How Katie Austin Paid Off $50K in Student Loan Debt

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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 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.”

Austin’s 6-point strategy to pay off $50,000 in student loans faster

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.

1. Refinance for better rates
2. Analyze your budget
3. Put your $50k student loan payments on autopay
4. Change your spending habits
5. Utilize your network
6. Set an end date for your debt

Refinance for better rates

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.

Analyze your budget

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.

Put your $50k student loan payments on autopay

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.”

Change your spending habits

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.”

Utilize your network

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.

Set an end date for your debt

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.”

Lack of an emergency fund buffer can be dangerous

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.”

Life after paying off $50,000 in student loans

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.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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

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1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

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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: 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, 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 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 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 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.