We Spent Years Collecting Student Loan Payoff Success Stories — Here are 6 Things They Have in Common

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When you learn about a fellow student loan borrower finishing off their debt, you might be eager to read their story — only to find it unrelatable to yours. Maybe the borrower didn’t have as much debt as you do, or perhaps they earned a six-figure paycheck that’s out of your reach.

Consider the essential elements of Student Loan Hero’s 50 (and counting) success stories, and your outlook might change.

On the surface, these ex-borrowers — from a social worker earning a $24,000 salary to a technology executive raking in $200,000 — have very little in common. Mixed in are teachers, lawyers, bloggers, an array of medical and financial professionals, and even a waitress and a nanny. Seventeen of them were repaying the debt they borrowed for a second or third degree.

They are also all over the map when it comes to repayment, reporting anywhere from $14,000 to $600,000 of education debt, with loan terms that range from seven months to more than 15 years.

Looking back, however, we’ve come to realize that despite their differences, these 50 borrowers succeeded by employing a very similar set of tactics.

1. Cutting spending

The greatest majority (34) of borrowers cited trimming expenses as a key factor in making progress on their repayment. Not all of these borrowers resorted to in-depth, line-by-line budgeting, but they at least consciously decided to cut back here and there.

Reducing routine costs allowed them to at least meet their minimum monthly payment, and in many cases to make extra loan payments as well. (See strategy No. 4, below.)

For example, Jon Barker repaid $130,000 in five years by replacing his “cash-guzzling hobbies” in favor of the free entertainment available at his local library.

To tighten your belt, consider some of our tricks for reducing spending.

2. Taking on a side hustle

You can budget only so much, but you can always increase your income. For 19 of the success story borrowers we’ve looked at, starting a side hustle made it possible to make larger payments to their lenders.

Kara Perez was among those who decided that a full-time job wasn’t enough to accelerate her loan repayment. To repay $25,000 in 42 months, she coached lacrosse, catered, and served as a production assistant, among a handful of other part-time gigs.

To increase your income, check out our library of side hustle guides. With extra time and energy, you might even consider launching your own business.

3. Selecting the debt avalanche or snowball method

Many student loan borrowers spread their monthly payments equally to their handful of creditors, hoping to reduce their overall dues one step at a time. But 19 of our interviewees relied on a one-loan-at-a-time strategy (while paying the minimum on their other loans, of course).

Eleven opted for the debt snowball method, attacking the smallest loan balances to close them out first. Among them, Jessica Garbarino repaid $56,00 in five years using the snowball method because, as she put it, “I am a firm believer that the small wins help keep you motivated.”

The other eight borrowers preferred the debt avalanche method, repaying the highest-interest loans initially to save as much as possible. Melisa Boutin, for example, hastened her repayment via the avalanche method, zeroing in on a foreign bank loan carrying a 9.00% interest rate.

Settle the snowball-avalanche debate for your own repayment.

4. Making extra payments

Fourteen of our out-of-debt borrowers recounted throwing every red cent they had at their debt until it disappeared. Some relied on salary increases, income tax refunds and even inheritances. We connected with one borrower — Cameron Battagler — who shortened his loan term by finding a $1,500 state grant, helping him repay a total of $30,000 in about 30 months.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize how much interest you could save by submitting additional payments. Our lump sum and prepayment calculators can help you figure out your potential interest savings.

5. Seeking help from loved ones

Nearly half of our ex-student loan borrowers weren’t in repayment alone.

A dozen of them gave credit to supportive family and friends, including 2016 graduate Caitlin Navratil who covered a $15,000 debt in 10 months. Navratil borrowed — and refinanced — on discounted interest rates from her mom and dad.

Another dozen success story subjects combined debt with their significant other for a team-oriented payoff. That included Danielle and Jonathan, who repaid $52,000 in two years, in part by calling each other “accountability partners.”

Even if you don’t have a loved one to lean on for monetary help in repayment, you could also tap certain family members or friends for student loan advice.

6. Refinancing to a lower rate

Consolidating your debt with a private lender — known as student loan refinancing — is right for some borrowers, but not for others. Refinancing might allow you to reduce your interest rate, for example, but it would also cause you to irreversibly lose federal loan safeguards like income-driven repayment.

For some borrowers, such as Schauren Hinson, refinancing was the critical plot twist that greatly eased repayment. Hinson, a nurse who repaid $70,000, managed to refinance her debt to the tune of a 3.00% interest rate via industry leader Earnest.

Unsurprisingly, each of the eight borrowers from our success stories who refinanced with a private lender had high debt loads but a stable career — five of them were medical professionals.

You don’t have to earn a six-figure income to qualify for refinancing, but a strong credit history goes a long way. You could also piggyback on a cosigner with stronger credentials.

To gauge its use for your repayment, review this guide to student loan refinancing and check out our list of some of the best lenders for refinancing.

Write your success story by finding the right repayment strategy

Of course, it’s impossible to capture every useful student loan repayment strategy in a sample size of 50 borrowers. After all, there are nearly 45 million Americans with outstanding education debt.

From income-driven repayment to receiving loan forgiveness and beyond, many other game plans work wonders for borrowers.

Among the success stories we’ve reported on so far, other useful (albeit less-used) plans included:

  • Making in-school payments or transferring to a cheaper school
  • Decreasing living expenses by moving abroad — or moving in with roommates
  • Changing careers to increase income
  • Setting a strict deadline for finishing repayment — and sticking to it

Of course, every borrower mixes and matches approaches that work best for their unique repayment.

Tallying up the strategies used by our 50 successful borrower stories, we found that only one was employed unanimously: Each person or couple maintained their motivation until the end of their repayment.

Once you’ve found your inspiration, find the other repayment strategies that will work for you. Then your own success story will write itself.

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: 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 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 https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, 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 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 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.