There was a moment in my student loan repayment journey where everything changed for me. It happened a few years before I started pushing to make full payments in 2015 when I was still making minimum payments on my debt. The total balance of $55,000 across seven loans grew to $56,000.
It was a sight that shocked me. Perhaps it’s silly when I consider the collective interest rates of my loans, but I had seen my student debt hold at $55,000 for so long that I never thought it could actively grow past that number.
At this moment, I realized making my minimum monthly payment of $653 would not be enough to keep me out of $56,000 worth of debt. It might bump me back into a balance of $55,000 again, and maybe keep me there if I added an additional $100 to the billing statement, but instinct told me the balance would only increase if I continued at this pace. Seeing my debt climb to $56,000 spurred an internal need to take action. I started making a plan that year to get out of debt and increase my monthly payments, put that plan into motion in 2018 and cleared my balance in full on May 1, 2019.
The breaking point for student loan borrowers is sometimes as subtle as clearly looking at your balance and seeing stagnate numbers increase. It’s a pivotal moment where you realize you need to take control of your debt because it is controlling you and your future. I had the great opportunity to speak with student loan borrowers on behalf of GOBankingRates to learn about their breaking point with student debt, how it led them to repay their debt and their advice for borrowers currently working to pay off their student loans.
“My family could barely afford to pay our bills.”
In 2017, Stacey Stewart successfully paid off $22,400 in student debt. Stewart took out her loans in 2009 to attend graduate school and earn her Masters in Teaching degree.
After graduation, Stewart said she decided not to go into the teaching field because she got pregnant. Stewart stayed at her minimum wage job because it provided the flexibility she needed to not put her daughter into daycare and allowed her to work around her husband’s work schedule.
While Stewart didn’t go into teaching, her student debt remained with her and became a major stressor in her household.
“I ended up having to defer my student loan payments for several years because we could barely afford to pay our other bills when my daughter was young,” said Stewart.
In 2016, Stewart started her own business — an online lactation education company called Milkology. The business steadily grew and Stewart saved chunks of money each month to put toward paying off her student debt. She paid off her loans in full in 2017.
“I hated having that looming over me and it felt so great to get it wiped out pretty quickly after all those years,” said Stewart. “Breaking free feels amazing and liberating.”
Shortly afterward, Stewart said she got addicted to the feeling of not having any debt on her shoulders. She moved on to pay off the family credit cards, her husband’s student loans, the family’s two cars and the mortgage. Today, Stewart and her family are completely debt-free.
“I didn’t want my debt to become my husband’s burden.”
Diana Mabie paid off $85,000 in student loan debt in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Mabie, who is the director of social media for a San Francisco-based skincare company, had minimal financial support in college. She took out four different student loans to pay for her education while working full time and started tracking her student debt — and every amount going toward the balance — in an Excel spreadsheet in 2011.
Mabie said that seeing her parents struggle financially while she was growing up motivated her to pay off her student debt sooner rather than later. But it was meeting her now-husband that inspired her to reach her goal of being debt-free even sooner.
“My goal was to pay my student loan off so that it wouldn’t become my future husband’s problem,” said Mabie, who notes that while he didn’t mind her debt she did.
After getting engaged, Mabie said she was invigorated to push her professional career forward. She started working at a corporation that offered better benefits, pay and annual bonuses than previous roles. Three months into her marriage, Mabie utilized a generous bonus to pay the remainder of her student debt in February 2020.
“The relief was indescribable,” said Mabie. “My family, friends and team at work celebrated the accomplishment that took me years and many tears to achieve!”
“I received form 1098-E in the mail!”
Guadalupe Sanchez, who took out $43,000 in student loans, finished paying off her total balance of $52,000 with interest in six years. She made her final student loan payment in November 2018.
Sanchez, founder of Budgeting In Blue, said her tipping point was receiving Form 1098-E in the mail. This is a student loan interest statement. The form must be filed if you receive student loan interest of $600 or more from an individual and a statement must be made available to the borrower.
Sanchez’s 1098-E revealed that in one year she had paid over $5,000 in student loan interest.
“I was not expecting that and I was shocked, to say the least,” said Sanchez. “I had kind of succumbed to the fact that I was going to have student loan payments for the next decade so I just made the regular payments but I had no idea how interest impacted my total payment.”
The 1098-E form changed Sanchez’s entire approach to paying off her student debt. Sanchez said she never made the minimum payment again. Instead, she began making an additional payment of $250 every month, sometimes as high as $1,000, to finish paying off her student loans in full.
Final Tips for Paying Off Student Loans
As a writer’s note, I have yet to read a student loan repayment success story where the borrower does not emerge joyous, often shedding tears, about their student loan debt victory. Getting there is definitely a marathon, not a sprint, but it is a marathon you can run and emerge triumphant at the finish line.
Like running an actual marathon, repaying debt requires commitment. If you need help getting there, Mabie recommends utilizing good money management skills. Create monthly goals, track them and pay more than the minimum payment due each month.
“Money management is essential to being debt-free, and the decisions you make in your career can have an immense impact on when and how you achieve your financial freedom,” said Mabie.
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