How This Student Loan Borrower Went From Default to Almost Debt-Free

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Credit: Sara Burgess Photography, courtesy of Heather Taylor

When Heather Taylor graduated from California Lutheran University in the middle of the Great Recession, she didn’t have an easy time finding employment.

“It took me at least six months to find a job — 2010 was a poor economic climate all around for work — and that job paid me minimum wage,” Taylor said.

So when repayment kicked in on her $45,000 in student loans, Taylor struggled to keep up. She eventually went into default on some of her loans and ended up adding thousands more in interest to her debt.

It took years of “sacrifice, a lot of hard work and side hustles on top of a full-time job, and tears at 5 a.m. on the phone with Navient,” but she finally got her loans back into good standing and paid off a huge chunk of her balance.

Here’s how Taylor triumphed over her difficult financial situation and is on track to paying off her burdensome student loan debt in its entirety.

Graduating $45k in debt

Originally from Missouri, Taylor went to a private college in California, where she studied communications and journalism. To finance her education, Taylor accessed both federal and private student loans, including a $40,000 loan from Sallie Mae.

“There were seven loans altogether taken out for my undergraduate degree — three private loans with the highest interest rate at 8% and four federal loans with interest rates ranging from 4% to 6%,” said Taylor.

After graduation (and with student loan repayment looming), Taylor searched high and low for a job, but had trouble finding one that paid more than minimum wage. So when full repayment kicked in on her loans, she chose to postpone payments on several of them.

“By then, the loans were demanding much larger payments out of me,” said Taylor. “I deferred repayments for a long time because I simply didn’t earn enough to make the payments required of me.”

But pausing payments doesn’t stop interest from accruing, and Taylor saw her $45,000 balance balloon to more than $56,000.

Struggling to keep up with payments

With a minimum-wage job, followed by a nine-month period of unemployment in 2015, Taylor ultimately fell behind on her student loan payments.

“My ‘strategy’ was the worst possible cautionary tale — a series of deferments, making payments here and there when possible (which was never enough for the loan provider), and eventually defaulting on all three private loans,” said Taylor.

Not only did interest continue to add up, but her variable interest rates rose over time, resulting in an even larger balance. As Taylor puts it, “it was a total nightmare.”

While her debt grew, the pressure also took a toll on her physical and mental health.

“It has made me physically sick for a really long time,” said Taylor. “I have had terrible stomach issues for years because of the amount of stress this debt has put on me.”

Fortunately, she’s been able to turn her financial situation around and is starting to feel healthier as a result.

Getting student loans out of default (by paying them off in full)

One major turning point for Taylor was securing a full-time job at MyCorporation, an online company that helps entrepreneurs start new businesses. She also started freelance writing on the side, authoring a column about brand mascots called PopIcon for Advertising Week.

As she felt more secure in her income, Taylor took a unique approach to dealing with her loans — building up a series of nest eggs. After meeting a big savings goal, she would throw the entire amount at her loans.

“Much of these nest eggs would go towards paying off loans in full, rather than make minimum payments over the course of each month, which wasn’t getting me anywhere,” said Taylor.

There are a few different ways to get student loans out of default, and paying off the balance in full is one of them. But while this approach probably isn’t realistic for most borrowers, Taylor said it was right for her.

She was able to pay off two of her defaulted loans in one fell swoop and get another back into good standing. She also paid off the entire balance of two of her smaller federal student loans, making sure to target loans with the highest interest rates first to save the most money.

Making moves to regain financial control

Along with increasing her income by working a side hustle on top of her full-time job, Taylor also made other lifestyle choices that helped her to repay her debt.

For one thing, she held her spending to a minimum, relying on public transport instead of having a car and renting a room in a shared house.

“I keep my overhead expenses as low as humanly possible,” said Taylor. “It was total spartan behavior, the manner in which I budgeted and lived, and still very much is.”

She also reached out to a financial advisor she saw speak about the student loan crisis on CNBC.

“I wrote down his name and Googled him to see if he could help me out on a pro bono basis with questions I had about my loan,” said Taylor. “He did an awesome job, and his help meant the world to me.”

By increasing her income, reducing expenses and getting professional advice, Taylor was able to pull her loans out of default, slash her student loan balance and take giant leaps toward a debt-free life.

Getting off social media to maintain a positive mindset

Along with changing her financial situation, Taylor made another useful decision: She got off social media.

“One of the most absolutely grueling aspects of repaying student loan debt, especially if you’re doing it alone, is that social media is this ever-constant reminder that seemingly everyone around you has no financial problems,” she said.

Paying off debt can be grueling, as Taylor noted, and it can help your mental health to delete, or at least take a break from, your social media accounts.

“It is very hard to maintain the mindset of giving everything up when all you can see (literally — these websites exist as highlight reels) are your peers having expensive weddings, going on vacations, eating and drinking out and buying homes, while you are chained to the ground with a loan,” said Taylor, encouraging people to remember that almost all of us have challenges when it comes to money, even if it doesn’t appear that way.

“Everyone has financial problems,” said Taylor. “We just don’t discuss them out loud.”

Racing toward the finish line of student loan repayment

As of March 2019, Taylor had gotten her student loan balance down to just $13,000, which she feels confident she can repay within the year.

“What drives me is the push to take back my own life,” said Taylor. “There are so many things I want to do, see, and be with my life, but I will not get anywhere if I do not repay the debt in full and fast.”

While Taylor has had a long road of financial struggle due to her loans, conquering her debt on her own has made her feel empowered.

“[I had] no parents bankrolling me, no cosigners, no spouse and nobody but myself to dig me out of my hole,” she said. “It’s a lonely place, but I am getting there.”

She encourages other borrowers not to give up hope and to realize they can manage their debt on their own, too.

“I’ve been rowing a leaking boat for several years now and somehow always seem to make it to shore, in spite of the odds,” said Taylor. “At the end of the day, the only person who is going to save you is you.”

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

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.