INSIDE: Want to know how to pay off student loans in 2 years? Steven Donovan did it and he shows us how in this article. Imagine having all of that behind you so quickly!
[Please welcome fellow blogger, Steven aka Even Steven Money, to the site to tell ya all about how to pay off student loans while I’m out on vacation :) I got a note from him before I left that he just paid off his entire student loan debt (woo!) and he wanted to announce it here on this blog and share how he did it. I hope this motivates you to kill yours off quicker too! Remember that debt is only a phase!]
It has been close to 10 years, and today is the day I declare to the world that I paid off every single penny of my student loans.
Paying off your student loans in 10 years doesn’t sound that impressive, but paying off $46,500 (the national average salary) in 2 years and 3 months might change your mind.
Some of the success stories that we read in the big publications start out with a kid graduating college and paying off debt immediately, but my story is different. And chances are, my story is just like yours:
- You have struggled to pay off your student loans
- You don’t pay them off right away because they are too big
- You don’t make enough money
- Your budget, and for that matter, your life, are not in order
How I Paid Off My Student Loans
I’m here to tell you all of that happened to me, but my life and my mindset changed. Here are the 5 tips and things I did to pay off my student loans – all on an average salary:
#1. Face The Facts
One of the reasons I did not pay off my student loans sooner was because I was ashamed. A guilty feeling ran through my entire body anytime I received a notice in the mail or received an email from the lender. I barely even peeked at those early statements – I just set them on auto-pay for the minimum payment and looked away in shame.
I remember shortly after Mint.com started, I put all of my accounts into my profile except for my student loans. I can still remember that sickening feeling I got knowing that I had somewhere around $60,000 in debt when I graduated. I know what it feels like owing someone thousands of dollars that will never go away unless you die or pay off every single penny. It’s tough on the psyche and you feel ashamed!
The moment I faced the facts was when I called my student loan provider and asked to change my payments to something smaller. They were increasing the following month, and my money was so tight that I didn’t think I could fit the change into my budget – at least not willingly. It hit me like a freight train. I needed to face the debt head on, and my budget and money needed to change as well, otherwise the loans would be with me forever. Those bastards still raised my monthly payment, but at least it made me face the facts.
[*Editor’s note: Refinancing is another way you could try to lower your monthly payment…or better yet, put more money towards paying down the principal and paying off student loans faster!).
Right now, SoFi (short for “Social Finance”) is the fastest growing player in online student loan refinancing – since 2011, they’ve refinanced a staggering $13 Billion in student loans! On average, people who refinance with SoFi save $316 a month on their student loan payments and pay $17,208 less on their total student loan payments. That’s some serious $$$!
Those are actual, real savings calculated by taking the average savings of all the student loans SoFi refinanced from July 2015 through June 2016. Pretty exciting! If you want to explore refinancing your student debt with SoFi, you can see what rate you qualify for here.
Just heads up, if you do click that link and end up refinancing with SoFi, we will get a commission for making the recommendation. Or, you can just go directly to their website and we don’t get anything, which is totally fine as well :) ]
#2. Set a Goal and GO BIG
Setting a goal for paying off my student loans was one of the biggest steps for me in paying off my debt. It meant I was finally serious.
When you set your goal, set a goal that you WANT, not a goal that you think you can do – Go Big. Making $200 payments each month might be what you think you afford, but it is not setting you up to Go Big. Saying I want to pay off my student loans in 12 months – over $2,000/mo! – is Going Big.
There’s no single best way to pay off student loans – everyone has to find their own path. But setting a goal tells you where you are today, and where you plan to go tomorrow. Without one, you are wandering the road of life with a backpack full of debt, and each step gets heavier and heavier with no end in sight.
#3. Plan and Budget(s are Sexy)
So you have this big mountain sized goal, but you need to look at your budget and make those numbers work. I had $25,866.26 left in July 2014, I made a goal to pay off this amount in 10 months. If you are looking at the numbers that’s shut-the-front-door crazy @ $2,586 a month. And that doesn’t even calculate interest, so it was more like $2,600/mo.
That sounds impossible, but that’s what I wanted to do – defeat the impossible. I knew I had to make the numbers work, so I kept it simple and made a spreadsheet like this: Student Loan Payoff Calcs.
