When you graduate from college, there’s a good chance your student loan debt outpaces your starting salary. That can make it difficult to get ahead — but it’s not impossible.
Find out how one woman went to extreme lengths to get rid of her student loans years ahead of schedule.
Starting out with student loan debt
Becky Freeman graduated in 2014 with a degree in biology. Along with her diploma, she left school with about $29,000 in student loans.
Becky’s starting salary as a research assistant for a biotech company was enough for her to live on. But because of the high cost of living in Providence, R.I., she couldn’t afford to move out.
“I really wanted to be an independent adult as soon as possible,” says Becky. “But … a $350 a month loan payment prevented me from being able to rent in my area.”
She lived at home with her family, which she admits was a huge help — both for her finances and her quality of living as she struggled with her debt.
“Living at home helped me save money on rent, but it also allowed me to be more aggressive with my debt repayment strategy,” says Becky.
Tackling student loans
Becky was laser-focused on her goal of becoming debt free. To accelerate her repayments she took on two part-time jobs on top of her full-time employment.
“I worked my 9-to-5, then taught a chemistry lab after work two nights a week,” says Becky. “On weekends, I worked part-time as a sales assistant at Michael Kors.”
Working three jobs to pay off loans isn’t for the faint of heart. Becky is the first to say that keeping up her demanding schedule required extensive support.
“I’m not going to lie, I felt sleep-deprived often,” she says. “But living at home helped. I didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking for myself. My family support system was essential to pulling it off.”
At first, Becky focused on maintaining her minimum loan payments and saved her extra income. When she reached a certain threshold, she would take some of the savings she had stashed away and would pay off a chunk of her loans.
“Soon I was paying an extra $1,000 a month towards my loans on top of my regular payments,” says Becky. Within two years, her hard work paid off. She paid her loans off in full, a staggering eight years ahead of schedule.
“It felt so good to pay them off,” says Becky. “All of the hard work made a difference, and seeing the results was amazing.”
Now that she doesn’t have to worry about her student loan payments, Becky’s crazy schedule has calmed down a little. The money that she used to dedicate to debt repayment now goes to her savings. She dreams of becoming a landlord and is planning on buying a rental property.
While Becky’s approach to debt repayment was aggressive, she says that anyone can take charge of their loans. “My advice would be to take one step at a time,” she says. “Think about what you can reduce each month and think about what skills you have that can make money. There are tons of side hustles you can start to bring in extra income.”
Considering your living situation
Nationwide, the average rental payment is $1,250, according to ApartmentList.com. For recent graduates with student loans, that’s a huge expense that can make managing your bills difficult.
If you’re able and have willing family members, moving in with your relatives can be an excellent strategy to save money and accelerate debt repayment. Although this isn’t an option for everyone, it’s become increasingly common. About 30 percent of millennials live at home with their parents.
Finding a side hustle
When it comes to debt repayment and maximizing your budget, you can only reduce your expenses so much. If you have a small salary, there’s not often enough left over to pay down your debt, let alone to make extra payments towards your loans.
If you want to accelerate your repayment, but have a limited income, finding a side gig can be a great way to pay down your debt. You can find jobs like Becky had, working part-time after work or on weekends.
Another option is to take on flexible side hustles, like driving for Lyft, delivering packages for Amazon, or shopping for groceries with Shipt. These “gig economy” jobs are available when you have time and are available to work, so you can set your own schedule.
Working a side hustle can help you earn money on your down time, which you can then dedicate towards your student loans. Using that money for debt repayment can pay off in the long run.
Putting your weekly earnings towards your loan balance can cut off years from your repayment term. Not to mention it will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the length of your student loans.
For more information about increasing your income, check out these 5 simple side hustles you can start tomorrow.
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