The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

How one family paid off $100,000 in debt in five years — and still tithed

You think it can’t be done?

Check out how this family did it:

Five years ago, the Hildebrandt family of New Richmond, Wis., was juggling more than $100,000 in credit card and personal debt. Through frugality, determination and hard work, they are now — other than a mortgage — debt-free.


At the time, Russell and Kandy Hildebrandts’ credit card balances totaled about $89,000, and they owed $17,000 to a family member. While they were current on all the payments, the card companies had begun raising their interest rates, adding hundreds to their minimum monthly payments. Kandy acknowledges that they presented a higher credit risk, given how their balances had ballooned. Even so, with the bump in the required payments, covering the monthly payments was a struggle. “We had to change,” Kandy says.

Change they did. For their debt-fighting prowess, the Hildebrandts were on Tuesday night named the winners of the Professional Achievement and Counseling Excellence (PACE) 2009 Graduate Client of the Year Award. This national award, given by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, recognizes the hard work and commitment they demonstrated in repaying their debts, and their willingness to become effective managers of their money and change their lifestyle. (Disclosure: Senior Reporter Connie Prater served as a judge in the awards.)


Not that the Hildebrandts’ lifestyle was lavish. The couple, along with their twin daughters, Heidi and Holly, lived in a rented 1,000 square foot townhome. Vacations consisted of visits to extended family members in the Midwest. Russell was a chemist with a Twin Cities-based environmental testing laboratory; Kandy was a stay-at-home mom and home-schooled their daughters.

While the Hildebrandts weren’t living extravagantly, they also weren’t frugal, Kandy notes. They purchased most items, such as clothes for the girls, new. In addition, they had medical expenses related to Russell’s diabetes and several miscarriages that Kandy suffered. At the same time, they remained committed to tithing, or giving 10 percent of their income to their church. The accumulation of day-to-day expenses left the family going a bit more into debt each year.


Several family friends recommended that they file for bankruptcy. That was out of the question, Russell says. “We were committed to paying off our debts.” They also resolved to continue to tithe and home-school their daughters.

To get started, Kandy met with Linda Humburg, a manager with FamilyMeans Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) in Stillwater, Minn. Linda reviewed their finances, and developed a five-year debt management plan. While the schedule was daunting, the Hildebrandts signed on. “If we didn’t make it, we knew that we would go out trying,” Russell says.

Several steps were key to making the plan work. Kandy and Russell eliminated discretionary spending. Kandy began buying generic food and frequenting thrift stores for clothing purchases. They stopped exchanging Christmas and birthday gifts with each other and their relatives.


Even with the drastic cutbacks, the Hildebrandts couldn’t cover the $2,000 they were sending to CCCS each month to be distributed to their creditors. At that time, the sum amounted to about half of Russell’s take-home pay. So Russell took on a second job cleaning a local grocery store several nights a week from midnight to 4:30 a.m. He would arrive home from his day job, eat dinner, catch a few hours of sleep and head to work. After his shift, he would go back home, sleep a few more hours and then get up for his day job.

Read the rest at the link.

Comments read comments(9)
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posted September 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm

We do realize, of course, that with Congress passing that insane law on the reselling of goods, the chance of people who are down on their luck finding $2 desks for their children at garage sales will be markedly lowered.Congress. Everything it does eventually hurts the poor.

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posted September 20, 2009 at 5:20 pm

We do realize, Patm, that "that insane law" only affects recalled products, don't we? And that it's a good idea? And that your straw man is your usual meritless way of denouncing politicians and liberals? Conservatives: selling poison to the poor since the dawn of time.

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posted September 20, 2009 at 8:04 pm

No it doesn't just affect recalled products. When I tried to GIVE my old high chair to St. Vincent de Paul they couldn't take it. They told me no more mattresses either. I wanted to give them a BRAND NEW car seat that I had just purchased, still in the box – (see, this conservative didn't want to pay a restocking fee and would rather give it to someone who needed it…) Congress has tied the hands of those who want to help the poor. At best, they don't think about the consequences of their policies. At worst, they know and actually desire to have everyone dependent on the government.

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posted September 20, 2009 at 8:46 pm

I have some classic children's books that I can't donate or sell, either, because they may contain lead in their cover gilding or illustrations. Is this part of that same law?It seems a shame because they include books from the Golden Age of children's books, including out-of-print Padraic Colum and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" with Art Deco illustrations.

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posted September 21, 2009 at 9:22 am

Conservatives: selling poison to the poor since the dawn of time.So true. However, I'm pleased Susan is still giving to the St. Vincent de Paul Society even after their kind words about the President's health care plan.

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posted September 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

This is a great story. Hope it happens to more families. We keep seeing more questions around personal debt in our search logs at Hopefully, this means people are getting their personal finances under control and not simply over or re-extending debt.

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posted September 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Liberals: Selling poisong to the Catholic soul since the begining of time. (Satan is a liberal, no?)

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posted September 22, 2009 at 1:36 pm

(Satan is a liberal, no?)A registered Republican according to my late husband. :) Love to ya, duckie!

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protein tozu

posted April 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

poor familyy :((

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