How This Traveling Entrepreneur Manages $50,000 in Student Loans

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Image credit: Sharon Hadden

When Sharon Hadden was working full time as a digital experience manager, she had no trouble making payments on her student loans. But corporate life wasn’t the right fit for Hadden, and she longed to spread her entrepreneurial wings and travel the world.

Choosing not to let her remaining student loan debt hold her back, Hadden left her job to run her own marketing agency. But as her financial situation changed, she realized she needed to make major changes in her approach to student loan repayment, too.

Here’s how Hadden balances entrepreneurship, travel and student loan repayment on the almost $50,000 she has left, as well as the lessons she’s learned along the way.

Graduating with $57,000 in federal student loans
Saying goodbye to a 6-figure income
Building a business while traveling the world
Feeling the financial squeeze
Adjusting her student loan repayment strategy
Her advice to other student loan borrowers

Graduating with $57,000 in federal student loans

A first-generation college student, Hadden received a full honors scholarship at Claflin University in South Carolina, where she graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. But when she pursued her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications at West Virginia University after working for a few years, she had to borrow student loans.

“I had zero scholarship opportunities, and my income level pushed me out of reach for financial aid,” Hadden said. “I graduated in 2016 with almost $60,000 in federal student loans.”

Her interest rates ranged from 5.06% to 6.59%, and she paid $670 a month. When she got a job at NVIDIA, a technology company, Hadden had no trouble keeping up with monthly payments.

“I was making a six-figure income [around $100,000], and one of NVIDIA’s company benefits included a student loan repayment program,” Hadden said. “For about nine months, I continued making my payment of $670 a month, and the company also paid $500 a month toward my student loan debt.”

But even though she valued the financial stability and student loan repayment assistance, Hadden longed to work for herself.

Saying goodbye to a 6-figure income

Not wanting to put her professional dreams on the back burner, Hadden decided to leave her corporate job to grow her business, a marketing agency called Social Savvy Consulting that she’d started a few years prior. In the three months before leaving her job, she was able to grow her revenue to about $1,000 a month, most of which she funneled into savings.

“I tapped back into the network and brand that I’d previously built to revive my business,” Hadden said. “I went from a steady monthly income of at least $8,000 after tax to living off savings.”

But even though the change in her income was dramatic, dropping to less than $20,000 a year, Hadden felt confident in her ability to work for herself.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” she said. “In high school, I got my cosmetology license so I could style hair through college to pay for living expenses. After college, I freelanced alongside my full-time job.”

Although Hadden knew leaving her job was a risk, she was excited to give her marketing venture a real shot.

“I was really scared, but super optimistic,” she said.

Building a business while traveling the world

Along with wanting to work for herself, Hadden also felt excited to travel the world while networking with fellow entrepreneurs. So she joined Remote Year, a company that brings digital nomads to a new country each month. Participating in Remote Year costs about $2,000 a month — plus a $5,000 down payment — but this includes housing and travel between countries, apart from the initial flights to and from home.

“When I signed up for Remote Year, I had a few clients across the U.S., so I knew location independence wasn’t going to be a problem,” Hadden said. “Remote Year was an investment to meet other women in business around the world, listen to their stories and expand my network.”

Along with growing her network, Hadden got the chance to live across Asia in cities such as Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Kyoto and Kuala Lumpur.

“Hanoi was my favorite,” she said. “The chaos of the city streets and the weekly night markets were magical.”

Although she ran into occasional internet issues, Hadden loved the experience of living internationally.

“Traveling abroad is a symbiotic experience,” she said. “You immerse yourself in new cultures, and you bring a little of your culture for the locals to enjoy.”

Feeling the financial squeeze

Although Hadden’s new lifestyle enriched her life in lots of ways, she soon felt stressed about money.

“When I decided to take the leap and leave my job, I had a runway of about six months,” she said. “As my runway started to shorten, every unexpected expense made me sick to my stomach, and not being able to bring in proper cash flow really did a number on my self-esteem.”

For Hadden, her biggest concern was falling behind on her student loan payments.

“I had this spreadsheet that forecast my revenue potential,” she said. “But entrepreneurship doesn’t work like that.”

