We Asked 28 Readers How They Are Paying off Their Student Loan Debt—Here’s What They Said

When I went away to college, pretty much the last thing on my mind was exactly how much student loan debt I’d graduate with four years later. Whether that was wise or not can be up for debate, but I’d be willing that a lot of eager college freshman aren’t thinking about student loan debt during Welcome Week activities either. I was lucky enough to not graduate with a staggering amount of debt, but that doesn’t mean that I (or any other 22-year-old) knew all that much about repaying debt. It wasn’t really ever something we were formally taught.

Student loan debt isn’t universal, but chances are pretty good that you have at least one friend who’s navigating the sometimes confusing, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes stressful repayment process. To get a handle on what is working or has worked for Everygirls everywhere, we asked readers how they’re paying off their student loan debt. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Treat debt like any other bill

I graduated from college in June 2016 and all my student loan debt was paid off the summer of 2018. On top of student loans, I had an unexpected car payment, got married in the fall of 2018, and had to pay basic living expenses. I think the best tip for paying off any type of debt is to have the mindset that X amount of your paycheck or monthly income will go toward paying down debt. Like putting money for a 401k, if you make it a monthly habit, you stop missing out on the extra money. You do have to be more mindful about spending habits, but I never felt like I wasn’t able to take a trip with my girlfriends or buy a pair of boots I wanted just because I had to pay off my loans. It was all about prioritizing and balancing. I’m not a financial guru and money always used to scare the crap out of me, but my husband and I found a budget we were comfortable with.

Less than a year into marriage, and my hubby and I are 100 percent debt-free! It was one of our biggest first-year marriage goals, and we are so proud of ourselves. It’s definitely a challenge, but financial freedom (for the time being) feels so good!” — Anonymous

 

 

“I didn’t have a ton of debt, but it felt so good to have paid it off! If there’s one thing I wish I was told, it would be to pay as much as I possibly could afford. I only paid the minimum when I first got out of school because I was so happy to have a real paycheck and didn’t want to spend it paying my loan. Big mistake. Now to help my husband pay off his!” — Anonymous

“I have approximately $230,000 in student loan debt from my undergraduate and law school education. I just refinanced my loans through a private bank for a much lower interest rate. I direct deposit the amount of my loan payment to the bank each month so it’s like I never had the money at all. I’ve just accepted that I will likely be paying these loans off for the next 15 years. Hey, at least I’ll have good credit.” — Anonymous

“I’m currently paying off my loans from going to grad school. I decided to stay with the standard pay off plan because I would be paying less interest in the long run, and I could afford it. I pay that every month, and if I have a little leftover money at the end of the month, I throw it at my loan payment. I have been thinking of getting a side job to try and pay it off faster.” — Anonymous

“I paid off my 30k student loan debt within two years of graduating. I acted like my payments were a monthly bill that had to be paid, even though they were triple what I needed to pay for the payment plan. Any extra money I made at work (overtime, bonus, etc.) went straight to paying my loans. I made lunch for work every day and added an additional $50 per week to my loan payments. When tax season came around, I used my tax return and savings to pay the remainder of my loan, and then threw a party to celebrate!” — Anonymous

 

Extra money isn’t really “extra”

“I’ve successfully paid off about 70 percent of my student loan three years after graduating. A lot of it was about keeping the right mindset and living below what I could actually afford. When I lived in Chicago, I had a tiny studio apartment even though I could have afforded more based on the money I was making. I decided to put the extra money towards student loans. Also, I think it’s important to see what you’re spending money on. Don’t completely deprive yourself of everything, but be conscious of it. If I wanted to have a drink with friends, I’d make sure to pack my lunch for work instead of getting something delivered.” — Anonymous

“I am currently paying off my student loan. Throughout the month, I put aside enough money for the minimum payment. In addition, when I have any extra or unused money, I put it towards my loan. Instead of eating out or not buying that dress, I use the money towards my loan — even if it is $5.” — Anonymous

