If you owe $100,000 in student loans, you might feel worried you’ll never pay off your debt. Columbia University graduate Melody Wilding has been there, having graduated with a $100,000 loan debt for her degree in social work, a field not exactly known for its high pay.
But Wilding was motivated to get rid of her debt as fast as possible. Even though she had a low starting salary, she was able to pay off her student loans in just five years. Here’s how she accomplished this daunting task.
- Starting a career in social work
- Researching repayment options
- Accelerating debt repayment
- Becoming debt-free
Social work is a challenging field, as those who work in it are tasked with helping people cope with issues in their lives and serving as advocates for those who need assistance. If you pursue this line of work, you can practice in schools, human services agencies or private practices.
The job can be rewarding, but the pay is relatively low. The median salary for social workers is just $50,470, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s lower than the national average salary — $53,490 — for all occupations.
“Social work is historically known as one of the lowest-paying professions, but it’s filled with incredible, well-meaning people who just care deeply,” said Wilding.
To make matters worse, most social work positions require candidates to have a master’s degree. Going to graduate school can add thousands to what you owe and can cause you to have higher debt on a smaller salary than your peers.
That was certainly the case for Wilding. After undergraduate and graduate school, she owed over $100,000 in student loans. Thanks to interest charges, her balance quickly ballooned to $129,000. Her first job as a social worker paid just $24,000 — which made her payments impossible.
With her low salary, Wilding couldn’t afford her monthly payments under the 10-year standard repayment plan.
“At first, I was in a denial phase,” she said. “I signed up for an income-driven repayment plan for two years. My salary was so low I qualified for a $0 payment.”
Many social workers with student loans plan on pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) for their federal loans. With this approach, you can sign up for an income-driven repayment plan and make reduced payments.
After 10 years of making qualifying payments, the government will forgive your loans. Wilding considered this option, but she ultimately decided it wasn’t for her.
“Many think they will get PSLF, but it only works for some fields,” Wilding said. “I wanted freedom from my debt. I didn’t want this limiting my life decisions for years.”
With PSLF, your career path can be narrow. Since it requires that you work in a nonprofit or other qualifying organization for 10 years, it can mean limiting your earning potential for a decade.
And although income-driven repayment plans can give you breathing room in your budget, it can be tough to save for other goals — like buying a home or retirement — on a nonprofit salary. Wilding wanted to give herself more options.
“When I used the interest calculators and saw how much interest would accumulate, and how much I’d have to pay, it scared me,” Wilding said. “I became super motivated to pay off the debt as soon as possible.”
Wilding switched her repayment plan back to a 10-year plan. Her payment was over $800 a month, but she was determined to make those payments every month to become debt-free.
To make it work on a small income, she took several different steps.
Moving in with her parents
Wilding worked in New York, but knew she couldn’t afford New York’s sky-high rental rates. The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment is $2,940, according to housing search engine Rent Jungle — that was more than Wilding’s whole paycheck.
Instead, she lived with her parents in their New Jersey home and commuted into the city. It took her over two hours each way, but it was worth it because of how much she saved.
According to Wilding, having the option to live with her family was a huge help. Indeed, it’s a luxury that might not be possible for everyone. However, if you can live with family or friends for free or at a reduced cost, it can help you get on your feet.
Boosting her income
In addition to cutting down her housing costs, Wilding also focused on boosting her income.
“I had multiple side hustles,” she said. “Social workers have so much opportunity for that. It’s widely acceptable to have per diem work.”
Social workers often take on per diem work, meaning they work for another agency or private practice in addition to their full-time job. Per diem workers supplement the organization’s usual staff, filling in when someone is ill or when they need additional help.
Wilding also leveraged her experience and education in other areas. She teaches social work at the City University of New York and began an executive coaching and supportive counseling business. She also became a professional speaker, using her social work experience to talk about issues like workplace wellness and emotional intelligence.
With all her side hustles, Wilding was able to pay even more than the $800 minimum payment each month.
Wilding juggled her schedule of working full-time and managing several different side hustles to keep up with her payments and pay down her loans faster. Her hard work paid off, too. In just five years, she paid off her $100,000 in student loans in full.
“My career took a winding path, like many social workers now,” said Wilding. “But getting rid of my loans gives me so much more freedom and peace of mind. We mentally and psychologically need our finances to be in a secure space in order for us to feel in control of our lives.”
She encourages others in the field to explore all of their options, whether that includes refinancing student loans for better rates or increasing their income with a high-paying job.
“Social work is such a broad field,” said Wilding. “Look at the path others have taken. There are jobs in traditional social work with direct-service in hospitals or agencies, but I’ve known others who recognized their skills could be used in other areas. They’ve pursued careers in fields like human resources, which can be much more high-paying.”
But the biggest thing she recommends is confronting the truth about your debt and facing the real numbers.
“It’s easy to defer the decisions and avoid looking at the hard stuff,” she said. “As social workers, we help people through difficult decisions, but we often neglect our own needs and self-care.”
If you’re ready to take charge of your debt like Wilding, here’s how you can pay off your student loans even faster.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this article.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|1.74% – 8.70%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.89% – 5.90%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.05% – 5.25%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.86% – 6.01%||Undergrad |
|N/A7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 8.38%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
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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.
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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 May 4, 2022.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 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%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% 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.
4 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 April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
5 Important Disclosures for Navient.
6 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 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. 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.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.99%-8.38% (1.99%-8.38% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.99%-8.63% (2.99%-8.63% APR).
IS Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates advertised are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
ERL Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of May 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 0.29%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.