How This Graduate Quit Her Job, Traveled the World, and Paid Off Over $60K

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Katrina McGhee was like many of us. She went to college, got some grants, took out loans, and landed a job after graduating that allowed her to make the monthly payments. But then something else happened: She got restless and unhappy.

“I didn’t love being an actuary,” says McGhee. “And after eight years at various companies and in various roles, I realized I just needed to change my career completely.”

With only $2,000 left to pay on her undergraduate student loans, McGhee decided to get her Master of Business Administration degree and acquired nearly $60,000 worth of new debt. The new loan payments were higher with higher interest, and it stressed out the grad student.

“No matter what happened in my life — if my car broke down, my HVAC [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] system broke — I would be on the hook for $800 every month,” she says. “It then dawned on me that it could benefit me to pay this down as fast as possible.”

Debt and happiness

McGhee took major steps to start paying down her debt, but she hit that restlessness roadblock again. “I had been working at General Mills for a year, and deep in my soul I knew I didn’t want to work in corporate America,” she says. “But I was making all of this money and had all of this debt … I felt torn.”

She turned to a life coach, who helped guide her on a path toward finding happiness. “After working with her for eight months, I had this huge epiphany that I really wanted to take a career break,” says McGhee. “I was burned out.”

So, while she continued to make monthly payments on her loans, McGhee shifted her attention to saving up for an extended vacation. In 18 months, she saved $40,000, put her loans into forbearance, quit her job, and then traveled the world for 20 months.

When she returned, the world traveler felt refreshed and took a job that paid less, but it made her happier. McGhee then used her travel-budgeting skills to tackle the rest of her debt and was able to pay it off 22 months later.

“I know a lot of people approach paying off their debt like a crash diet, but that wasn’t for me,” she says. “I wanted to find the balance of paying off my debt, but also living my life. I’m so happy I was able to make that happen.”

4 tips for traveling the world and getting out of debt

Here’s how the now-certified life coach traveled the world and became debt-free — as well as her advice on how you can do the same.

1. Be clear about your goals

Whether you want to quit your job and travel, pay off your student loan debt in a year, or save up for a house, you should get honest and specific about your goals. Having vague goals, according to McGhee, makes it impossible for you to achieve them because you have no day-to-day guidance on your spending and budgeting habits.

“Don’t just say, ‘I want a break from work,'” she says. “Instead, say, ‘I want to take a year off and travel to see the elephants in Chiang Mai [Thailand]. It will take this amount of money.’ That is a much more powerful reality, and it makes it easier to choose your goal daily over any immediate indulgence.”

In the moments when you’re choosing to go out with your friends for the third time in a month, you’ll remember your goal and make the better financial decision.

2. Track your spending and cut your costs

After clarifying your goal, you’ll need to start understanding where your money is going to make any adjustments. Do you need cable? Can you stop your gym membership? Can you cook at home more? See where you’re spending unnecessarily, cut those costs, and put the money toward your goal.

“Check in with your spending habits daily,” says McGhee. “With each purchase or payment, ask yourself if it helps or hurts your goal. This isn’t the most fun, but it’s effective. And you don’t have to sacrifice your entire lifestyle either.”

McGhee wanted to live in a swanky apartment. So, rather than moving out of her residence, she got a roommate to cut the cost. “I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted, which is why I decided to stay in my apartment,” she says. “Instead, I started to think of ways to subsidize my rent. Getting a roommate saved me about $600 a month.”

3. Adopt a debt payoff method

A popular strategy to pay off loans is the debt avalanche method, which entails paying off the balance with the highest interest rate first while making minimum payments on the rest each month. Once that loan is paid off, use the monthly payment money toward paying down the loan with the next highest interest, and so on. This tactic helps reduce the overall interest you’ll pay for the time you’re in debt.

“You bought your education with the principal, not the interest,” says McGhee. “So, it just feels like money you’re giving away. Instead, give less away and keep more for yourself.”

Another popular debt payoff strategy is the debt snowball method, which has you focus on paying off the smallest loan first while paying the minimum amounts on other loans. Once that loan paid off, you put that payment money to tackle the next smallest one.

Some people like the emotional boost from the quick wins of paying off smaller loans, while others prefer to keep the overall interest charges down to save money. It’s important to research both methods to decide which one works best for you.

4. Consolidate your debt

If you have high-interest loans, see if you can consolidate your debt with a lower-interest loan. This could help not only to reduce your monthly payments but also to keep down the total amount you’ll pay. It also could help streamline your payments into a single one per month, so you’re not overwhelmed by paying multiple bills.

McGhee’s best opportunity to consolidate her debt was to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC). “I was able to get a lower interest rate with my HELOC, and the interest was tax-deductible,” she says. “This helped me pay off my loans much faster and save the money. It’s always good to keep an eye out for opportunities like this to consolidate your debt, minimize your cost, and increase your savings.”

Live your life and pay off your debt

You might have heard stories about people who slept on a couch and ate ramen noodles for years to get out of debt. While that method can indeed be effective, it doesn’t have to be the only way.

McGhee was able to live the lifestyle she wanted, accomplish major life goals, and still become debt-free. She proved that the strategy doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Be clear about what you want and make a plan of how to get there, and you could “have it all,” too.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. 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.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% 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 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% 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. 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
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.