If anyone knows there's no such thing as a get-out-of-debt-quick scheme, it's Dann Berg.
At 22, Berg graduated from the University of Hofstra armed with a shiny new diploma, the whole world at his feet and $21,000 in credit card debt.
After four grueling years of skipping meals and doubling up on the job front, he's managed to pay off not one but five credit cards.
"I made a deal with myself that during college I was going to spend and spend and spend and afterwards I was just going to pay it all off," Berg told BI in an interview Monday. "I decided enough was enough."
Wake up call
Like most students, Berg dug himself into debt one small purchase at a time––the occasional meal out, keeping his gas tank full and splurging on a few gadgets.
"It was my senior year that I finally started to realize the hole I had dug myself into," he said. "I thought, am I going to have to file for bankruptcy?"
With few job prospects to match his creative writing degree, Berg knew he couldn't afford the $600 monthly payments without help. So he turned to his Long Island, N.Y. credit union, which pointed him in a direction he hadn't considered before––a debt repayment service called Balance Pro.
The not-for-profit, San Francisco-based debt management firm bills itself as a financial fitness program, according to its website.
"They helped negotiate fixed payment rates for each cards and instead of paying each cards individually, I made one $500 payment to them and they dispersed it," Berg said.
Even with $100 shaved off his monthly bills, Berg said he knew things would be tight. He was so determined to be accepted into the program (good firms won't take on clients who can't comfortably meet their monthly payments) that he fudged his income and said his parents would be helping him out.
In reality, he was flying solo.
"It was rougher than when I was in actually living in college," he said. "I was often skipping meals."
The simple strategy
Putting himself on a no-nonsense spending fast , Berg used a strict calendering system to time his debt payments––and got used to eating a lot of Ramen.
"The rent was due on the first of the month and I had my debt payment set up for the 15th," he explained. "I evenly spaced them so whenever I got a paycheck, whatever bills were in between that check and the next one I was able to pay off."
To put extra cash in his pocket, he took a weekend job managing the website for a Manhattan-based tattoo parlor and worked part-time at Hugo Boss.
"That $500 per month was so tough so many times," he said. "But I made it every single month and that's how I got to where I am."
A somewhat happy ending
Berg made his final payment in June, but there's no picture perfect ending to his story. He's already run into one of the cons of debt consolidation––that little note credit reporting agencies tack onto your credit report to alert lenders you've sought debt payment help.
"I got declined for every single type of credit card," said Berg, who was looking to take out a new card to start building his credit. He settled for a $200 prepaid Capital One card that he reserves for monthly utilities and pays in full each month.
On the plus side, all the blogging he was able to squeeze in at his weekend job led to a full-time reporting gig for Laptop Magazine.
"I've paid (lenders) an extra $6,000 just in interest over the past four years," he said. "It feels great to not have to anymore."
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