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)We all know that didn’t happen, and soon enough, the debt caught up with me. I do have a mortgage on my primary residence even though I could pay it off. In these cases, I’m using debt conservatively and consciously to advance my financial goals.

As I approached my 26th birthday, I maxed out with debt of around ,000. But all the nasty stuff—credit cards, personal loans, and an auto loan—is long gone. That said, I think it Throughout all the years I carried this debt around with me, I never wanted to be in debt.

If you make the decision to earn more money by working smarter, you just have to do.

My first college internship was with Inc.—my job was to interview the CEOs of these companies to ask about the secrets of their success. I still think of that list as “5000 ways to make money.”Motivation is half the battle, but if there are tools available to help you get out of debt yourself, why not take them?All of a sudden, I couldn’t keep borrowing my way out of trouble anymore. And I don’t consider myself afraid of a little hard work. Contrary to what hundreds of marketers and self-described personal finance “experts” will try to sell you—there is no secret to getting out of debt. But it wasn’t until I met the three criteria above that I was able to do something about it.At the same time, I realized that the stress of barely making my monthly payments and owing twice what I earned in a year was taking its toll. First, I had to stop living in denial, telling myself my debt “wasn’t that bad.” I needed a reality check and to stare down exactly how much debt I had and what it would take to get out. Finally, I had to find a way to earn enough to repay the debt. Although your absolute total debt is important, it’s not as important as how that debt compares to your annual income.You know, how do you start living on ramen after two years of The Capital Grille?That’s where this comes in: If you want to get out of debt by yourself, you need to earn enough money to survive AND enough money to pay down your debts.

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