In February 2016, college professor Amanda Page paid off the last of her student loan debt. Once she buckled down, paying off student loans took her 14 months. She paid off $47,554, but she says, “I like to say that it took me ten years to pay off my student loan debt in one year.”
Though Page is free of student loan debt now and gainfully employed as a college professor, her journey to debt freedom was filled with many setbacks.
Years before facing her student loan debt, Page found herself overwhelmed with credit card and medical debt. She had nearly $40,000 in combined credit card and medical debt and was in over her head.
She accumulated the debt over 16 years and tried in earnest to pay it back for several years, but her limited income as an adjunct professor made it difficult. Additionally, her credit card company significantly increased her interest rate.
These series of events led her to declare bankruptcy, something she notes as a very humbling experience. After declaring bankruptcy, she worked on building a small savings account and continued paying only the minimum on her student loan payments, after deferring during particularly tough times.
“Even though I paid the minimum, it was set up as graduated payments. I paid something like $125 a month. It eventually became $175 a month,” says Page. “But, in seven or so years of paying the graduated payments, I made a whopping $1,000 dent in the balance.”
Page was nearing her 40th birthday and still carried a large student loan balance. After remarking to her mom, “I will probably die with student loan debt,” she realized something had to change.
This was not the life she wanted to live. She didn’t want to be trapped by her debt, and her dreams went far beyond her student loans. She wanted to travel, save for retirement, and live a life without debt, once and for all.
Changing her mindset
Page made the mental decision that she was going to pursue debt freedom, but shifting her mindset was hard at first. “It took a lot of years for me to believe I could do it … I let it loom and cast a dark shadow over my life for a lot of years,” she says.
After declaring bankruptcy and seeing such little progress on her student loans, believing she could actually get out of debt seemed tough.
During this time she read a lot of personal finance books and blogs to get her started on her debt repayment journey and motivate herself to pay off student loans. She even started her own blog, Dream Beyond Debt, to stay accountable in the debt payoff process.
How to pay off student loans by making changes
Once she made the decision to become debt free, Page knew she couldn’t keep doing things the way she always had — she had to make some changes in her life to reach her goal.
She cut down on her expenses and took on a roommate to lower her living costs. She stopped buying books and clothes and went to discount grocery stores.
Additionally, she used the debt avalanche method to pay student loans, which focuses on paying off high-interest debt first. She also took on extra work through side jobs to help expedite her repayment.
Dealing with challenges
One thing is for sure about paying off student loans: It’s not easy. If you’ve ever wondered how to pay off student loans, you may be intimidated by the road ahead.
It’s littered with challenges, setbacks, and frustration. Many times, paying off student loans means changing every aspect of your life.
“I had to change a lot of things in my life: dining out with friends, coffees on the run, impulse book buys. I also had to work on my confidence and mindset the entire time,” says Page.
Another challenge Page faced was with her side hustle ideas. She took on a lot of work and was spread thin managing her job and side hustle gigs. But with all of her work, she would impatiently wait for the 15th to arrive so she could make her “monster payments.”
“Every milestone felt like a victory, but it also tempted me to pause and spend money on something else. I wanted to follow-through so badly, though. In the end, I did,” she says.
Life after student loan debt
Page’s journey to debt freedom took many years, but after focusing intensely for over a year to pay student loans she was able to eliminate the last of her debt.
For her, student loans were a necessary cost for her job. “I couldn’t be a professor without that degree, so I am glad I did it, debt and all,” she says.
Though Page is free of credit card and student loan debt, she recently got into more debt — but for something she is quite thrilled about. She bought a house and is focusing on building up her investments.
If you want to know how to pay off student loans, it’s important to understand that the journey may not be easy, or in a straight line. There will be twists and turns, setbacks and successes. But you can do it if you just commit.
Page’s advice for others in debt? “Pay it off ASAP. Don’t let it drag out for 25 years. Make it a priority and pay it off in as small a time frame as you can. You will not regret it.”
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