4 Top Strategies for Paying Off $100k+ in Student Loan Debt

If you have over $100,000 in student loan debt, there are several strategies you can implement to pay it off quickly and without giving up decades of your life to debt.

I know the feeling of this level of debt all too well. Together, my husband and I have nearly $400,000 in student loan debt from graduate school and medical school. And my husband’s not even done with medical school yet (or adding student loans to that total)!

Because he’ll be a physician in a few months, he will be well on his way to earning a high income. However, that doesn’t diminish the student loan burden we both feel. So we’ll be trying a combination of things to eliminate this debt entirely.

If you also have $100k+ of student loan debt, here are some of the best strategies to pay it off as quickly as possible:

1. Minimize Lifestyle Inflation

If you have $100k or more in student loan debt because you attended professional school, chances are you now also have a high income because of your education. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, or went to business school, you likely had to put in a lot of time over several years to learn your craft.

Because you’ve spent so long at school, it’s easy to inflate your lifestyle once you get that first paycheck. However, I want to encourage you to keep living like a student for as long as possible.

For example, if you lived off of $30,000 per year while you were in graduate school, try to live off of the same amount during your first few years in the professional world. Hold off on making a new car purchase or buying a new home.

If your take-home pay is $150,000 per year and you live on only $30,000, you now have $120,000 to put towards your debt and the interest your debt has accrued. Do this for 1–3 years in a row, and you could easily pay off your debt and have the rest of your career to enjoy the high income you worked so hard to achieve.

It’s important to note that avoiding lifestyle inflation can help anyone pay off their debt regardless of their income level. It just comes down to spending much less than you earn so that you can aggressively pay off debt quickly and enjoy a life without it.

2. Research Loan Forgiveness

Six figures of debt can be daunting for anyone, regardless of how high your income is. However, there are many different type of loan forgiveness that can help you pay off large portions of your debt.

The best-known loan forgiveness program is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. With this program, you have to work in a public service organization like emergency management, the military, or another approved entity.

After making 120 on-time payments while working at an approved organization, your loans are forgiven. And it doesn’t matter whether you have $2,000 or $200,000 left on your balance.

There are also loan forgiveness programs, such as like student loan forgiveness for teachers and Income-Driven Repayment options that offer loan forgiveness after a certain number of years.

3. Look into Refinancing

Although federal loans have the most flexible repayment plans, sometimes refinancing is the best option if you’re looking to save money.

For example, if your student loan interest rate is 6.8%, you can refinance to a private lender like SoFi. As of this writing, SoFi offers fixed rates for student loan refinancing that currently start at 3.25%. You might have shorter repayment terms and larger monthly payments, but you will also save thousands of dollars in interest in the process.

If you started out with private student loans, you likely have interest rates that are even higher, which can bring greater savings if you refinance.Want to get a sense of whether you might qualify to refinance? Take our refinancing eligibility quiz!

4. Focus on Increasing Your Income

If you’re serious about paying off your six figures worth of debt quickly, finding ways to increase your income is likely the most effective strategy.

When it comes to making extra income, you can do a number of different side hustle jobs that can bring in significant cash.

Some side hustle jobs include things like:

  • teaching yoga
  • pet sitting
  • freelance writing and editing
  • having a newspaper route
  • tutoring high school students
  • being a coach
  • working as a part-time consultant

If you have an MBA, you can work on the side and help businesses learn how to budget and turn a profit.

If you have a knack for marketing, you can help local businesses improve their social media presence, and if you love working outside, you can cut the grass for family and friends or help people with their gardening.

If you’re a nutritionist by trade, you can work with companies during your off hours to help create company wellness programs.

Essentially, you can do these kinds of work outside of your regular office hours and apply any extra money you make from this type of job towards your student loans. This will help you to pay them down much faster.

Ultimately, having over $100k of student loan debt is overwhelming. I know because my family lives with it every day. However, the good news is that in acquiring that amount of debt, you’ve likely also increased your earning potential.

By working hard, increasing your income, and utilizing refinancing and other repayment options in addition to keeping your living expenses low, you can be well on your way to paying off your debt quickly and enjoying your income going forward without the burden of debt.

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Published in Federal Student Loan Repayment, Income, Pay Off Student Loans, Private Student Loan Consolidation, Private Student Loan Refinancing, Refinance Student Loans, Student Loan Repayment

  • Lauren

    This is all fine, but what about those who went to private liberal arts school and aren’t making $150k/year? Many students who accumulate this type of debt aren’t doctors or lawyers. Many end up in the food service industry and are being crushed by debt with no extra room in their pay that can go toward paying down debt quickly. It’s the bare minimum. This is a HUGE issue that our lawmakers need to address.

  • Hi Lauren,

    We totally agree! We have other articles that address this for borrowers who don’t make this amount of money. You can find them here: https://studentloanhero.com/start-here/

    If you have other questions, let us know!



