Filing your taxes can be such a pain, but hopefully a nice tax refund check is waiting for you at the end of it all. For me, it definitely was. I knew exactly how I was going to use my refund check because I know what my goals are. I want to pay my almost $200k in student loans by the time I turn 31, hopefully 30! This made it pretty easy to decide where my checks were going.
Refund Check: Savings
The first thing I did was restock my savings account. I treated myself in March to an AMAZING trip to Punta Cana with my boyfriend, it was definitely needed and totally worth it. We shopped around and spent a lot of time searching for the best trip for our budget and it really paid off. Of course it did still cost money, so I put that money back into my savings. Since I’m lucky enough to still live with my parents, I’m building my savings as much as I can while still sticking to my intense payoff plan.
Refund Check: Student Loans
Obviously, a large majority of my refund check went to my student loans. I am incredibly excited to share that I paid off my first student loan!! After lots of hard work paying my loans down during grad school, and moving back home to pay off more, I paid off $42k in about a year and a half. It definitely has been hard, but I wouldn’t trade my education for anything. It felt absolutely amazing to send in that payoff payment and say goodbye to my first student loan, you wont be missed!
Based on my goals right now, the best thing for me to do was really focus on my student loans with my refund checks. This definitely isn’t for everyone, but you need to know your financial goals in order to figure out what is best for you. How did you use your refund check this year?
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Back in August 2015, before I even started paying off my loans, I posted about my student loan binder. This thing has turned into the best thing I ever made. It has allowed me to stay organized and motivated throughout my first 6 months of debt payoff. When you have almost $200k in student loans, you need something to motivate you. Fortunately for me, just seeing the numbers drop is motivation enough. I also use ReadyForZero, which is a huge motivator. It allows me to see my debt payoff day get closer and closer and my daily interest drop as I make each extra payment.
**July 2017 Update: ReadyForZero no longer offers their service anymore. Check out my blog post on the website I now use that I absolutely love!
I use this binder to keep all my different kinds of loans organized. I have set up my binder into 4 different sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. In the debt section is where I keep my planning sheet and my debt payoff tracking sheet. This allows me to see the big picture of my debt payoff, like which loan I’m focusing on first and how much I payoff each month. In both my private loans and federal loans sections I keep individual debt payoff sheets for each of my loans. This allows me to see how much I have paid off for each of my loans and how much I left to pay off. Its exciting to see where I started with each of these loans and how much I have paid off.
Since this binder has helped me so much in this crazy journey, I thought all you lovely people might find these sheets for my student loan binder useful. Click the download button to get my binder cover sheet, a planning sheet, a debt payoff tracking sheet, and an individual debt payoff tracking sheet to make your very own student loan binder!
When I was in grad school and finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to be roughly $200k in debt when I graduated, I began researching. I spent hours finding tips and tricks to get out of debt and to do it fast. One of the biggest things I took from my research was that I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my debt. So many people hide from their debt, ignoring it exists. I didn’t want to do that. I began telling my friends and family about my debt, when it came up in conversation. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t understand how I could have possibly racked up that much student loan debt. But, it’s possible. For some reason our society thinks we shouldn’t talk about debts because it’s normal to have debt. So often I hear people brush of debt like everyone has it and it’s the only way to live. Oh, but student loans are “good debt”, no debt is good debt! I don’t want that life, forever needing to give my hard earned money over to the company I borrowed it from years earlier. I want to keep my money!! Which is why I decided not to hide from my student loans.
I know many people who are simply ignoring that their student loans exist. I’m serious, they are letting their credit score absolutely tank and not worrying about it. They figure in seven years it will be wiped away and then I can start over. But, then you need to rebuild your credit and doing that after destroying your credit is incredibly difficult. It will take years and extreme diligence to bring it back up. Not to mention that having a bad credit score makes it incredibly difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a car, so many things that a 20 something would typically be doing. For right now, I live at home, but eventually I plan to move out. When that happens, I want to have the freedom of renting a place, if that’s what I choose to do. I don’t want my student loan debt to hold me back, even more than they already are.
I understand when you graduate from college you’re most likely in your 20s and think that it is an absurd amount of money. I get it. I was there, sitting in my college apartment staring at my computer screen in complete shock at the massive amount of debt I owed. How did I possibly rack up such a high number?! But you need to accept your debt, and make a plan to tackle it as soon as possible. Get angry, and get motivated and be sure to make a realistic plan for yourself. So, what’s your student loan plan, are you going to pay them off or ignore their existence?
