Originally published Jan. 12, 2016
After making the very last payment on my student loans, I was hit with a flood of emotions — relief, joy and disbelief. It had been a long haul.
My journey into student loan debt started innocently enough at age 17 when I headed to college. Loans were my only option to pay for school, so I signed up without flinching, not truly knowing what I was getting into.
I graduated with my bachelor’s degree — and $23,000 in education debt. Then I took on an additional $58,000 to attend my dream graduate school. There was $68,000 left to repay before I really got serious about becoming debt-free.
If you have a similar number hanging over your head, here’s how to pay off your student loans in five years or less.
How to pay off student loans in 5 years
In December 2015, I made my very last payment. Here’s how I did it.
- Moving to a cheaper location
- Starting a side hustle… or three
- Live like a college student
- Earning a better income
I went to graduate school in New York City and absolutely loved it. But when I graduated, I couldn’t find consistent work. After six months of giving it my all, I realized I couldn’t afford my rent in the city and make sufficient payments on my student loans.
I could have opted for an income-driven plan, but I considered it a last resort since I knew interest would keep accruing. At the time, my loans were already generating $11 in interest per day — and it made me sick. I had begun to realize that New York City is one of the worst places to repay debt.
So I ended up moving to Portland, Ore., to reunite with my partner (after having done long distance for nearly two years, which also isn’t cheap) and lower my rent. In fact, I cut my rent in half.
Portland proved to be more affordable in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t great for my employment situation. I continued to struggle, making $10 to $12 per hour for a year and a half.
I could pay my bills, but was dipping into my savings to continue to put more towards my debt. I knew I didn’t want to completely wipe out my savings, so I began to side hustle every chance I got.
Over the past four and a half years, I have:
- Sold water at a rave
- Participated in a medical study
- Served as a coat-checker for a party
- Worked as a brand ambassador (which increased my income by $5,000 per year with a few gigs per month)
- Was a house cleaner, pet sitter and registration assistant for a race
Since I didn’t have full-time work, I made it my job to find work. Weekends and holidays were especially lucrative, and Craigslist and TaskRabbit were my best friends.
I would venture to say that I’ve worked the majority of weekends and holidays for the past four years. At certain points, I was so tired and sick of working, but the dream of being free of my debt kept me going.
I knew I didn’t want to spend one more day than I had to with the burden of student loans. To me, student loans felt like a ball and chain, holding me back from everything I wanted to accomplish.
Although it seemed never-ending at the time, I can now say that working so hard was worth it. It wasn’t always glamorous and it wasn’t always fun, but it helped me pay off student loans faster.
I’m 31 years old; many people my age are “settling down” with houses, new cars and little ones on the way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it seems like a natural progression in life. However, I knew if I wanted to make debt repayment my priority, I had to continue to live like a college student.
I focused on the big three expenses first: housing, food and transportation:
- My partner and I live in a small studio apartment together (it’s romantic!).
- I don’t have a car and mostly bike or walk everywhere.
- I limit my food expenses by buying fewer packaged foods and cooking instead.
In addition to the big three expenses, I also said no to having pets, cable, clothes, makeup, a gym membership and most other luxuries.
That’s not to say I had no fun — I still budgeted for some travel and restaurant outings, as I believe it’s important to have some fun and rewards while paying off debt, or else debt fatigue will set in.
Now, this is not a standard tactic I would recommend for most people. But quitting my job and starting my own business was one of the best financial decisions I made.
After a year and a half in Portland, I eventually found a full-time job paying $31,000. I was ecstatic about a nearly-$10,000 raise over the year before, plus benefits. At the same time, my side hustles became more specialized. I started freelance writing on the side, managing social media accounts and more.
Though there was a huge learning curve for managing my own business, I started to see that it could potentially be more lucrative than my full-time job at a nonprofit. And having been a longtime nonprofit employee, I knew the probability of me making much more was small.
So after I built up my client base and was making at least what I made at my day job, I quit my job and went out on my own. It felt like a huge risk at the time, quitting my steady job when I had so much debt.