    • Sashy Ashy

      There are some major errors in the math here.. If you lived off $30,000 most like you actually took your entire check home and received a few thousand at the end of the year from taxes. If you make $150,000 you’re placed in a higher tax bracket and get to owe taxes at the end of the year and…yay… Not be able to write your student loan interest off anymore 🙂 During this time you will also be making that minimum $700-1000 month student loan payment just to keep debtors away. So the $120,000 you thought you’d have to put down and suddenly pay them off turned to about an extra $10k a year like that! So, after all is said and done you buckle down for the next 10 year and when you’re about 40 you may have them paid off. Woohoo! Oh and not to mention that ratchet 1999 Honda Civic you thought you could drive while cracking down on your loans just exploded. And what you’re not included on your parents health insurance anymore?! Life is EXPENSIVE!

  • Jeremy Wattenbarger

    I have 175K in student loans and make 150K a year. The problem is I just got my wages to the point a year ago. I had to get multiple Master Degrees just to move my salary that far up. I am in information security even and wages just suck anymore. My first Master Degree was totally worthless my salary stayed stagnant even though it was in Information Security. I went back for a Masters Degree in Digital Forensic Science and now I am making money. The problem is I am recovering from the all the years of low stagnant wages. I started working in 1998 in the tech field and with lay offs, contracts, downsizing and now in addition I have student loans.

    I served 12 yrs in the Army Guard but I was in during the 90’s and guess what my GI Bill paid for my Associates and some of my Bachelors and ran out. I even went to a community college. That is how bad college benefits were back in the day for military. So I am stuck paying every dime and seeing capitalized interest of nearly 4K. I do not qualify now for any type of payment reduction and to make matters worse I have a special needs child that I have to spend thousands a month for therapy and medical for. Student loans are wanting around $1500 to $2000 a month to pay them off. I am at a point I may just have to default on them if I cannot get some relief somewhere. Growing up white, poor to low middle class in rural schools does not give you anything in the way of scholarship opportunities or ways to pay for college. I have had to struggle to get where I am and now I am being crushed with 6.75% interest on a student loan when my house is 2.25% VA. makes no sense to me at all.

  • Spencer

    Hi my name is Spencer. I’m currently a transfer student entering college with 27 credits. I need another 90 credits to earn a bachelors degree. However, I find myself on death row because when I reach the end of my bachelors degree; I will owe 187,000. I should point out that I won’t have a masters or doctorate at the end. Just a beautiful bachelors degree. What would you recommend I do? The unforeseen future is quite overwhelming and while I remain positive and rational; I ask myself if I should just stop, flee the country, and WWOOF for the rest of my life with a greater purpose. Though I can’t bring myself to just flee the country and ignore responsibility. Doe’s anyone have any advice they could pass on to me? Thank you.

  • John

    This article lacks research and does not look at what an average college graduate earns when completing school. Even when someone finishes med school, interns and residents make very little and nowhere close to the $150,000/yr. Now, looking at someone that actually earns $150,000/yr and cannot figure out how to pay off +100k in debt makes me question how this person ever completed all the training to earn that much to begin with.

    • Shanèe Grant

      Most residencies pay from 50,000- 75,000 depending on location and specialty program. If you’re in her situation where there are two residents bringing in that income.. Yes you can get pretty close to 150,000 a year. Depending on the specialty after residency you can make as much as 400, 000 a year ( Some surgical specialties and interventional Cardiologists make that on average ). If you’re a top plastic surgeon / Orthopedic surgeon it could be even more. It would be about 4-6 years AFTER residency before you make that much , depending how long the respective fellowships are. However, I dont think bringing in 100,000 jointly during residency is anything to sneeze at especially if for the next 30-40 years you’ll be bringing in a combined income anywhere from 400,000- 1,000,000 a year ( again depending on specialties her and her significant other choose ) . A significant amount of physicians also invest their money so in addition to salary they can make more. It just all depends on the direction you choose to go after medical school

    • dan stenberg

      What about the Social Worker who is 100,000 in debt. Chose this profession as it is in his blood. (Sure didn’t do it for the money and glory!) but he will be offered a job at 35 or so when he gets out! What a racket. Somebody in business (and ethically A LOT different) can make big bucks, and we pay PEANUTS to the ones who actually might HELP our kids and more…

    • dan stenberg

      What about the Social Worker who is 100,000 in debt. Chose this profession as it is in his blood. (Sure didn’t do it for the money and glory!) but he will be offered a job at 35 or so when he gets out! What a racket. Somebody in business (and ethically A LOT different) can make big bucks, and we pay PEANUTS to the ones who actually might HELP our kids and more…

  • Ryun Hod (Rhsims)

    lol what a joke of an article. Completely unrealistic.