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January 6, 2017

Debt free for New Year's: how a WGU student did it.

One of the top New Year's resolutions is to become debt free in the new year or at least to begin down that path. Here is the story of one WGU accounting graduate who did it and lived to tell about it!

Guest blog by: Jacob Merkley, B.S. Accounting

The end of the year, and the start of a new one, brings a time of reflection.  I have been contemplating a lot about my past.  My wife and I have had a lot of good happen lately, and it has caused me to be appreciative of the hard times I have experience.  Five years ago my debt journey started; and in 2016, my debt journey ends… and with that success comes reflection on how we got there.

My story.

Five years ago, I paid cash for a cheap car, packed everything that I owned at the time into that car, and moved to Salt Lake City on a whim.  I had no place to live, no job, and no real promise of the future.  

Within weeks I had found a job, a place to live, and was accepted to a school to start college.  It seemed like everything fell in place for me; well, everything except for my finances.  In a matter of weeks, I had to make an emergency room visit, my car had a major break down, and my credit cards overwhelmed.  I was left with medical bills up to my eyeballs and a car that needed thousands to keep it running.

Jacob's messed up car

I had to go into debt just to survive.  To make matters worse, I didn’t want to neglect my future with school and decided to take out student loans to continue my education.  With a snap of my fingers it felt like my financial world came crashing down.  I felt every bit of the crushing debt that I had accumulated, with no real way to get out.

That’s when I met my wife…in the elevator at school (talk about a miracle!).  Three minutes of talking, her phone number in my hand, and a promise to call were all it took; the rest is history.  I brought $11,000 of debt to the table when we got married.

Our married life started like most of you…really poor, in debt, and trying to live on beans and rice.  We also continued paying for school, took out a loan for a more reliable car, and then had a baby.  Pretty soon, we had drilled our debt situation further into the ground finally topping $16,000.

The pivotal moment.

One day, my wife and I got together and decided that we wanted to do something about the debt that we had.  We had had enough!  While $16,000 may not be a lot of debt compared to some, it was just as crushing and mentally debilitating to us in our situation.  We wanted to get out from under it all.  So we made some changes:

  1. We Got on a Budget - We needed to stop the bleeding before we tried to heal.  Budgeting was our logical first move.
  2. I Got a New Job – We knew that increasing my income would help turn the math in our favor.
  3. I Switched to WGU – The flexibility was important to me, but so was the price.  I needed to find a way to get my education, while decreasing the cost. WGU was the answer (and awesome).
  4. We Created a Debt Destruction Plan – We wanted to get out for good.  We came up with a plan of attack and called it our Debt Destruction Plan. The plan worked, as I am writing this debt free!

Once we had made all of those changes, and put all the pieces of our crazy jigsaw puzzle together, we were able to accomplish what we thought we couldn’t.  Sure, it took a lot of beans and rice, shopping at goodwill, and saying no to things we really wanted, but now that I’ve “been there, done that” I am grateful for the sacrifices we made.  Our world has changed since becoming debt free; I never want to go back. 


If you feel like you are drowning in debt, stop for a second…take a deep breath, and know that there IS A WAY OUT!  No matter how much debt you have accumulated, know that you can get a handle on it, reverse it, and one day be debt free too.  Make the same moves I did: get on a budget, cut down on your expenses, find a new job if necessary, and create your own debt destruction plan.  

With 2017 on the horizon, make a commitment to yourself that you will work hard at making your financial situation better than it was in 2016.  If you commit to it, work at it, and sacrifice for it, I know you can make it happen. 

Here’s to Having New Financial Success in the New Year (raising my glass); Cheers!

Jacob wgu grad

Jacob Merkley is a full-time blogger who graduated from WGU in October 2016 with his degree in Accounting.  Now he focuses on teaching others about Life Skills that put YOU in control, including the important principles of money management.  

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