But a funny thing happened when I quit my job: My mindset shifted, and I was determined to make it work. I would not fail and I would make sure that I was consistently making more than I had at my day job so I could pay off student loans.
It didn’t happen immediately, but after six months of trial and error, I started making more money than I ever had. After a year, I more than doubled my income.
I had always put roughly 50% of my income towards debt. When you’re making $31,000 before taxes, that’s not a lot. After quitting my job and doubling my income, I was able to put $30,000 toward debt this year alone.
Many people in personal finance extol the virtues of cutting your expenses. I think that’s one important part of personal finance, but there’s only so much you can cut back on. You’ll always have some expenses. I found that earning more — even if it required more “work” — was far more fruitful for my debt payoff efforts and helped land me a new career.
Now that I’m debt-free, I plan on replenishing my savings, some of which I used to help make the last payment and get laser-focused on investing. I also plan to enjoy more travel.
Yes, paying off $60,000-plus of student loans is possible
I’m proud to say that paying off $60,000 in student loans is no easy feat. I’ve been through it. And now that I’m on the other side, I can honestly say it’s all worth it.
To get there yourself, you might try similar tactics:
- Cutting living expenses: Moving to Portland and living like a college student worked for me. For you, you might consider the drastic step of moving back in with your parents or, perhaps less painfully, finding a roommate.
- Increasing income: Carving out time for side hustles and even changing careers helped my situation. If you like your full-time job, on the other hand, you might work toward a promotion and raise instead.
Pulling those two levers — expenses and income — should be the most impactful during your debt repayment. After all, more cash coming in and less going out means that you can increase your monthly payments, whittling down your debt at a more rapid clip.
Just remember that you won’t get there overnight. Start by setting your goal and adjusting your lifestyle to match it. It took me less than five years — how long will it take you?
Andrew Pentis contributed to this article.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|2.75% – 8.90%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.80%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.81% – 7.21%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.99%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.24% – 7.99%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.24% – 8.24%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.53% – 7.24%||Undergrad |
|1.74% – 7.99%7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.69% – 9.92%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
|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. Fixed loans feature repayment terms of 5 to 20 years. For example, the monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 5.47% for a 12-year term would be $94.86. Variable loans feature repayment terms of 5 to 25 years. For example, the monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 5.90% for a 15-year term would be $83.85.
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 October 1, 2022.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $9 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. 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. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
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.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
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.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) and changes in the SOFR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%. There is no limit on the amount your interest rate can increase at one time. The Index is currently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“New York Fed”). If the Index is no longer available, it will be replaced by a replacement Index according to the terms of the promissory note.
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 31, 2022. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
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 10/26/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.81% APR – 7.21%APR Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.99% APR – 10.68 APR% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
4 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 3.99% – 8.74% APR (3.74% – 8.49% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 2.74% APR to 8.24% APR (2.49% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.
5 Important Disclosures for Navient.
6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
Fixed rates range from 3.99% APR to 8.24% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 3.24% APR to 8.24% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR 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. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.
7 Important Disclosures for Purefy.
Purefy Student Loan Refinancing Rate and Terms Disclosure: Annual Percentage Rates (APR) ranges and examples are based on information provided to Purefy by lenders participating in Purefy’s rate comparison platform. For student loan refinancing, the participating lenders offer fixed rates ranging from 2.73% – 7.99% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.74% – 7.99% APR. The maximum variable rate is 25.00%. Your interest rate will be based on the lender’s requirements. In most cases, lenders determine the interest rates based on your credit score, degree type and other credit and financial criteria. Only borrowers with excellent credit and meeting other lender criteria will qualify for the lowest rate available. Rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice. Terms and conditions apply.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%-9.92% (3.69%-9.92% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49%-10.11% (4.49%-10.11% APR).
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.39%- 9.60% (6.39% – 9.60% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.58% – 9.79% (6.58% – 9.79% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).
Education Refinance Loan for Parents Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%- 9.09% (3.69%- 9.09% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.28% (4.49% – 9.28% APR).
Medical Residency Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).