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:
- Find an accountability partner: “Having the support of my husband keeps me extremely focused, especially since we are in this together,” Danielle writes.
- Tape your goal on walls and mirrors around your house: “It’ll keep the fire lit underneath you,” she says.
- Join debt-free living communities on social media: Danielle recommends Facebook and Instagram for finding inspiration from like-minded people.
- Read books and blogs and listen to podcasts: She loves The Dave Ramsey Show — especially the “debt-free screams.”
- 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.”
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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 August 11, 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 5.80% per year for a 5-year term, 3.30% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 3.45% to 5.08% for a 8-year term, 3.69% 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, 3.94% 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).
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 1.98% (with autopay) to 6.90% (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 June 26, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.18%. 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 2.18% 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, 2.18% per year to 3.66% per year for a 8-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 2.41% per year to 4.30% per year for a 12-year term, 3.18% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, 4.54% per year to 6.90% per year for a 20-year term, or 4.43% per year to 7.02% 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 2.18% per year for a 5-year term would be $176.07. 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 2.18% for a 8-year term would be $113.61. 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 2.41% for a 12-year term would be $80.04. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.18% for a 15-year term would be $69.93. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.54% for a 20-year term would be from $63.48. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.43% for a 25-year term would be from $55.19.
2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
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.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 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.
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 August 10, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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.