Originally published Feb. 1, 2017
When she graduated from college in 2011, Katie Austin was one of the 45 million Americans with student loan debt. Her parents generously agreed to pay off half of her $100,000 debt, but Austin was still left with a $50,000 student loan to pay off.
Looking at that number, she wasn’t sure what to do.
Paying off $50,000 in student loans is no easy task. But with a plan, a lot of determination and a supportive community, Austin found that it was possible to clear out that $50K in student loans a lot faster than she thought.
If you have student debt, here are some useful takeaways from Austin’s experience:
- First off: deferring payments on her $50,000 student loan
- Austin’s 6-point strategy to pay off $50,000 in student loans faster
- Lack of an emergency fund buffer can be dangerous
- Life after paying off $50,000 in student loans
Austin didn’t start out with the idea that she would aggressively pay off her $50k in student loans. In fact, one of the first things she did after graduation was fly to Europe. She was able to defer her payments during that time, but that put her a bit behind.
After returning to the United States, she worked as a temp, making very little money. Austin didn’t think she could begin paying down her debt in earnest because of her low income.
“Then I moved to Los Angeles,” she said. “Things were even worse. I was wicked poor and living on food stamps.”
The first turning point in Austin’s journey to paying off $50,000 in student loans was landing a job with Lyft. She worked as a launcher, traveling from city to city recruiting drivers.
“I didn’t have an apartment,” she said. “I had a salary and a per diem. Lyft was basically paying for my life.”
It was then that Austin began paying off her $50,000 student loan. Even then, it didn’t occur to her to pay the debt off early: “I just made the minimum payments and frittered away the rest.”
One day, shortly after moving to San Francisco, Austin looked at her loan balances and realized that she had enough money to pay off her smallest student loan. It was only a couple thousand dollars, so she just knocked it out. She increased her monthly payments from $250 to just over $500 a month to pay it off faster.
Then she got a new job as a communications lead and attended FinCon, an annual conference for the financial media community. It was an eye-opening experience for her. Austin became serious about demolishing her debt and made a plan.
Austin’s first step was to refinance her student loans. While she was paying off $50,000 in student loans, the debt was spread across several loans and servicers.
Refinancing allowed Austin to combine her loans into a single loan with one interest rate. And not only did it make it easier for her to keep track of everything, but the lower rate she got meant more of her payments went to the principal.
After the experience of frittering away her money, Austin decided it was time to analyze her budget to figure out exactly how long it would take to pay off $50,000 in student loans. She realized that putting $500 a month toward paying off student loan debt was insufficient. Once she looked at the numbers, Austin realized she could put $1,600 toward her debt each month.
Tripling her monthly payments made a huge difference and allowed Austin to pay off her debt way ahead of schedule.
Next, Austin knew she had to make her student loan payments automatic. Having her student loan payments on autopay helped her stick to her spending plan.
“I figured I’d be too lazy to change the plan,” she said. “It was easier to just decide not to buy things than go in and change my autopay.”
Austin realized she was spending money on things she didn’t need. Her constant travel while working for Lyft confirmed her love of minimalist principles. But she also realized she could do plenty of other things to cut back on her spending.
She changed her car insurance, started going to Safeway instead of Whole Foods and ate out less. Austin even started freelancing to make money on the side.
It also taught her to stick to her goals and priorities. Rather than being tempted for nights out, she learned to say no.
“The cool thing about having this major financial obligation is that you have a ready-made excuse,” Austin said. “When people ask you to do things you’re lukewarm toward, you can just tell them you’re paying off your student loans and can’t.”
The fact that Austin’s parents stepped in to take on half her student loan debt was the biggest help. However, she also had other help.
Austin’s trip to FinCon introduced her to others living a debt-free lifestyle. She learned about the importance of a positive mindset and surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Knowing others were out there doing the same thing buoyed her up and helped her stick to her plan.
Not only that, but her boyfriend also helped. He bought a portion of her debt through a loan crowdfunding platform and didn’t charge her interest.
“Once I didn’t have to worry about interest, it really helped me pay it down faster,” Austin said.
Finally, Austin said, it helped to concentrate on the fact that you can live with almost anything for a short period of time. Because she was so aggressive and planned to pay off her debt quickly, Austin knew she would only have to deal with the restrictions of her budget for a couple of years.
“Having an end date was a real help,” she said. “You may have to give up stuff for a year or two, but it’s bearable because you know exactly when you’ll be done.”
Austin acknowledged that she was a little uncomfortable at times. She put so much toward paying down her student loan debt that she didn’t build an emergency fund.
“I knew I might be screwed if things went wrong,” she said.
On the other hand, once her boyfriend bought her debt, she breathed a little easier, knowing she could make arrangements if necessary. She also said that she felt some confidence that her parents could help if things got really bad — although she didn’t want to go to them.
In the end, Austin got lucky. She didn’t have any health problems or unexpected expenses. However, she doesn’t recommend living as close to the edge as she did.
“That buffer is really necessary,” she said. “Sometimes I wish I had built something up.”
Austin made her last student loan debt payment on her $50,000 student loan early in January 2017. Now, she’s trying to figure out what to do with the extra money she will have each month.
“I just got my first paycheck where most of the money isn’t going to student loans,” she said. “I need to figure out what to do with that money now.”
She knows she doesn’t want to just mindlessly spend the money, though: “I want to spend wisely. This money isn’t for shopping sprees and eating out.”
Austin thinks she’ll put a good chunk of it toward retirement savings and other goals, including travel. In order to stay on track, she plans to set goals and check in with her boyfriend. They sit down each month and talk about what they want to do. Then they help each other stay on track.
“Knowing I’m accountable helps keep me in check,” Austin said.
In the end, Austin is glad she took an aggressive stance toward paying off her $50,000 in student loans — now she’s debt-free and she has more options. While she understands that not everyone has the same help she did, she does think it’s possible for most people to pay off their debt with planning and determination.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this article.
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
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 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% 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 July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
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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 $4 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 one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR 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%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 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.
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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 September 10, 2020.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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 0.16% effective August 10, 2020.