You can’t necessarily plan your feelings — but you can prepare the celebration afterward. After all, letting go of your education debt deserves some letting loose. If you’re looking for inspiration, see how these four borrowers commemorated getting rid of their balances.
Antoine Martel lowered his education costs by attending a community college for two years. Then, thanks to his parents’ savings, he avoided student loans for his degree from Loyola Marymount University in California, from which he graduated in 2017.
“They just paid for it and never asked me to pay them back for any of it,” he told Student Loan Hero. “But I felt deep down that it was the right thing to do.”
Twenty months after graduating — and after starting a successful home-flipping business that earned him approximately $100,000 in income — Martel repaid his mom and dad on Christmas morning.
After confirming the exact total of his student loan debt ($57,595.04) on his college website, he put a check in an envelope and hung it on the family tree. It was the last present to be unwrapped.
“My mom opened it first, and she started crying and then passed it to my dad and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ ” Martel said. “I don’t think there was a better way to celebrate it than with the people who paid for my college.”
Like many borrowers, David Gilson adopted the debt snowball method, paying off his lowest-balance loans first. That made it more palatable to attack the $72,411.20 in debt (across 11 federal and private student loans) that he’d racked up in four years at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
With about $40,000 in private loans remaining — and an average APR of about 6% — he consolidated his debt and reduced his APR to 3.87% by refinancing with SoFi. Gilson also got help by downsizing his car and teaming up with his wife. Finally, in March 2019, he was able to pay off his SoFi balance.
The Gilsons celebrated by accomplishing their biggest financial goal yet. Eager to find a home with a backyard and a better school district for their young daughter, the family was able to move to a larger house now that paying off those student loans had improved Gilson’s credit and made such a purchase realistic.
“If I still had my monthly student loan payments of over $1,000, we would not have as much flexibility to pay our mortgage as well as invest in our retirements the way we would like to,” he told Student Loan Hero.
To clear her six-figure student loan balance before turning 30, Mandy Velez says she:
- Took on jobs she didn’t want
- Had to overcome a layoff
- Skipped ride-sharing services
- Packed her lunch
- Asked for raises at work
- Walked dogs, did babysitting and cat-sitting
- Cut her food budget to “salad, eggs, chicken and rice”
- Turned down social occasions that cost money
After literally putting her life on hold, it was only fitting that Velez celebrated while dressed in all black, with an elaborate photo shoot in a cemetery.
“It is with immense pleasure that I announce the death of my student loans,” Velez posted on Facebook in October. “On August 2, 2019, after six years, I finally killed them. It was a slow death but was worth every bit of the fight.”
Velez’s savings strategies, plus the snowball payment method, helped her wipe out an original $75,000 in education debt that had grown to $102,000, thanks to accruing interest. She reported clearing the final $32,000 in eight months.
Her success story took on a life of its own. National publications like USA Today, Yahoo and People magazine featured her debt’s funeral.
Caitlin Boston also took to the internet to mark the occasion of her blank student loan balance. Unlike Velez in black, however, Boston donned a purple spandex leotard.
Her comical dance routine included a much more serious subplot. Among other family trauma, Boston’s father committed suicide after struggling with his own debt. In a YouTube video, Boston detailed her personal experience for all to see, and it has already racked up close to a million views. It also gained the attention of Good Morning America, BuzzFeed and USA Today.
Boston’s sage advice likely led to the video’s popularity. In it, she offers the top secret of her success: Asking your peers what salary they earn, and then seeking a raise. While many borrowers focus on cost-cutting, Boston’s income-increasing approach netted her a 41% jump in salary, according to her video.
“Especially if you’re a woman, you just need to expect that you’re being underpaid. Your job is to figure out by how much,” Boston, who borrowed $147,602.95 for college and graduate school, wrote in the video’s description.
Boston recommended her YouTube viewers make the request less uncomfortable by posing the question this way: “Are you making over or under ‘X’ dollars?”
No two student loan repayment processes are the same, so don’t expect to celebrate yours to be exactly like that of Martel, Gilson, Velez or Boston.
With that said, here are three ways you might consider honoring the end of your debt.
1. Mark the occasion with people who helped you along the way
Even if you didn’t borrow directly from your parents like Martel did, you might have benefitted from the support of family and friends during your repayment. Now’s your chance to at least pay them back with your gratitude. Bring them together and share the moment.
If you can’t gather all your loved ones in the same room, do so digitally. Kelan and Brittany Kline, for example, celebrated paying off $25,323.33 in less than six months by inviting family and friends to a live-stream of their last payment (you can watch it here).
2. Do something for yourself that you sacrificed during repayment
Like Velez, you may have forgone some fun to end your debt.
When your balance is finally down to zero, you might decide to splurge for once. Ask yourself what you’ve given up over the past months or years to make those extra (or extra-large) loan payments. Then, see if you have the savings to cover the cost responsibly.
If you skimped on vacations while budgeting to pay off your debt, for example, it’s reasonable to splurge on a memorable getaway. Just don’t resort to a credit card to do it, unless you have the cash to pay off your balance at the end of the month.
3. Achieve your next personal finance goal
For Gilson, repaying student loan debt paved the way for his family to move up and out into a bigger house.
You might not be ready to take on a home mortgage, but the end of your education debt could allow you to focus on your next financial goal. You could replenish your emergency fund (if necessary), but if that doesn’t sound like the celebration you had in mind, you could also consider:
- Continuing your education, transitioning careers or even starting your own business
- Increasing your charity spending, maybe by giving back to other student loan borrowers
- Refocusing your investment efforts, perhaps dedicating more money to your 401(k) plan
Repaying student loans might feel like it cost you blood, sweat and tears beyond the dollars and cents of your monthly payments. Once your payments are no more, however, it’s time to enjoy the happy ending.
Regardless of how you decide to celebrate paying off student loans, keep your eyes on the prize. It might help motivate you to pay down your debt even faster.