She also suggested that this concern may have affected her Remote Year experience: “I don’t think I ever really relaxed into my remote lifestyle because I was so worried the day was coming when I’d default on my loan.”

Adjusting her student loan repayment strategy

Although Hadden didn’t want her student loans to hold her back, she also didn’t want to slow down repayment with an alternative repayment plan. But given her change in income and the unexpected expenses that popped up while traveling, she knew she had to make a change.

“I started gathering the paperwork to apply for an income-driven repayment plan, which is a little challenging when you’re self-employed,” Hadden said. “When I was approved for a payment of less than $200 a month [nearly $130], it was an instant relief. I wish I had done it sooner.”

Income-driven repayment plans adjust your monthly payment along with your income while extending your terms to 20 or 25 years. This adjustment can be a huge relief for borrowers who, like Hadden, are having a tough time keeping up with monthly payments.

Even though she was resistant to extending her terms at first, Hadden said doing so was the right decision.

“Had I updated my repayment status when I left my job, I would have had an additional $4,000 for travel and living expenses,” she said. “That’s a lot of money. Money that would have reduced the anxiety of financial uncertainty during an already stressful life change.”

Her advice to other student loan borrowers? Don’t try to keep up appearances

Because Hadden was resistant to the idea of extending her student loan terms, she had even more financial pressure as she tried to build her business and travel. Looking back, she wishes she had taken advantage of the flexible repayment options that come with federal student loans sooner — and advises anyone else in a similar situation to do the same.

“A lot of things change when you start working for yourself or traveling the world, and your student loan status should change with it,” she said. “Don’t bank on income you haven’t yet received. There are a variety of repayment options for a reason, and no one will fault you if your circumstance has changed.”

Along with income-driven plans, federal student loans come with options such as extended repayment, graduated repayment, deferment and forbearance. While it’s smart to be cautious with these plans, as they can cost you more in interest, remember that they’re there for you if you need them.

Unfortunately, private student loans typically don’t come with the same flexibility, though some private lenders will let you pause payments in certain circumstances. Plus, qualifying borrowers can refinance student loans to adjust their monthly payments and choose new terms.

Whatever kind of debt you have, explore your options for repayment, especially if you’re dealing with an uncertain income. By trying various strategies of repayment, you can find one that works for you while avoiding student loan default.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 7 lenders of 2019!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.05% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.49% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 11, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/11/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR to 5.98% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.05% APR to 5.98% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.05% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.05% minus 0.15% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE (“APR”)
This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

FIXED APR

Fixed rate options consist of a range from 3.75% per year to 5.80% per year for a 5-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 4.55% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term, 4.85% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.30% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan). The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.75% per year to 5.80% per year for a 5-year term would be from $183.04 to $192.40. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term would be from $137.84 to $147.29. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.55% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term would be from $103.88 to $114.31. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.85% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.30 to $90.16. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.30% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.66 to $79.16.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

VARIABLE APR

Variable rate options consist of a range from 2.50% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.75% per year to 6.90% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.45% to 4.25% for the 5-year term loan, 1.95% to 4.30% for the 7-year term loan, 2.20% to 4.35% for the 10-year term loan, 2.45% to 4.60% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.70% to 4.85% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 2.50% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term would be from $177.47 to $194.73. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term would be from $136.69 to $147.77. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term would be from $102.44 to $113.04. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term would be from $76.50 to $87.94. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.75% per year to 6.90% per year for a 20-year term would be from $64.62 to $76.93.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

MAXIMUM RATES

Borrowers who take out a variable loan with a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%. Borrowers who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

FEE INFORMATION

There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.

LOAN AMOUNT

For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.

ELIGIBILITY & ELIGIBLE LOANS

Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).
Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.

INTEREST RATES

The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.

DISBURSEMENT OPTIONS

The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.

POSTPONING OR REDUCING PAYMENTS

After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of October 1, 2019 and is subject to change.


4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.05% effective September 10, 2019.


6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.


7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.

4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 09/23/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

2.05% – 6.49%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.05% – 5.98%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.25% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.43% – 7.60%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.14% – 7.21%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

2.01% – 8.88%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.74% – 6.24%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

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