Biggest debt losers: Couple weathers hardships to repay $50,000
Job losses, serious illness don't deter payment plan
By Karen Kroll
When Wendall Ramage was diagnosed in 2001 with
prostate cancer and given five years to live, he initially thought the news "entitled
me to anything I wanted," he says. Resentment over his cancer diagnosis
fueled a spend-like-there's-no-tomorrow spree.
Wendall and his wife
Linda hadn't been big spenders before, but credit cards soon became a
means of paying for dinners out, electronics and concerts. Oh, the concerts: The Ramages took in acts ranging from
the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to the Rolling Stones.
By 2008, the couple's credit card balances topped $50,000.
Although the Ramages were paying about $100 more than the minimum required, it
was clear they still faced many years of indebtedness.
So the couple took action. They began working with Consumer
Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Middle Georgia to come up with a repayment
plan. Five years later, despite another round of cancer treatment, additional
health issues and two sooner-than-expected retirements, Wendall and Linda Ramage
are free of credit card debt.
Their achievement is so impressive that the National Federation for Credit Counseling has awarded them its Client of the Year award, given out Tuesday night at the organization's annual meeting. The organization gives the honor to individuals or couples who overcome great odds to pay off their debt.
The Ramages, who live in Forsyth, Ga., are now both 71 and just
celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary. They began dating while
attending Georgia Southern University. After graduating, both went into
teaching. Linda taught elementary school for more than 30 years, while Wendall
taught a variety of subjects in high school, including philosophy and drama. And
both Ramages were extras in the
movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes." Along the way, he was designated a
Star Teacher a dozen times, and his students' productions of several one-act
plays he'd written won multiple state championships.
To come up with a payment plan, the Ramages met with CCCS
counselor Nicole Caldwell. "They definitely stood
out," Caldwell says. "A lot of people in their shoes would give up
and walk away." After all, the Ramages were in their late 60s -- an age
when many people had already retired. "Instead, they made no excuses and
made changes in their lifestyle" in order to pay off the debts.
A lot of people in their shoes would give up
and walk away. Instead, they made no excuses and
made changes in their lifestyle.
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Middle Georgia
"Credit cards weren't the fault," Wendall
explains. "I was."
Even so, Wendall says he "panicked for a moment" when
it came time to physically cut up their credit cards. "It was hard to
relinquish the cards" when they'd been using them for so long, he recalls.
To make ends meet without credit and on a drastically
reduced budget, the couple eliminated dinners out, entertainment expenses and extraneous
purchases. "I was starting to wonder, how many shirts or pairs of trousers
does one person need?" Wendall says. He also became a master at checking
prices and switching to store brands at the supermarket.
Their challenges were compounded when, shortly after
starting the payment plan, Wendall's cancer returned. This time, the disease
had advanced to Stage Four. His treatment included surgery, several rounds of
radiation, and then a combination of hormones and chemotherapy that continued
for several years. Wendall makes light of the grueling course of therapy,
saying it gave him greater sympathy for the ways in which hormones can play
havoc on one's body temperature. "When you start feeling like a volcano is
spewing hot lava out the top of your head; well, that's no fun."
Credit cards weren't the fault. I was.
Retired school teacher
That wasn't the only setback, however. In 2009, Linda's
private school closed, which meant the loss of her income.
Wendall continued teaching despite the physical toll his
treatment was taking. One reason he got through, he says, was the support of
his wife. "For years, every day when I opened my lunch at school, there
was a love letter from my wife." The gesture helped him maintain his
enthusiasm in the days after his cancer diagnoses and while slogging through
the debt repayment plan.
By 2012, however, Wendall no longer was able to continue
teaching. Making the decision to retire was difficult: It meant
another reduction in income and Wendall knew he'd miss interacting with his students.
Getting poll results. Please wait...
Apparently, the students missed him as well. Groups of them would
show up at his house on weekend mornings to handle yard work that Wendall no
longer could manage.
One more blow was yet to come. While the Ramages had
suspected Linda had Alzheimer's disease for a while, she was officially
diagnosed in early 2013.
Perseverance in the last
Also around this time, the combination of income reductions
and medical expenses made the monthly debt repayments nearly impossible. While
both Ramages remained committed to paying off their debt, Wendall negotiated a
modest reduction in the monthly amount.
It was his lowest point, Wendall says. The support of his
wife and others -- the Ramages are on several prayer lists -- helped him get
through. Fortunately, they were far enough along in the repayment plan that the
change extended their time frame by just a few months.
In fact, Wendall made the last payment in May 2013. The
peace of mind from having paid off the bills "truly is a relief,"
Wendall says. "I found out I could live without credit cards."
Disclosure: CreditCards.com Editor in Chief Daniel P. Ray served as a judge in the award.
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