In 2010, Kenia shared her strategy for paying off almost $50,000 in student loan debt. She later added a $15,000 car loan to the repayment plan. In October 2015, she became debt free. Here’s how she did it.
When I’d been out of college for three years, I finally decided to sit down and figure out exactly how much I owed in student loans. I added up all my debts and realized I had almost $49,000 in student loan debt, spread across three loans:
- $684 at 3.28 percent interest
- $19,081 at 6.375 percent interest
- $29,563 at 3.19 percent interest
Since graduating, I’d also bought a car. I owed about $15,000 on it. Altogether, I had about $65,000 in debt.
After three years of paying only the minimum on my student loans, I realized I wasn’t making any progress. In fact, one loan balance had actually increased because of interest. It was time to get serious.
My new strategy combined several debt repayment strategies. First, I used the snowball method: Once I paid off one debt, I immediately applied its payment to the next debt. I decided to use the low-balance plan, which means tackling the debts in order of balance, starting with the lowest. I found that paying off the ones with lower balances gave me small successes along the way and motivated me to keep going.
I also incorporated the biweekly payment method, which means paying two half-payments each month rather than just one monthly payment. Because of how the calendar worked out, I made 13 monthly payments instead of 12 each year.
If I had kept paying only the minimums, it would have taken me more than 13 years to pay back my loans. I realized I could pay them off in about six years by getting more aggressive. I’d also save more than $10,000 in interest.
One of the hardest things about sticking to my plan was denying myself things I’d like to do. As an engineer, I make a good salary. Many of my peers spend a lot of money, buying homes and funding fancy weekend getaways, but I’ve had to say no to all that.
Each time I finished paying off one loan, it was tempting to take that money and spend it on myself. I had to have the discipline to snowball it into the other loan payments. I also had to be careful about comparing myself to others. I reminded myself constantly that we probably came from different backgrounds — their families may have been able to pay for college, but mine didn’t.
With strict discipline and by sticking to my plan, I paid off all my debt in five and a half years.
Now that my student loan debts are paid, I do feel financially free — but I also feel like I’m playing catch-up. Many of my friends have already bought houses. As much as I try not to compare situations, it’s hard not to feel behind. I’m trying to set new goals, like making sure I have a solid emergency fund and building a down payment.
Throughout college, I studied all the time and had no life. Once I became an engineer, I continued to work hard to pay off the loans, turning down weekends away with friends and other social activities. At this point, I feel like I should reward myself — but I know that I can’t just go blow it now. Instead, I’ll focus on what’s next: the life that I want, on my own timeline.