Ten years: That’s how long borrowers typically have to repay their student loans.
Plus, this repayment period falls during the first decade of most college graduates’ adult lives. It’s no wonder dealing with student loans can feel like a ball and chain holding you back at a time when you should be building memories and a financial foundation for your future.
Try picturing yourself without student debt. What would you do, and what chances would you take?
To find out what life is like after student debt, we spoke with four people who’ve paid off student loans. Collectively, these borrowers shed $197,000 worth of student loans and freed up an extra $2,940 per month in their budgets.
Find out how you can gain the same financial freedom.
Life after student loan payments: 4 ways you can use your extra cash
Envisioning what your life could look without student debt can motivate you to keep working toward paying off your student loans.
Here’s how four borrowers who’ve successfully paid off student loans are using their extra money and financial freedom to get the most out of life.
1. Invest in real estate
When Damon Pendleton graduated from law school, he owed more than $120,000 in student loans.
“I don’t regret taking out loans because I needed them at the time,” he said. “Every time I signed for a student loan, I was aware that I had to pay it back.”
Pendleton is now a managing partner at Christina Pendleton & Associates, a personal injury law firm in Virginia. Thanks to his success, Pendleton paid off his student debt a year ago — eight years after graduating from law school.
“When I made the final payment, a weight was lifted off me,” he said. “Just knowing I didn’t owe the government anymore felt good.”
Without his six-figure debt, Pendleton has freed up $1,500 in his monthly budget, which “is used to further grow our family’s investment portfolio.” He and his wife are entrepreneurs and real estate investors, so this extra cash has made a big difference in growing their business ventures.
After paying off his student loans, Pendleton was able to better balance his family’s finances as well.
“Often we were more inclined to use my wife as the guarantor on loans because she did not have the same massive debt as I, even though our incomes are the same,” he said. “Now we balance our investments between the two of us, which makes more sense legally for our family.”
2. Pay off other debt and then chase a rewarding career opportunity
“Life after student loan debt has been rewarding and stress-free,” said Adrianne Harris, founder of Write On! Consulting Agency. She started out with a student loan balance of around $22,000, which she paid off in 2014.
Harris then had an extra $240 to play with per month. She followed the debt snowball method and rolled over this amount to pay extra on her car loan.
“Once I paid off the car, I was able to have more money for fun activities that I previously couldn’t afford to engage in,” Harris said. “I am also able to pay for large-priced items out of pocket and receive discounts because I am able to pay in full, which is super exciting.”
She also took advantage of her new financial freedom to pursue a job that paid less but was “outstandingly rewarding.”
“Being able to take the job even though it pays less and having the testimony of doing the seemingly impossible has been the most rewarding thing I’ve gotten out of paying off my loan,” Harris added.
3. Fulfill a dream to start a business
Today, Jeff Titak is a certified financial planner. But before he started helping other people manage their money, he had to figure out his own finances — specifically, how to pay back $20,000 in student debt when he was making just $25,000 out of college.
Fortunately, Titak owned his car outright and could live with his parents, which helped him avoid housing and transportation costs. He lived off of just 10 percent of his take-home pay and devoted the rest of his money to paying extra on his student debt, wiping it out in just 13 months.
“I felt great paying off the debt,” Titak said. Not only did he free up $200 per month, but he also proved to himself what he could do with a little determination.
“I set a plan in place to pay off my student loans as soon as possible, and it was wonderful to see that I had the discipline to successfully achieve that goal,” Titak explained.
Paying off his debt early saved him thousands of dollars in interest, he said, and created room in his budget to start investing in the stock market.
“Clearing my debt also paved a path for me to pursue my dreams of starting my own business,” he added. After he paid off student loans, Titak was able to gather the capital he needed to found his company, financial planning platform WealthZoo.
“I would highly suggest that anyone with student debt or any other non-mortgage debt pay it off early,” Titak advised. “One less expense means that you too can have the freedom and flexibility to pursue your ambitions, whatever they may be.”
4. Follow your wanderlust
Justine Nelson paid off $35,000 in student loans in just 2.5 years, all while making $37,000 per year.
After paying off her debt in 2014, “life got dramatically better” almost immediately, Nelson said. Ditching her student loans and other debt freed up $1,000 per month, which she used to leave her small Kansas town and chase her dream of traveling.
“Countless adventures suddenly were within reach now that I didn’t have nearly half of my paycheck going toward debt,” Nelson said. She enjoyed stateside sights such as Yosemite National Park, Miami beaches, and the Grand Canyon. She also traveled abroad to Zurich, Switzerland, where her now-husband proposed to her.
“We even moved to sunny San Diego, a city that most people vacation in,” Nelson said. It’s a major upgrade for the Midwesterner, who certainly isn’t in Kansas anymore.
Nelson also cited some other money moves she’s working on now that she’s paid off student loans:
- She’s able to contribute toward a “big, fat retirement account.”
- She was able to purchase a used car in cash “without the worry of another payment!”
- She can continue to travel and explore U.S. cities.
- She’s currently saving for an upcoming trip. She’ll be spending “two weeks in Australia (paid for in cash!).”
Nelson’s journey out of debt inspired her to help others achieve the same success. So she created Debt Free Millennials, a program designed to help young people pay down their debt.
“I like to tell people, ‘Warning: Lack of debt may increase quality of life,’” Nelson joked.
Envision your future when you’ve paid off student loans
You might be a year (or several) away from getting out of student debt. But these four borrowers prove that life after student loans can be amazing — and well worth the effort to get there faster.
Identify your own reasons for paying off your student loans and find ways to remind yourself of them. Make sure you take the time to remember your reasons for getting out of debt. Doing so can help motivate you and sustain you during times of debt repayment burnout.
Keep your eyes on the prize — a life without student loans. And remember that you’re worth all the effort.
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