When Steven Donovan was brainstorming names for his blog, “Even Steven” had more than just a catchy, rhyming ring to it. In fact, it described him and his financial situation perfectly.
To become even-steven is to reach a point of zero debt. For Steven, that’s exactly what he managed to do between 2010 and 2015, eliminating more than $100,000 in combined debt — more than half of it student loans.
Focus, determination, control, and financial awareness all played a part for Steven, but one thing really made most of the difference: He learned to place value in money.
The big “aha!” moment
A Wisconsin native, Steven attended college in Miami on an exchange program that afforded him tuition rates from his home state. But by 2010, it still resulted in federal and private student loans totaling nearly $60,000, a $40,000 auto loan on a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and a personal loan owed to his parents around $38,000.
Steven has admitted that he wasn’t sure at the time how much his debt actually was, since he placed no value in money. As he describes it, he was “working part time and spending full-time money.”
He says that part of his financial troubles had to do less with the dollar amount of the debt, but the assumption that it would resolve itself on its own.
“I always had the vision that I was going to get a big-time job out of college,” he explains. “I didn’t put it all together that if you want to get ahead, you have to make more payments. You have to get a focus, or it’s just going to stay there.”
Things finally began to click when Steven obtained full-time employment and became engaged to his now-wife, “Mrs. Even Steven.”
“You need to grow up and become responsible. You need to put yourself in a position where both of you succeed,” Steven says. “That was the big ‘aha!’ moment. I needed to prove to myself that we’d be in a good financial position together.”
Making a turnaround
To get in a good financial position the Donovans relocated to Chicago, where Steven works as a business operations analyst for a major bank. He also sold his car, freeing up $500 per month.
Shedding the trappings of a luxury car, according to Steven, was a liberating move that compelled him to look for more ways to pay down his debt and gain more financial leverage. “Cutting out [the car] was a big step,” he says. “I was able to take other steps along the way. ‘What else can I do?’” he asked himself.
Other sacrifices soon followed. In what Steven coins “little challenges,” the couple began making small changes, like cooking at home more and altering their revolving expenses.
They switched wireless carriers to reduce their monthly cellphone bill, which, according to Steven, went from $80 a month to just $25 on a special plan. He also took other steps, like consolidating a few of his loans and garnering some extra cash by selling items on eBay and auction websites.
But one big asset was found when the couple began renting out their Florida residence to pay off the mortgage loan on the property. This allowed Steven to free up more of his budget and pay off his student and personal loans.
The couple also acted wisely when they purchased property in Chicago. In the three-unit building, the Donovans rent out two units and live in the third. The rental income also goes towards paying down debt.
Part of what kept Steven motivated through these years was listening to podcasts on train rides to and from work, absorbing some financial inspiration from debt experts like Dave Ramsey. “[Ramsey] just repeated the same thing about debt, and that really helped me,” Steven says.
Like learning a new language, Steven says it’s all about “challenging yourself and immersing yourself. It works the same with debt and finances. If you’re always listening to a podcast on the train ride to work and you’re thinking of paying off debt, you’re putting yourself in that mindset. It’s almost hard not to be.”
By mid-2015, some of these smart financial choices began to finally pay themselves off, and between 2013 and last year, Steven finished off the remaining $46,500 in student loan debt, along with his personal debt.
The road to financial independence
Steven may be even on his debts, but that’s only the start of becoming more financially prudent and savvy. His “financial independence,” as he calls it, has a tentative start date of 2020, when the Donovans hope to completely pay off their mortgage properties and relocate back to Florida.
Today, Steven shares his experiences, insights, and advice with others on his blog to help others struggling with debt find the same motivation — personally and financially. He believes that achieving one’s own financial independence from debt or another money problem is all about setting goals and sticking with them to the end.
Motivate yourself, he says, by listening to podcasts. Find inspiration in books by financial experts. Keep a basic spreadsheet of your income and your expenses. Map out your 401(k), or make a resolution to contribute more to your IRA — anything to increase your capital. Take a side hustle for some extra cash, if possible.
Or, take the old-school route. Steven even drew a money thermometer graph on his bedroom door, marking financial milestones as he reached them along the way.
“One of the biggest things I recommend is tracking all your expenses,” he says. “At the very least, know where all your money is going. This way, you have an idea if you’re spending $1,000 on groceries, then you can decide if that’s what you want to do.”
It doesn’t even require having a specific, detailed budget. According to Steven, “Just knowing is half the battle.”
His advice to others? When setting a financial goal, make it a challenge. Establish a deadline and endeavor yourself to meet it on time (earlier, if possible) by finding new ways to garner more money and make payments more quickly.
“Set goals,” Steven advises. “You’ve got to jump, and you’ve got to run as fast as you can.”
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
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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 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.30% 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 Month/Day/Year, 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 08/21/18. 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 https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
© 2018 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.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.
Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 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.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). 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 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.47% – 6.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.47% – 6.30%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.51% – 8.09%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.02% – 6.44%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.69% – 7.21%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.79% – 8.39%6||Undergrad & Graduate|