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

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Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

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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 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 7.10%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 6.65%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.99% – 6.24%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 5.64%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

3.18% – 6.06%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Splash Financial loans are available through arrangements with lending partners. Your loan application will be submitted to the lending partner and be evaluated at their sole discretion. For loans where a credit union is the lender, or a purchaser of the loan, in order to refinance your loans, you will need to become a credit union member.

The Splash Student Loan Refinance Program is not offered or endorsed by any college or university. Neither Splash Financial nor the lending partner are affiliated with or endorse any college or university listed on this website.

You should review the benefits of your federal student loan; it may offer specific benefits that a private refinance/consolidation loan may not offer. If you work in the public sector, are in the military or taking advantage of a federal department of relief program, such as income based repayment or public service forgiveness, you may not want to refinance, as these benefits do not transfer to private refinance/consolidation loans.

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 1, 2020.

Fixed APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rate options range from 2.88% (without autopay) to 7.27% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.88% per year to 6.21% per year for a 5-year term, 3.40% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 3.45% to 5.08% for a 8-year term, 3.89% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term, 4.18% per year to 5.11% per year for a 12-year term, 4.20% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.51% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan).
The Rate will not change during the term. Repayment examples are for illustrative purposes only. The following Fixed Rate examples are based on a $10,000 loan amount using the lowest APR for each application term listed above. All student loan rates used in calculating the examples are shown without the autopay discount (.25%). There are no application or origination fees, and no prepayment penalties. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.88% per year for a 5-year term would be $179.15. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.40% for a 7-year term would be $134.17. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.45% for a 8-year term would be $119.35. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 3.89% for a 10-year term would be $100.72. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 4.18% for a 12-year term would be $88.43. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.20% for a 15-year term would be $74.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.51% for a 20-year term would be from $63.32.

Variable APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Variable rate options range from 1.99% (with autopay) to 7.10% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Our lowest rate option is shown with a 0.25% autopay discount. Our highest rate option does not include an autopay discount. The variable rates are based on the Variable rate index, is 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 April 27, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.43763%. The interest rate on a variable rate loan is comprised of an index and margin added together. The margin is a fixed amount (disclosed at the time of your loan application) added each month to the index to determine the next month’s variable rate. Variable rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.01% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term, 2.09% per year to 3.92% per year for a 8-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 2.67% per year to 4.56% per year for a 12-year term, 3.44% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, 4.75% per year to 6.93% per year for a 20-year term, or 5.14% per year to 7.10% for a 25-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate may be between 9.00% and 16.00%, depending on loan term. The floor rate may be between 0.54% and 4.21%, depending on loan term. 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.
Variable APRs and amounts subject to increase or decrease. Variable rates are indexed to the one-month LIBOR rate. The following Variable Rate examples are based on a $10,000 loan amount. Repayment examples are for illustrative purposes only. All student loan rates below are shown without the autopay discount (.25%). There are no application or origination fees, and no prepayment penalties. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.01% per year for a 5-year term would be $175.32. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.00% for a 7-year term would be $136.69. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.09% for a 8-year term would be $113.21. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 4.25% for a 10-year term would be $102.44. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 2.67% for a 12-year term would be $81.24. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.44% for a 15-year term would be $71.19. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.75% for a 20-year term would be from $64.62. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 5.14% for a 25-year term would be from $59.28.

 


2 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.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

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 June 23, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.24% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 1.99% APR to 6.24% 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 1.99% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 3.06% 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. *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. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 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 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% 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 July 31, 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 7/31/2020. 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.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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 0.18% effective July 10, 2020.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.