How This Couple Paid Off $52,000 in Debt (and Had a Baby) in 2 Years

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On the outside, Danielle and Jonathan (J) might look like the perfect couple: young, beautiful, successful.

But the truth is they were more than $70,000 in debt — mostly because of student loans.

Then, two years ago, they decided to do something about it.

“I simply wanted financial freedom, to be able to lay my head down on my pillow at night and not ever have to worry about where the next dollar would come from to pay an outstanding bill,” explains Danielle, who blogs under her first name only at The Pennies We Saved.

They’ve since paid off $52,000 of debt — while starting a family. Here’s their story as well as some helpful tips to pay off debt.

‘We don’t make enough money for that’

It was May 2015. J worked in business systems analysis, and Danielle worked in the insurance department at a large hospital. They made a good combined income — between $85,000 and $110,000 — especially given the low cost of living in Minnesota.

But they were $73,000 in debt: $60,000 from student loans and the rest from medical bills and car payments.

Their wake-up call came, as it usually does, in an unexpected place.

They were on vacation, driving along the coast in Danielle’s home state of California, when she turned to J and asked, “Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up every day and walk to the beach?”

His response: “We don’t make enough money for that.”

At that moment, they realized it was time for a change. If they ever wanted their surf-and-sand dreams to come true, they couldn’t wait any longer.

Their first step? Tackling that debt.

“We [had] been in debt for years, and we absolutely hated its guts,” Danielle writes. “So together, J and I created a goal: to become completely debt free (except for the house) by 2020.”

How they started paying off debt

When they returned from vacation, they created a budget and sold whatever they could. They also started following Dave Ramsey and using the debt snowball technique he recommends.

Here’s how it works: You write out your debt obligations from smallest to largest and focus on paying off the smallest one first. Although it makes more financial sense to pay off your highest-interest debt, this technique gives you an immediate psychological boost.

“I would only recommend the debt snowball for those who have a hard time waiting to see progress,” says Danielle. “It allows for the small and fast wins.”

Once they made some progress and no longer needed the thrill of small gains to stay on track, Danielle and J transitioned to the debt avalanche technique (which involves paying off your highest-interest debt first).

They continue to be “very frugal,” according to Danielle, who explains, “We like to keep a substantial amount of money in our savings, and anything beyond that we throw to our debt.”

They also have side hustles: She freelance writes, and he buys and flips bicycles. “It takes a lot of commitment,” she says. “But in the end, it will be worth it.”

Along came baby: Pausing debt payoff

Like many people in their generation, Danielle and J knew they wanted to start a family but hesitated because of their financial situation.

“We quickly realized that being financially ready for a baby would likely never happen,” she says. “So we simply changed the way we approached paying off our debt.”

Here’s what they did:

  • They continued to pay their bills but paused the debt snowball.
  • Instead of putting their extra money toward debt, they popped it into a savings account.
  • By the time their daughter was born, they’d saved the equivalent of 35 percent of their annual income.

“When you are expecting, stop the debt snowball and focus on your savings,” Danielle writes. “You never want to assume that you won’t face any financial hardships prior to or after your delivery day.”

After their daughter was born, Danielle quit her full-time position. She now works from 2 to 7 p.m. each weekday as a secretary in the health care system.

“The hours work out perfectly because we are able to arrange care for our daughter with family and friends rather than paying for daycare,” she says.

5 favorite tips for paying off debt

Danielle and J have paid off $52,000 of debt in two years — an unimaginable feat for most people.

But they aren’t done yet; they hope to extinguish all their debt (besides their mortgage, of which $150,000 remains) by the end of this year. They have about $21,000 to go.

They’d also like to retire by age 50 — just 20 years from now.

Currently, they’re investing only up to their companies’ matches in their 401(k)s. But Danielle says, “Once we pay off all of our debt, we will start looking into mutual funds. Shouldn’t be too much longer!”

Do you want to become debt-free like Danielle and J? Here are five of their favorite tips to pay off debt:

  1. Find an accountability partner: “Having the support of my husband keeps me extremely focused, especially since we are in this together,” Danielle writes.
  2. Tape your goal on walls and mirrors around your house: “It’ll keep the fire lit underneath you,” she says.
  3. Join debt-free living communities on social media: Danielle recommends Facebook and Instagram for finding inspiration from like-minded people.
  4. Read books and blogs and listen to podcasts: She loves The Dave Ramsey Show — especially the “debt-free screams.”
  5. Give yourself rewards: Danielle and J plan to take a long vacation when they finish paying off their remaining debt.

Although Danielle and J found Ramsey’s teachings to be invaluable, they don’t think any debt payoff technique is one-size-fits-all.

“Don’t feel pressured into following one method to a T,” says Danielle. “Find what works best for you. Tweak things around, but make sure you remain focused and make progress.”

And even if it feels overwhelming, don’t wait.

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” she says. “If you don’t start your debt payoff plan today, you’ll never get out of debt.”

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.