Student loan debt can be overwhelming. If you’re like me, you took out the maximum amount because you thought that was normal. Heck, you might have even thought it was necessary. Then you’re left paying off student loan debt. THAT is the overwhelming part. Student loan debt repayment can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t take some steps to
Here I’m going to share how I paid off over $30,000 in student loan debt. Did I do it in some super fast fashion that will make everyone jealous? Nope. Did I pay it off before the ten year (or more) deadline that many people have to fully pay off their loans? Yep. Did I do it on one of the lowest professional salaries in the nation? Yep. (South Dakota has had the lowest teacher pay for years. I spent eight years as a South Dakota public school educator before staying home to care for our son.)
Here’s my story.
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Accumulating the Student Loan Debt
I attended a state college right here in my home state of South Dakota. Back in the fall of 2003 when I entered school, it cost roughly $7,000 a year for 16 credit hours per semester.
I always had a job in college. Sometimes I had multiple jobs. As a freshman I worked about ten hours each week, but by my senior year I was working as many as forty hours a week between three different jobs. Holding full-time positions in the summer also ensured I could focus on my schoolwork during the school year without having to worry about money as much.
I was a resident assistant in my dorm for two years. This saved me room and board, or roughly $10,000. I also received over $20,000 in scholarships over the course of four years. If there was a local scholarship, state scholarship, or even one on Fastweb that I thought I looked qualified for – I applied.
I walked away from my undergraduate degree with roughly $20,000 in student loan debt.
Fast forward a little bit. I started my masters degree in the spring of 2008. I took out the maximum amount of federal loans they would give me, even though I didn’t really need them. (What was I thinking?!) Plus I decided to just defer on my undergraduate loans. Why bother paying on them when I didn’t have to? (What was I thinking moment #2?) So when I graduated with my masters degree in 2009 I owed another $10,000 for a whopping total of $30,000 in student loan debt.
Paying Off the Student Loan Debt
Student Loan Debt Tips
- Do not take out more loans than you need! Sit down and actually calculate this. Figure out how much you need to pay the tuition bill. Figure out how much you need to live. Determine how much you should take out based on that.
- Work through college if you can while keeping your grades up. This will allow you to borrow less.
- Finish school as quickly as possible. I always intended to graduate in four years, but then I switched majors and thought it was going to take me 4.5 years. Thankfully I was able to take a few summer courses, one independent study course, and still graduate in four years. This move alone saved me over $1,000 just because the cost of tuition rises so much each year.
- Use the snowball effect to pay back the student loan debt if you can. Pay off the lowest amount first. Once that loan is gone, use the money you were spending there to pay off the next lowest. Continue in this way until all loans are paid off! If two loans are roughly the same amount, focus on the one with the higher interest rate. Just make sure to pay the minimums on all your loans so you’re not in default.
- Put any extra money you have toward your student loans. You can cut back as little on your daily life as you’d like, but the more drastic you are willing to be, the sooner your loans will be paid off and you’ll have more financial freedom!
- See if you qualify for any kind of student loan forgiveness. I’m so thankful I found out that I was able to get over $7,000 forgiven. Had I taught something slightly different, I would have had over $15,000 forgiven. To me, it wasn’t worth it, but it might be to you.
- Look into consolidation. If I had consolidated my loans, I would not have been eligible for my loan forgiveness. However, I definitely looked into this and recommend you doing the same. You might save quite a bit of money on interest alone. And you may be able to get all of your payments rolled into one, which will help ensure you don’t miss a payment when you have multiple.
Heather, I commend you on this piece, When I finished my masters and started work on my JD classes I owed roughly the same amount. When it was time to start paying back these loans, my grandmother, who at the time lived with my husband and I, had suffered a stroke which contributed to her early onset dementia. I remember the day when both the loan payment notice and her medical bills both arrived on the same day, totaling nearly $72,000 in debt. I couldn’t breath, and so during a panic attack I hid like a child under my kitchen bar, and cried for hours until my husband came home. We then started working the DR system, first with Financial Peace U. and then the Total Money Makeover series. It was hard. There were many days of pj &j and Netflix while paying back my loans. Had I not received a substantial grant I’m not sure I would have continued on for my JD. The entire time I was paying my school loans and my grandmother’s medical debt, I kept Proverbs 22:7 in the back of my mind, which helped me through it all. You are right, being debt-free is the only way to live! This story makes me day!
I cannot imagine both those bills coming due at the same time! I would be sick! Debt is not any fun at all, but it’s so great to have more freedom when it’s gone and the opportunity to pay cash and enjoy life more. Thanks for the comment! 🙂