Five years of putting Christmas gifts and vacations on credit cards had caught up with Scott Sorren­tino. In the fall of 2010, the married father of three was carrying $6,000 in debt, and the chance to escape from it seemed years away.

"I'm more of a big-picture person than a detail person," he says. "I would sometimes put things on the card because I didn't know how much cash I had."

When Sorrentino's church started talking about a new "debt annihilation" program, his ears perked up. The concept: five debtors would make their minimum payments and then contribute an additional payment so that one of them could get out of debt completely. Then all five would continue paying so that all of them, one by one, would be out of debt within two years. If they could make the extra payment for someone else, they could make a payment for themselves.