How This Grad Paid Off Her $70,000 Student Loans as a New Immigrant

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Melisa Boutin wished for the American dream and opportunity. Originally from St. Kitts-Nevis in the Caribbean, she emigrated to the United States when she was just a teenager.

She did everything by the book. She entered Florida on her own and became a legal permanent resident. Although the federal government offers financial aid to eligible non-citizens, Melisa faced unique hurdles because of her home country’s approaches to education and aid.

“Because I graduated [from high school] outside of the United States, it was difficult completing financial aid and application forms,” she says.

To finance her education, she ended up borrowing nearly $70,000 in student loans, some which had interest rates as high as 9.00%. Now, she’s tackling that debt head on and educating other recent immigrants about managing student loan debt and financial aid.

Financial aid obstacles as an immigrant

When Melisa entered the U.S., she had just graduated from high school in the Caribbean. She settled in Florida because she had an aunt who lived in Miami and worked for the University of Miami.

Determined to go to college and get her degree, she started to research financial aid options.

“Living in Florida as a new immigrant, I thought it made sense to check out the University of Miami,” she says. “The school gives grants to high school graduates from Florida. But even though I was living in Florida legally, I didn’t qualify because my high school was outside the U.S.”

Unable to qualify for those school grant programs, Melisa looked into federal financial aid and started to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, she found even more obstacles.

“Where I come from, there are no income tax returns,” she says. “So I had no way to enter that information.”

Melisa’s parents remained in St. Kitts-Nevis. She was on her own in Florida and sent money she made from part-time jobs back to her family in the Caribbean. But in the eyes of the federal government, she was a dependent. Her dependency status limited the number of options she had.

Applying for federal assistance

Working with the University of Miami’s financial aid office, she was able to complete the FAFSA as a dependent with her aunt as the guardian. With that change, and entering the numbers on her aunt’s tax return, she was able to access federal student loans.

However, the amount she could borrow wasn’t enough to cover the full cost of attendance. To fill the gap, she needed additional help. Since she was a recent immigrant, she turned to a Caribbean company for a loan. With that money, she was able to pay for school. However, those loans would come back to haunt her.

Melisa’s student loan wake-up call

In her freshman year, Melisa looked at her debt and was shocked by the numbers.

“I realized I would be on track to graduate with over $100,000 in debt,” she says. “I had to figure out a way to get off that path and take control of my financial future.”

She transferred after sophomore year to a less expensive four-year school in Texas and went on to graduate school to study engineering. She applied — and won — several scholarships through FastWeb, a site that has a database of thousands of scholarships.

But she still graduated with over $58,000 in student loans. Thanks to high interest rates, that balance quickly ballooned to over $70,000.

However, one of the toughest obstacles she faced was the private loan she borrowed from a Caribbean lender. After graduation, she paid over $4,000 toward that private loan, only to find out later they applied it only to the interest charges, not the principle.

“Banks in the Caribbean have limited regulations, and there are few financial protections,” Melisa says. “You can go over a year without receiving a statement, and they can apply your payments differently without telling you. I felt they took advantage of me.”

Managing student loan repayment

After she graduated with her master’s degree, it took Melisa nearly eight months to find a job in her chosen field. She deferred her loans while job searching until she got back on her feet. Once she got her first full-time job, she reviewed her debt and came up with an aggressive plan.

“I got my job, tallied up everything I had and owed, and came up with a plan to prioritize,” she says.

Her loan with a foreign lender had a 9.00% interest rate, so she focused her efforts on paying off that one first. By coming up with a budget, tracking every dollar, and limiting any extra spending, she was able to pay off $13,000 in debt in one year.

Because of her hard work, she was able to pay off her student loan debt in full just five years after completing her graduate degree — all while sending money back to St. Kitts-Nevis for her family.

Paying it forward

With her debt gone, Melisa is focused on helping other students navigate the financial aid process and manage student loans. She became a certified financial education instructor to help recent immigrants and millennials develop a plan to repay their debt. She also launched the blog Your Money Worth to share advice.

For those struggling to handle their own loans, Melisa recommends tackling your debt directly.

“My advice is that the first thing you do is release any stress or shame debt causes you,” says Melisa. “No matter how you fell into debt, whether you had to borrow to cover the gap or chose the wrong school, the first step is taking responsibility for the debt you have now. Get on top of the debt you have, and create a vision for the life you want without the debt.”

If you’re ready to aggressively pay down your debt, these tips can help you eliminate your student loans faster.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 5.99%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.99% – 6.84%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.91% – 5.25%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.25% – 6.53%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.17% – 4.47%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 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. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of Feburary 1, 2021.


2 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 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% 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 26, 2020, 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 10/26/2020. 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 [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 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.


3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. 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 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 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.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 02/17/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.91% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: 1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.53% 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 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% 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. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *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.Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.99%-5.15% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.17%-4.47% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are 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.