“I’m currently paying it off and have a goal to pay it off by the time I’m 30 — which is in five years. One trick is to pay a little bit over what you owe. Even if it’s an extra $50 a month, it makes a difference. Also, make sure that the extra amount you are paying goes to your loan with the highest interest — that way you accrue less in the long run. I also have it set to auto debit from my savings. That way, I transfer the money from my checking to my savings each month, and I don’t recognize it as spendable income since it lives in a completely different spot. And no matter what, I try to not get discouraged! I remind myself almost on a weekly basis that having these loans are what made it possible for me to go to school, and I’m proud to say that I was able to put myself through school and took that responsibility on to make sure that I could graduate and have more opportunities.” — Anonymous

“Always pay more than the minimum required, because it’ll only go towards interest and you’ll be paying forever. Also, be sure to specify extra payments to be towards ‘principal balance.’ Otherwise, you’ll never see your balance go down and you’ll go crazy. They don’t tell you these things so it’ll take you longer to pay!” — Anonymous

 

 

Refinancing might make a big difference

“I actually just paid off my student loan debt a few days ago. I had debt from both undergrad and medical school totaling around $275,000. I’ve always had a budget using Mint online, but once I started making money in residency, I made sure that every dollar had a job. If it wasn’t going towards food, rent, or utilities, then it was going towards debt. I focused all of my energy on paying off my highest interest rate loan first. Once that was gone, I refinanced my loans with another company. I personally used SoFi, but there are a lot of companies out there to refinance with, and if you shop around, you would be surprised at the different rates you’ll be offered. I went from an average interest rate of 6.8 percent to 3.75 percent. I ended up choosing a fixed interest rate because I don’t tolerate risk very well. After refinancing, it was easy to carry on that same mentality of every dollar having a job. We chipped away at it every month and celebrated it being gone last weekend!” — Anonymous

“Refinance, refinance, refinance! I’m constantly checking interest rates. I began with refinancing small portions of my student loans until I was able to get everything lumped together with a manageable rate. I’ve refinanced a total of four times in the last five years, but my rate has gone from over 10 percent to 3.5 percent. I’ve paid off almost $40,000 in those five years and have around $20,000 left. I also set automatic payments and contribute extra money whenever I can.” — Anonymous

 

Make your payments work for you

“I began paying my student loan debt while I was still in school. I worked a retail job on the weekend and over the summers and made payments towards my loans to get my interest level down. Essentially, I didn’t wait until my grace period kicked in to make payments, and I continued making payments after graduation once my grace period actually started as well. Even if I could only contribute $50 to $100 a month while in school, it made a big difference, and once my grace period was over, my minimum payments never exceeded $120, because my interest didn’t rack up as much by paying. Meanwhile, a friend of mine waited and didn’t start paying until after her grace period ended; she had to make minimum payments of $500!” — Anonymous

“I just do it. If I didn’t have the student loans, I’d never have the career to afford to pay them off.  That’s how I look at it. I consolidated my loans and chose to pay them off in seven years, not 10. I pay $1,280/month. In a few years they will be gone, and it’ll feel like I got a big raise!” — Anonymous

 

 

Use the resources available to you

I made sure I didn’t extend the loan term past 10 years, and then I made every payment until it was done. I am a social worker, so I was able to take advantage of a Pell grant that dissolved a percentage of my loan as long as I worked at a qualifying non-profit child welfare agency. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not go to a super expensive college if your potential career does not have a high ROI. Be realistic.— Anonymous

“I’m currently in the process of paying off my loans, and finding out about the public service loan forgiveness program has been a life saver for me! I finished grad school with a house-sized amount of debt and no idea how I would climb out. But I work in healthcare, and hospitals count as non-profits. A co-worker told me about the program in my first job, and now I’m three years into the 10-year plan that will forgive my debt at the end! As long as I continue to work in a non-profit and re-certify my non-profit employment every year, I’ll be debt free at the end with only making the required income-driven payments each month.” — Anonymous

“My mom has always big into personal finance, so I thought I had a good grip on my student loans, budgeting more than the monthly amount due. However, my husband and I recently decided to meet with a financial advisor who can help us get more out of our paychecks and attack my loans with a more strategic plan than just over-budgeting. I never realize how odd it was for a young couple at 25 and 26 years old to seek out a financial advisor, but after our discussion, I realized that there probably isn’t a better time than now to start mapping out our financial goals with professional guidance.” — Anonymous

“My employer has a specific budget for paying off employees’ federal student loans. I signed up as soon as I was able after being hired and paid $25k+ off within five years! Use and negotiate those benefits!” — Anonymous

