You're Not Alone
Maddie Olmstead thought she did everything right. She worked through graduate school, obtained a law degree and began working as a corporate attorney, getting paid a six-figure salary.
But this came at a cost: she graduated with $215,000 of debt and she no longer wants to practice law. Maddie now works as a personal financial advisor.
Still followed by her looming debt, Maddie is working hard to pay it off. She has been able to bring it down to $124,000, so far.
Unfortunately, Maddie’s story isn’t unique. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the total outstanding student loan debt in the is more than $1.5 trillion.
With such a sizable burden of debt looming, preventing them from taking important steps through life such as buying a home or starting a family, millennials are using aggressive strategies to get out of debt quickly.
An Extra $10 a Month Shaved Off a Year in Repayment
Jay Mathis, a freelance writer and student debt advocate, finished paying off $28,000 in student loans in November of 2014 after just three years of repayment. When he started his three-year student debt journey, it was tough for him to not be overwhelmed by his debt.
“I know I used to look at that number and it would just seem so daunting,” Mathis explains.
He started small with his payments, adding an extra ten dollars to each payment, and it made a big impact.
“When I called the loan servicer to what difference that would make, I didn’t expect much. But they told me that $10 a payment would shave an entire year off the total time I’d be paying.”
After seeing what impact the ten extra dollars had on his debt payoff, Mathis was inspired to do more.
“Ten dollars done consistently can make a big difference,” Mathis says. “So that’s when I started thinking if that’s what ten dollars can do, what can twenty or fifty dollars do?”
Eventually, Mathis was putting about half of his paycheck towards loans every month, enabling him to become debt free in just three years.
Getting Extreme: Sacrificing Heat for Debt Freedom
If you want to find money to pay off debts, cutting expenses is an essential piece of the puzzle.
Both from Cleveland, Stuart Boyarsky, a nurse, and Lauren Boyarsky, a pharmacist, made major changes to their living situation to pay off their combined $98,000 of student debt in just two years. When they began to cut costs, everything seemed like a sacrifice at first. The couple got rid of cable, switched to a cut-rate gym membership, and started buying anything that they could second-hand and used.
But to really cut down on expenses, they began renting, and moved into, a house with no central heat. Instead of the comfort of not worrying how to heat their home, Stuart and Lauren learned to use a wood stove and a gas heater for the two years they lived there.
While the Boyarskys were able to make significant savings compared to their previous rent and utility bills, they say they went a bit too far.
“On very cold winter nights, the house would drop to 40 degrees and frost would climb up the inside of some of the walls, even with the gas stove on full blast,” Stuart says. “The only way to warm it up would be to chop up some wood and start a fire. If you’ve ever had to go outside in the middle of a below-zero winter night to grab wood from the wood pile, baby the fire until it lit, and wait 40 minutes for the stove to heat up enough to warm the room you’re in, you know what a sacrifice that was.”
While not all student loan borrowers have to go so far to pay off debt, cutting major expenses like housing by sharing with roommates and living in a less expensive area of town goes a long way.
You've Got Options
When it comes to reducing your spending, there’s one expense everyone wants to get rid of: interest. Optimizing payment plans can give borrowers lower monthly payments at lower interest rates.
Richard Declerk, a software engineer living in Rochester, NY, graduated with $70,000 in debt from his undergraduate degree. After graduating, he put his federal loans into forbearance to allow him to concentrate on paying down his $50,000 of private student loans. Richard refinanced his private loans and was able to reduce his interest rates from 9% to 2.2%. He then could focus on paying off one loan at a time while reducing his four-figure loan payment to approximately $450 a month, making his repayment much more manageable.
Maddie switched from a 10 year plan to a 25 year extended repayment plan so she could focus the amounts from her extra payments on the principal towards the loan she was actively paying off. She still plans to pay it off in 10 years, but was able to lower her current monthly payments.
There are several ways to manage and restructure your loans so you do not pay more than you can afford. You can switch repayment plans to help the amount you owe each month fit into your budget, allowing you to focus on paying down extra principal payments on your most burdensome loan. Borrowers can refinance, swapping out high interest loans for better interest rates with private lenders.
Make Repayment Priority #1
One thing was common among the strategies of all four of the student loan borrowers mentioned above: paying off debt must be your top priority.
“The goal and vision of being debt free is greater than anything else for me right now,” Maddie emphasizes.
Jay echoes this point. “I made the decision early on that debt repayment was my priority. I knew that it was really important.”
The Other Side
While student loan debt can be overwhelming, the other side is worth it. Jay and his wife are now both self-employed and have just moved to Denver. He doesn’t think they would have felt confident enough to make the move if he hadn’t paid off his student loans.