While we want to set a Go Big type goal, we also have to make sure that the plan matches our goal. I knew that each month I could save $1,100 to be used towards my student loan debt each month, but it didn’t happen over night.
Over the last few years I have:
- Sold my car
- Paid off my credit cards
- Switched to a smarter and more affordable cell phone service in Republic Wireless
- Cut cable
- Cancelled gym membership
- And established a Rock Bottom Budget™ which already included my monthly payment of $199.85. (How do you like that name for a budget?)
This only added up to an additional $1,300 though, and not $2,600. So I had to do more.
#4) Increase Your Income and Side Hustles
When I carved out the $1,100 each month for savings, some of this was from establishing the Rock Bottom Budget™, but another part was increasing my income at work. I became good at my job, showed up on time, worked extra when needed, and even volunteered for extra assignments. In a short period of time I got a raise (I work in corporate America so think pennies, not dollars), and then quickly after promoted. I became a go-to person so much so that they created a new position just for me. I didn’t even apply. Raises got bigger over time, salary and bonuses increased, and all because I tried really hard at work.
Another factor I included in my plan were items that I considered a lump-sum amount such as a bonus, working overtime (for me this only happens 4 times during the year), money I had in the stock market, some of which was my emergency fund and some of which was my attempt at being a genius, and lastly my tax return from Uncle Sam.
I took each one and applied 100% of them towards my debt.
This was one of the more difficult parts to paying off my loans rather than buying something for myself or going out golfing with friends. I had to make a decision and decide what was more important:
Paying off my student loans or golfing 18 holes?
When you ask yourself questions like these, the answers become easy. I was taking every last source of income and throwing it directly at my loans to kill them off faster. You should consider it too.
When I’m not at the 9-5 or writing for $0 on my blog, I practice the fine art known as the side hustle. I mainly do clothing arbitrage where I buy gently used and new clothes at thrift stores, and then resell them for a profit on Ebay. I’m pretty good at it too. And knew that if I wanted to kill the debts quicker, I’d have to step up my game and reach for $600-$1,000/mo in profit instead of just $100.
#5) You Have to Stay Motivated
One of the most difficult things about paying off debt is staying motivated. It’s much easier to make the decision to spend more on vacation or go out to eat a few times a month, and then find your extra payment no longer there and “missing.”
To stay motivated I kept it old school, and I kept it new school. I decided to make the old school thermometer graphs on paper and color it along the way. I didn’t put it on our fridge like your children’s finger paintings, but I did put it on our bedroom door where I saw it every day:
(Editor’s Note: This is physical triggers at its best!)
It was pretty fun. Every time I would make a big payment, I would grab my green marker and color on up the thermometer. Coloring never felt so good!
I then kept it new school by blogging about my progress and sharing my repayment plan with everyone. The personal finance community was amazing. I heard words of encouragement and motivation the entire way. They don’t see you as making mistakes – they see someone pushing towards a goal just like them and couldn’t be more excited for you.
Old school or new school, I was motivated to pay off my debt. Every morning on my train ride to work, Dave Ramsey told me to pay off my student loans, and every day the thousands of bloggers reminded me that financial freedom needs to be part of my life. Of which debt does not belong.
Personal finance books also helped me fill in the gaps, along with those on travel that will make you not want to have a payment in the world. All of this motivated me in one way or another and kept me focused on reaching my goal.
The official day I paid off the last of my student loans was June 11th, 2015. I didn’t make the 10 month Go Big goal I set forth to complete, but it didn’t matter in the end. For a little over 2 years I kicked a$$ and made paying off my student loans the focus in my financial life. When I made that last payment I could not feel happier.
In celebration, I went out for some sushi with Mrs. Even Steven (the most supportive wife on the planet) and did the Moonwalk the entire way home. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I walked with a smile the entire way back knowing I had defeated my student loan debt forever. If you see me dancing the streets of Chicago, or smiling while staring off at the skyscrapers, I probably just remembered I don’t have any more debt!
Thanks for letting me share my story. I hope you will join me in paying off your debts someday soon too.
Steven Donovan is a Money Coach and blogs over at EvenStevenMoney.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. His coaching program is designed to give you the road map to financial freedom and live your best life.
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I love the thermometer idea. I have become a huge fan of keeping your debt (and your progress) visible. Especially for folks like me, who kinda ignored their debt for years, this is key to changing your mindset.
Check out this way to track/color your debt in too :)
Thanks Kirsten, it’s an amazing feeling to finally pay off my student loans. As you can see by the thermometer I’m not exactly an artist, but a piece of paper and a marker or two is all you need.
Awesome work! Was refinancing to a lower interest rate ever in the plan?
Thanks! I refinanced my loans awhile back, when the government was going to raise everything to a higher rate and this was the last chance to do it, at least that’s what I remember. I think it just kept all of my rates the same more than anything, but I would have to dig through the archives to find out.
Old school thermometer with a green marker!! That is classic. I had about the same amount coming out of school, well done on having plan to take care of it so quickly!
Yeah we keep it “Fancy” over at Even Steven Money. I had other options for colors, but to me Green means go and that’s exactly what I wanted my debt to do was Go Away!
Congrats! Sometimes, we have to sacrifice something especially those we love doing so that we can achieve goals. Consistency and motivation are big factors throughout this kind of journey.
Thank you! I couldn’t agree more as consistency is one of my weaknesses and ended up being my main strength throughout the repayment process to destroy student loan debt!!!
Wow, you made some big changes, like selling a car and cancelling services and memberships, It’s all too easy to view these types of expenses as non-negotiables or necessities, but when you think big you start challenging everything, as J. has talked about. Great job!
Ordinary spending doesn’t get you extraordinary results!
That’s awesome Even Steven! Huge congrats!! I love your Go Big attitude- we are shooting for the same thing right now as we bust a$$ on killing our student loans by mid-2016!!! Hopefully a year from now we will be celebrating too. Thanks for the inspiration!!
I love hearing that you want to kill those student loans! It’s people in the personal finance community that do great things and motivate others that are such a big motivator along the journey. I’m sure you will defeat them in no time at all:)
Great job Steven!!! What a great effort!!!
Thank you, Effort is my middle name! Doesn’t sound cool but it’s Monday morning that’s the best I got;)
I felt the same way when I paid off my student loans as well. I love how dedicated you were to the task once you decided to do it. Great stuff!!
Thanks Jon! I’m hoping to ride the student loan debt repayment high for at least the rest of the month:)
Congratulations! Very inspirational and just what I needed to read this morning while I’m sitting here wondering whether to do some online shopping or not. I have decided not to! I will put it towards my debt.
BOOM! Love that.
Congrats on being free!!
Thanks Kate! I feel free, but more than that I feel like I won and defeated something that has been hanging on to me every step I take in my financial life, the steps just got a little easier.
Nicely done Steven! Love the thermometer graph, great to have that reminder in your face each and every day.
Thanks Brian! It may not be the prettiest thermometer graph in the world, but it was mine just like the debt, my goal of paying it off, and defeating my student loan debts……all mine
I have almost the exact same amount left ($3.20 off) as when you started your thermometer! I just broke out a marker and made my own. We’ve paid off $12,700 in the last 6 months, here’s hoping we can keep it going.
Thermometer People Unite!!!!! Awesome on paying that off, feels good, coloring will also feel good:)
That’s crazy you were so close in #s, Christina! Let’s see how fast the rest goes now w/ the fancy thermo haha…
Awesome work Steven! I love the singular minded focus of killing the debt and throwing everything you had at it to make it possible. I did something very similar to your thermometer when I was paying off debt – it’s crazy how much just marking off another big chunk of money can motivate you…thus why to do it! :)
Thanks John! One of my strengths during paying off my student loans was that singular intense FOCUS that you mentioned, I could have easily done other things with this money but making big payments to get rid of the student loan was just more important to me.
Congrats Even Steven! I am excited to read about the next phase of your life and what you are going to do with all your “free” money now!
Thanks Mrs. Budgets! I’m excited to figure out what’s next in my big money plan, for the moment just enjoying the “free” money:)
yeah, I want to know where it’ll all be used for too once it’s time. I vote for early retirement :)
Great Job! I use charts that I found at debtfreecharts.blogspot.com to color in my paid off debt. I also have one for an emergency fund. I had them hanging in my spare room because I didn’t want anyone to see but I recently moved them to my bedroom because they weren’t motivating me enough where they couldn’t be seen. Now I look at it every day ready to attack!!
It’s amazing what seeing your debt and the progress you have made makes such a difference! Attack Every Day!!
LOVE this, Steven! I knew from the beginning you’d reach your goals – your drive was so evident! Great tips here too – huge congrats!
Thanks Laurie! Yeah it wasn’t easy but if it were easy, everyone would do it;)
Congrats!!! Visual reminders can be so motivating! I use progress bars on the blog for all of my goals. When I was paying off my car, I had a picture of my car on my fridge and in my wallet next to me debit card and it said, “How much do you own?” Constant reminder!
I really like the picture idea as well, I’ve been trying to get Mrs. Even Steven to put up a picture of Italy for her motivation to keep, keeping on. She has a cool thermometer of her own currently that she loves;)
That was incredibly motivational!! I really relate with feeling shame about having debt and not wanting to really face it. I just need to do that and most importantly increase my income. What mountain are you going to climb next?
Yeah it was one of the tougher parts I faced during the journey to pay off my student loans. I should have ripped it off like a band-aid, but you can’t go back and change it you can only tell others of your story.
Great question Rick, I have a few things I’m considering/over-analyzing, today and this month I’m just enjoying the moment knowing i’m student loan debt free!
Wow – quite impressive. Congrats! Look forward to reading about what is next for you now that your debt is paid off!
My answer would be Anything I Want! I have a personal loan that I want to attack so that is next in line.
People like you give me hope. I have my loan repayment starting this fall for school. My goal is to knock out my high interest CareCredit ASAP so that is out of the way when the government starts calling in the tab!
Ella Blue that’s awesome to hear. Knock them out one at a time, I like the strategy, best of luck!
Big accomplishment right there! Congrats to Steven! You’ll be hearing from me next, J$. I got a 20k loan I need to supercharge paying off now! =)
I’ll be waiting for that email :)
If that’s not great hustle paying off those loans I don’t know what is. Congrats buddy!
Thanks FF, que the Every Day I’m Hustling music I’ll be back later;)
That is an interesting side hustle about the thrift stores and ebay. I have actually thought about doing that. It is good to know that it can make money. Thanks for mentioning that!
The art of the side hustle, haha. It has been really good to me over time, when I want and need to hustle extra hard, I buy, buy, buy, and then sell, sell, sell, it’s pretty fun becomes a treasure hunt of sorts looking for the best items that will sell for the most money. Crazy what you can find sometimes.
So awesome and motivating! Huge congrats! I really like what you said about going big–I think that’s key. Without a huge, daunting goal, I end up condemning myself to mediocrity ;). Goals should be tough and they should push us to do more than we think possible. That’s the point of a goal! All that to say, your story is super inspiring.
Thanks FW! You know I’m just trying to hurry up and pay off all my debt so I can visit you guys on the homestead;) The Big Goal is something I am making sure to put to use on my next adventure whether it’s paying off debt or investing.
Does everyone want to visit the Frugalwoods? Ha! We do too. Mr. & Mrs. FW, you may have an even higher occupancy than you think. :)
We’ll be delighted to host you all :)!! It’ll be a frugal fiesta up in here.
What are some of the personal finance books that read? Any that you would recommend?
here are my top 4 faves:
I love J. Money’s recommendations, one I would add that is more of a personal journey through debt while traveling is Walden on Wheels, I recently read it and loved the writing and the story.
Ooooh killer name/idea for a book – I’ll make a note to look for it at the library myself.
That is incredible- I’m mostly impressed at your willingness to hustle your way out from the debt and not feel like it was sufficient to just cut back on the expenses. Way to go!
Thanks Hanna! I know it sounds simple, but that’s what really happened I cut my expenses and was like WOW this is great, but my goal is pay this off way sooner, something needs to happen and that was HUSTLE my way there. If I didn’t I would still have student loans setting up shop in my bank account every month:) No thanks I’d rather hustle!
That’s awesome! I can imagine how happy you are! We have been paying down our student loans as well. We started out the year with a $700 monthly payment. After this month, we will be down to a $106 monthly payment. We are going to let the balance ride from there because the remaining loans are at 2.1 and 2.32% rates. We may get tired of it and knock it out sooner rather than later but for now it’s okay!
It certainly does feel awesome! Sounds like you guys have been making some really great strides with your student loans, paying off debt has such an impact in your life.
Based on my experience paying off your debt and the official W in the Win column can feel pretty good:)
Congratulations! How exciting! I love these stories because it makes it seem POSSIBLE. I especially appreciate that you had it for ten years before you decided to GO BIG. I’m in the same boat – and I try not to do the whole “if only I’d started sooner.” You started, and you finished in two years! Love that kind of progress.
Thanks MJ! You are exactly right, it is possible. Despite all my attempts to not pay my student loans, I finally woke up and realized that paying off my student loans was the best thing for me and I needed to make it priority, when I put my mind to it Boom student loans be gone!
Congrats Even Steven!! I love the graphs!! I totally agree with you as far as setting big goals. I would rather set big goals for my clients and have them fall short than set mediocre goals for them and have them reach them. Setting big goals puts you in the mindset and practice of achieving big things, if you fall short, at least you are training yourself along the right path.
Thanks Shannon! I’m probably not winning any artist awards, but they certainly got the job done. 100% right that setting big goals puts you in a different mindset reaching for bigger and better things, even if you fail you are in a better place.
Way to go! I’ve been working on my student loans for 2 years now and I’m down to about $30k from $80k. I do something similar to your thermometer by using a 10×10 grid to represent my focal loan. Each square is $100 and I color it in when I make a payment. It really helps keep me motivated when I see my progress. Congratulations again!
Thanks Jessica! 50K means you are killing it, that’s awesome. The visual can be such a great motivator, sounds like you are right there to get rid of student loan debt.
Jessica – do you make pretty pictures out of the squares? Like pixel art? :)
Amazing, amazing…and amazing accomplishment!!! That’s a huge win and I bet it feels so good! I love that you set really big goals and kept going even though you didn’t get to them in the time you wanted. But you got there!!!!!
Thanks for the positive words, I am feeling great. Big goals equal big accomplishments even if you fall just a touch short. Just have to make it to the destination, get that balance down to zero;)
Congrats on paying off those student loans!
Thank you very much!
Congrats on being debt free. Those are huge numbers and you should be proud!
Thanks Adam, took a lot of work, but it’s a great accomplishment for me.
Massive congrats Even Steven!! I knew you were an incredibly committed, hard-working person who was going to pay this sucker off no matter what, but this is a great posts that puts it into perspective and is very inspiring.
Also didn’t realise you were using such fancy techniques as a hand-drawn thermometer graph – love it! There’s real value in the daily motivation something like that provides!
Thanks Jason, really appreciate the positive words, glad you liked the post. Oh yeah very fancy, one sheet of paper and one green marker needed, go ahead and do like I did and buy an entire pack of markers (retail cost $1)!
I love the use of physical triggers to motivate yourself…. great job
The thermometer graph at it’s best, thank you!
Congrats on paying off your student loans.
Isn’t it a better strategy to invest the money you were using to pay down your student loan debt into a Roth IRA? (Unless you’re already maxing out your contribution.) The market will provide a greater return (usually 6-8%) over the length of your student loan (my interest rate is 4.5%).
Thanks for your post.
Thanks James, I appreciate it. Also I think that’s a great question one that can be debated back and forth. The way you asked the question is would you rather contribute to your Roth IRA (after tax contribution and earn 6-8%) or pay off your student loans at lower interest rate. I’ll leave the debate for other writers, but I can tell you why I chose to pay off my debt rather than make a contribution to my investment account (my exception is my 401K and receiving my company match).
I chose to pay off my student loans because it meant more to me personally. I would take greater satisfaction paying my student loans back rather than making contributions to my IRA.
Good job! I will have paid off my $120,000 in student loans this October, in just under two years.
Thank you! Big congrats to you Will sounds like you are killing it, great job!!
Congratulations on getting that debt paid off, I still am in school and racking up more student loan debt as we speak. This is the reason for my blog writing, to help pay off my debt when the student loan bills start hitting my mail box.
Again my hat is off to you, congratulations.
Thanks Tom, I appreciate it! My message to you is stop the bleeding as soon as you can, best of luck.
This is my first time here based on a recommendation from Dee @ color me frugal. Love the website and the no-nonsense style. I’ve never been in that much debt before but really admire people who are able to climb their way out.
