Superior, WI ( - Tackling debt can be intimidating, but two Northland organizations have found a unique way to do it and they say they're making great progress. "It just started as a whim and turned into this big snowball thing," said Annie Lepper of Superior Choice Credit Union of the Great Debt Paydown. Lepper was inspired to start the contest in the Northland after seeing it done at another credit union. The program includes financial counseling through Lutheran Social Services and a $5,000 prize from Superior Choice Credit Union for the person who pays down the most debt relative to their income by the end of the year. "The competition and accountability," said Lepper of why participants like the program, "[They say] It's good that I talk to my counselor once a month because she checks in with me." And it seems to be working. In the program's first year the participants paid off a total of $106,000 dollars in debt, 71% of them increasing their credit card score over the course of the year. "A lot of people said that they were ahead of where they expected to be and the way it's changed how they feel about money is dramatic," said Ashley Hagelin of LSS Financial Counseling. On average, each participant paid off about $6,000 in debt. "Their stress levels regarding debt is down," said Lepper, "They say it's put them in a better place. In that sense I really do think we're doing some good for people." The participants in the second year of the Great Debt Paydown are about halfway through the program. Participants for the program's third year will be sought sometime in December. If you're interested you can contact Lutheran Social Services or Superior Choice Credit Union. Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.