debt off my shoulders. I couldn't work 3 jobs like she did as I was on disability, and could not work. They should teach a consumer course in high school telling students how to manage debt, save, and invest. THey didn't have it in my day 50 years ago, and I had to learn it all from the school of hard knocks.

November 16 2012 at 3:39 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply