Who loves paying off student loan debt? Crickets.
Some 4 million Americans owe over $1.45 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve. Student loan debt results in many families putting their lives on hold, with 84% of millennials postponing homeownership, according to the National Association of Realtors, and 50% of families delaying retirement savings, according to the Journal of Accounting.
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It can be challenging to pay off school debt while raising a family. We chatted with 15 people who slayed their debt, and asked how they did it.
Pay more than the minimum payment
“I have paid off $90,000 of my student loan debt. I make extra payments every month to pay off my loans faster. Even $20 extra every payment adds up, and has significantly decreased my principal balance over the years.” —Jessica E.
“Round up the minimum payment to the next even $50 or $100 if possible. For example, if your payment is $230, round up to $250. Or if you are tighter on money, even rounding to the next $10 helps chip away at it faster. For example, if your loan is $231, you round up to $240.” —Lisa R., who paid off $31,000 in student loan debt
“I had to make a conscious effort to not increase my lifestyle choices. I drove my 1999 Camry for nine years and had no car payment nor full coverage, liability only, which saved me a lot of money.” —Ogechi I., who paid off $26,000 in three years
“I decided that I would pour every extra dollar toward this debt. I decided that I would cut out every activity aside from work and eating and apply the money to this debt. It took me about 14 months to destroy that debt. I am so glad I did.” —Justin G., who had $22,000 in debt
“I paid off [student debt] by negotiating a higher salary when I left grad school. I had no other debt at the time, lived on less than $1,000 a month for all other expenses and disciplined myself to focus on need versus want when purchasing.” —Matthew B., $74,000 in student loan debt
“After having my second son and feeling like I didn’t have enough individual time for my boys, we planned to pay off our loans within a year, sell our house and move to a less expensive one nearer my husband’s office, and then I’d quit working full time. We did whatever we could to put all of our non-committed money toward paying off our student loans. We prioritized those payments above all other non-essentials.” —Denise A., paid off $25,000 in student loan debt
“I did it by budgeting every last dollar, tracking my spending and living as cheaply as possible. I didn’t go out to eat or to the bars. I brought my lunch every day and shopped at places like Aldi® for my groceries. I used Goodwill® for clothes and really cut back on my spending. I also used any windfalls for my loans including tax returns, birthday money and more.” —Zina K., paid off $28,000 in three years
Visualize your debt-free life
“Figure out why you want to be debt free. There’s a big difference between willpower and why power. At some point, willpower fails all of us. We’re human. But why power has the ability to transcend our decisions and keep us focused on what really matters. Create a visual example of what your life will look once you’re debt free, and hang it somewhere you’ll see it daily. Will you give more? Where will you travel? What kind of freedom will it give you in your life? Be thorough.” —Katie Q., paid off $48,000 in student debt
Earn more income
“After graduating, there was one point when I was working three jobs at once: my 9-to-5 job, freelance writing on the side, and serving tables on evenings and weekends. I was fortunate in that I wasn’t paying rent at the time, and I was able to put the majority of my income towards my debt. I set a goal to pay it off in two years and I managed to hit that goal with a couple of months to spare.” – Charlotte O., paid off $25,000 in debt
“We worked through my wife’s schooling and only took out minimal loans to pay for it. We relied heavily on family to babysit our then only two children. We both worked constantly during my wife’s time at school. She did not graduate because the field turned out to be something she wasn’t interested in, but we were not left with mounds of debt and were able to purchase a home two yeas later with no debt except our mortgage.” – Andy G., paid off $15,000 in debt
Make goals and track progress
“My husband made a payoff worksheet that calculated how fast we were paying down everything, including interest, etc., and we updated it often. That was super motivating. We never did the envelopes or the debt snowball—just tried to keep our expenses as low as possible.” –Kate G., paid off $90,000 in debt in three years
Start with the smallest
“We paid off the smallest loan first, which eliminated one of the monthly payments, and it felt so good! We continued to use that method for the three remaining loan balances, and seeing each one disappear was a huge encouragement. We also shared our goals with our extended family, and they were very encouraging and excited for us. Having that positive support system was a great motivator.” —Kristi M., who had $55,000 of student loan debt
Explore repayment options
“I reenlisted in the military to help with my student loans. Then I was able to pay them off by the time I graduated. The military paid off approximately $15,000 of my $25,000 student loan and paid for me to continue classes so I didn’t have to incur more loans.” —Christine R.
“[For] my husband’s student loan debt, we paid it off by trying to cut expenses, eat simple meals at home, not go on trips, and buy things used. Thankfully, when he wanted to do his master’s degree, he qualified for his work to pay for his degree as long as he passed the classes.” —Melissa J., paid off $20,000 in student debt
Consider consolidation or refinancing
“I consolidated my loans to a lower interest loan and continued to pay more than I owed each month.” Deborah S., who had around $80,000 in student debt
Consider taking the stress out of paying back multiple student loans with Student Loan Refinancing. You can combine federal and private loans into one manageable monthly payment and also save money with a low fixed or variable rate.
Try this quick and free Education Refi Loan Calculator to see how much money you could save monthly, and overall, by refinancing your loans.