 

Second jobs are hard, but can really help

“I paid off $70,000 student loan debt between 2009 and 2014. I’m a physical therapist, and I graduated from University of Iowa and was living in Chicago while working at Rush University Medical Center. I sold my car, bought an unlimited CTA card, had a roommate, meal planned with my roommate, and had a second job at a nursing home and worked every Saturday to pay off my loans. I’m 35 now, had my third baby, work 25 hours per week, and would not be able to have this family and work/life balance if I still had the loans. Although it sucked working every Saturday in my late 20s, I have no regrets in my mid-30s.” — Anonymous

“I’m currently paying off my doctorate degree from Northwestern by working retail, babysitting, and picking up any odd job. It’s a great reminder that you are never above any paying job.” — Anonymous

“I added a side hustle! It’s five hours per week, but it pays well. All the money I make from that goes toward loan payments. You do what you gotta do!” — Anonymous

 

Find a system

“I follow Rachel Cruz’s method to paying off debt. After building my emergency fund, I work on paying off my student loans on a monthly basis. I pay the minimum amount required for my income bracket and begin adding money towards paying off the smallest loan on special financial occasions, such as tax returns, etc. Once that is paid off, I add the amount I was paying towards that smallest loan over to the amount I’m already paying on my next smallest loan. You do that again and again in a snowball effect until all the loans are paid off” — Anonymous

“I am currently on the income-driven repayment plan. It took me a while to get to this point because I thought I should be able to afford the normal monthly payments. I finally realized that I need to also enjoy my life during this repayment period. I just keep telling myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and definitely wasn’t re-payed in a day. Buy that iced coffee, sis. You deserve it.” — Anonymous

 

 

“We started following the Dave Ramsey plan: followed a budget, lived on less than we made, cut spending, and snowballed our debts. Now we are debt-free, have six months of living expenses in savings, investing 15 percent of our income, and actively paying down our mortgage. It feels amazing to have such a huge burden lifted and now we are able to focus on long-term financial planning.” — Anonymous

 

It can feel overwhelming at times

“I’ve been delaying my loans for 10 years now and have finally hit the principal. I’ve paid $800 per month, every month for 10 years. Student loan debt has held me back from feeling like an adult, living my life, building a future, planning for retirement — everything.” — Anonymous

“I am still studying, and so I am still paying off my loan. Last year I worked three jobs. This year, I took on another job, just because I simply cannot afford it (so that is a total of four). I am diabetic, so that is taking up quite a bit of my money as well. What does the society nowadays expect? I am 19, almost 20, and am already so deep in debt that I am killing myself just to be able to pay it off. Freaking insane.” — Anonymous

“I’m currently trying to pay off all my student loans ASAP. I discovered Dave Ramsey in January and am doing his snowball technique. I started with around $31,000 in February. Since then, I’ve picked up a side hustle as a server and moved back in with my parents. Every penny I make at my serving job goes toward my student loans. I try to live below my means, but still live my life. I’m 24, and don’t want my whole life to be work, but I feel like I’m held back from things I want to do (like travel) by my debt. I’m currently at around $20,000 and am hoping I can pay that off within a year or two! It’s stressful now, and a lot of people try to talk me out of being so intense about it, but I know it’ll be worth it once it’s all paid off!” — Anonymous

“My loan debt is killing me. I make $55,000 a year plus bonuses and live modestly, but can barely pay my bills because so much of my income is taken for loan debt. I pay around $1,000 towards my loans every month with no end in sight. I graduated with ‘only’ $30,000 in debt, but ridiculous interests rates are making it so that I will be paying for what seems like the forever. I question if college was worth it every day.” — Anonymous

With the right mindset, I’m down to under 20k combined. I used to pay double for my most interest-heavy loan — then I needed a new car. So now I round up to the nearest 100 and still have shaved off over a year of future payments. When you’re first starting out, it sucks and is overwhelming. But pick a plan, and if possible, over-pay the minimum and do the math to see what you’re saving yourself in the long run. Regardless, that piece of paper you earned with those loans, NO ONE can take away from you. You earned it ❤️” — Anonymous

 

Editor’s note: These quotes have been edited and condensed for readability.

 

How are you paying off your student loan debt? Tell us in the comments below.

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