Jeff Donaldson thought debt was just a part of adult life.
It started with vehicle loans when he was 18 or 19. Then credit card debt. By 2010, he was frustrated.
Then, he read Dave Ramsey’s book, “The Total Money Makeover.”
“That was the catalyst,” Donaldson, now 44, remembers. “I started to take a close look at my debt and what I was paying in interest. It opened my eyes to recognize we needed to do something different.”
He fumbled with a few apps that helped with bill management. He tweaked a spreadsheet he found online and updated it manually every month. Donaldson, an IT manager based in Fresno, California, had some programming experience — and he wondered if he could do it better.
He sat down at his kitchen table in early 2012, writing out equations and testing the first version of what would become Undebt.it. He used it on his own for a while until it was stable enough to share with others.
“I don’t consider myself a very good programmer,” he admitted. “I’m a hobbyist.”
But the site is on its fourth iteration and reached 50,000 users in summer 2018.
Why This Debt Payoff Planner Is a Powerhouse
Undebt.it’s DIY approach is what makes it stand out from the crowd of personal finance tools.
Unlike so many budgeting apps, Undebt.it doesn’t pull your financial information from your banks and credit cards. Instead, it has you gather information such as interest rates, balances and payment due dates, and manually enter them in the Undebt.it system.
From there, you can identify your monthly debt payoff budget and set up a snowball payment methodto knock out small balances as quickly as possible.
Make a monthly payment? Log in and mark it off. Make an extra payment? Don’t forget to record it on your dashboard.
Along the way, you’ll watch your total balance — which lives in the upper right corner of your dashboard — decrease. Undebt.it identifies the month and year you’ll pay off your debt if you maintain your payoff schedule.
Although the website has a limited liability company, Donaldson considers it a side project that he works on in his spare time.
About 5% of his 50,000 users pay the $12 annual fee to access premium features such as customized debt payoff ordering, calendar views and the option of using the debt avalanche method. Donaldson also offers a private-label version for credit counselors and small-business owners.
When Donaldson started to build Undebt.it, he quickly learned that building a feature to allow users to connect their banking accounts would be difficult — and expensive. But it’s one of the top requests he’s gotten over the years.
“I’m always upfront with people that I’d have to charge a lot more,” he said.
Donaldson took a month off work this summer to develop that integration ability thanks to a programming feature offered through You Need a Budget. He’s also working on developing a budgeting module for users.
What Debt Looks Like Beyond the Numbers
Who’s using the site to pay off their debt faster?
“I thought the audience was more like me, a Gen X male,” Donaldson said.
But when he looked at his site analytics during a redesign in 2014, he learned that his most frequent users are millennial women.
He estimates 8 out of 10 emails he gets are from younger women who have questions about using the site to be proactive about their student loan debt.
Donaldson said it’s important for people just starting to pay down their debt to strategize and know their balances and interest rates.
“Keep it simple,” he said. “Start with a plan. Work your way up. It gets better over time.”
Then, ever so casually when we spoke, he mentioned he had paid off his last credit card that day.
“It’s my first time with no credit card debt since being an adult,” he said.
When the payment cleared, he posted a screenshot on the Undebt.it Facebook page.
“After just about 25 years(!) of carrying a credit card balance, I finally paid off the last of them this week,” he wrote. “I hate to think how much I’ve wasted in interest, but it feels great to reach this milestone after all this time.”
His fans, of course, cheered him on.
Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.