Hey – thanks for checking it out, Nelson! Glad you’re enjoying it so far :) I’ll have to owe Dee a beer!
This is great! Good for you. I don’t have too much debt left, but due to a very low income (career risk) it’s hard for me to just kick that final balance. I need some more hustle and side income.
Thanks Christina, the side hustle can certainly help kick that final balance and J. Money has a huge list of things to get you started in the right direction.
A big congrats Even Steven (from another Steven)!
I know how it feels to be done paying that much off – welcome to the zero student loan club!
Thank you Mr. Steve, I like the sound of the zero student loan club, thanks for the invite;)
Congrats for paying off your student loans. I will be there in a few years. I also use Mint. Seeing the high amount that I owe has helped me keep focused while I’m paying on them.
Thanks Jason, Keeping the focus, love that!
I haven’t graduated yet, I still have a couple years before that happens, but I have already racked up $30k+ in student loans. I try to pay $100-200 towards it. However, I think having a goal of graduating with only half the amount of student loans is doable! New goals are being formed here! Thanks for the inspiration!
Smart that you’re online looking at $$ blogs to help keep you motivated! :)
We are chipping away at a colossal $550,000 (you read that right) in student loans. So even though we are on a massively different scale, it helps reading stories like yours that becoming student debt free is possible! Thanks for sharing! Did you do any investing/saving while you were paying off debt?
Been loving your blog over there – it’s great :) Have no doubts that you’ll eventually kill it all! You guys are hustlers!
https://lifesurvivaldiary.com read my student loan debt. I cant wait until I get rid of this loan.
I hope you do!! Documenting it all on a blog def. helps stay motivated :)
Also, ‘ashamed’ to have debt you are nearly forced to accumulate to receive anywhere near a decent education in the US is itself something to be ashamed of. University leaders who have million dollar incomes should be ashamed.
Congratulation!!! Great efforts and a great blog too.
#1 is the hardest step! I don’t have student loan debt, but I do have other debts. Adding up your debt is overwhelming and then convincing yourself that it isn’t ok just because most people have debt is EVEN harder. I have never tired using a visual aid before, so I think I might try that for this last bit of debt I’m working on.
Good job killing so much of it already! You’ll have to let us know if the visual route works later, and which one you tried :)
Many reasons , psychologically it’s stressful to know you aren’t free because you have the weight of a student loan over your head . It stresses me out to have a debt hanging over my head. Want to take a sabbatical ? you can’t . even with no other bills you have to pay that student loan .
You can choose to stop investing for a while , no problem . stop paying student loans and the debt collectors will start calling and eventually garnish wages .
Financial – Student loans interest rates can be high, mine are 9% , plus for investments you have to factor in inflation and possible taxes for tax deferred investments like 401k’s.
Finally, I think of debt like a leaky gas tank where I’m losing fuel every time I give away money and get nothing in return . you can also think of it as running the financial race while wearing ankle weights because the loan payments are slowing you down .
Take these weights off and run towards your goals faster!
Amen, brother! Gotta plug up those leaks!
Love this post! I thought I was the only one that used the thermometer drawing as a visual gauge! Its Great. Love the excel – looks very similar to mine as well. I just completed my payoff plan for the $43k debt I have. Crunching the numbers is crucial to the process. For my first blog post I was planning on walking thru my 5 year plan and I am glad to see that there are so many people that also think budgets are sexy. Keep up the great work and congratulations!
Way to go!!! Crushing $43k of debt is amazing! What are you going to be doing with all the extra monthly payment $$$ now?? :)
What is your monthly salary? I read these blogs all the time and while I’m sure you had a good budget and a goal, you more than likely make more than the average salary for a college graduate. I saw a blog boasting about paying 140k in 4 years, but they said nothing about their salary. The average staring salary for a college grad is about 40k. Take into consideration the cost of food, taxes, transportation, housing, etc, you most likely arent left with enough to pay 40k in 2 years. If you bloggers want me to be impressed, state your salary. My wife had about 20k in student loans. Her and I both made 10 dollars an hour. We paid off the loan in about 5 years, and by then she made about 13 an hour and I made about 15. We used a draconian budget and went without any luxuries for a long time.
David Ginsberg, this is the exact same thing I was wondering. Also, does/did he live at home? Did he have financial support from someone else?