Finding out my monthly student loan payment was eye opening. I was completely shocked. $1,400/month for JUST my private loans, not even my federal loans. How was I going to afford this?! Especially when my federal loans were out of the grace period, which hasn’t even happened yet. The first step was to create a plan to tackle this absurd amount of student loans. Once I knew I could afford my required payment, I had to find ways to make my additional payment as large as possible. My teaching job just wasn’t going to cut it for me and my goals for paying off this student loan debt.
Multiple Streams of Income
One of my biggest strategies for paying off my student loan debt is to make more money through multiple streams of income. This will then allow me to make a larger student loan payment each month. My goal is to create as much passive income streams as possible, I’m not there yet, but I hope to be soon. For now, my income streams are my teaching job, after school tutoring at school, private tutoring, babysitting, and (hopefully) this blog. I strongly recommend you find ways to make more money if you are buried in student loan debt, like me.
There are so many ways to make extra money, but it needs to be worth your time, especially if you are working a full time job. For me, I wasn’t sure I had the time to do all these side hustles, but the amount of extra money I make really motivates me. I find the time to do these extra jobs because the money is worth it. I wouldn’t do just any job after my normal work day, the money needs to be worth the time I’m putting in.
One of the worst parts about side hustles is that the money usually isn’t consistent or guaranteed, which is also one of the best parts about it. This income changes month to month, meaning it can less or more each month. This makes it hard to budget for it. Personally, I don’t include this income in my budget, I pretend I don’t even make this money until the end of the month when I figure out my additional loan payment. All of my side hustle money goes straight to my student loans at the end of the month.
Here’s the breakdown of my side hustles currently:
-After School Tutoring: This is done through my school. I stay after 2 days a week for 45 minutes and work with a small group of students who are reading below grade level. Even though this is through my job, this is additional to my salary, so I count it as a different stream of income. This is roughly $200/month extra.
-Private Tutoring: I hope to get a few more students to tutor privately to really boost this source of income. Currently, this is about $400/month extra.
This is how I currently use side hustles to increase my monthly student loan payment. I hope to continue growing the amount of money I earn in side hustles and diversify how I earn the money. My goal is to find more ways to earn money doing things I love to do. What are your side hustles and how did you begin them?
This post may contain affiliate links. Check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.
So, the day finally arrived that I had been anxiously waiting for, my first student loan bill arrived in the mail. I just finished my graduate studies in August and knew it was coming. My private loans did not have a grace period, so I assumed my first bill would most likely be due by November. Sure enough, my first payment is due November 2nd. Before I got the bill, I wasn’t sure how much my payments were going to be each month. I guessed that they would be around $1,500 a month because that’s what my sister pays with a similar amount of debt. Of course, I budgeted for the worst and went for $2,000, since I went to grad school. It turns out all the debt I paid off during grad school was worth it, my private student loan payment is $1,400, much less than I thought it would be. My federal student loan payment was originally $600 each month, but I switched to an income based repayment plan and got it lowered to $250. It was a tough decision to switch to a different payment plan, but I wanted to be able to put as much money to my private loans, since they have much larger interest rates.
Where to Begin: Get Angry
Like I have mentioned in previous posts about my amount of debt, when I first really acknowledged the amount of debt I had, I felt like I would never be able to pay that off. I mean, $200K is a massive amount of debt. I don’t want to be paying this off still when my children are starting college, which is what will happen if I stick to the 30 year repayment plan. Honestly, that’s what really lit the fire under my butt, knowing I wanted to buy a house, have kids, send them to college, things that will be much more difficult if I have this massive amount of debt looming over my head. Plus, who wants to be paying off their student loans at age 50, definitely not this girl. Get angry at your student loans, put things into perspective and get crazy mad at that large sum of money that is preventing you from doing more things and saving more money. And just think about how nice it will be once it is all paid off 🙂
Create a Plan to Payoff the Debt
Once you have reasons to motivate yourself to payoff your debt, create a plan. Some people need to use the snowball method because they need motivation in the beginning to get going. Others think more long term and prefer a method that allows them to save the most amount of money, or the avalanche method. Personally, since I have such a large amount of debt, I’m thinking long term and how I can save the most amount of money. So, I’m sticking with the avalanche method. This means that right now I am focusing on one of my debts that has a 8.05% interest rate and started at just above $40,000 (I’m proud to say that this debt is now at $12,000 after chipping away at it for the last year during grad school, WOOHOO!!!). After this debt is paid off I will move onto my next largest interest rate and so on. If two loans have the same interest rate, then I pick the loan that is largest amount. I strongly recommend using ReadyForZero, I basically swear by this website in my debt payoff. It does take some time to type in all the information each month, but it provides me with a graph of my progress and when I’ll be debt free. Also, it’s completely free and has an app that allows me to check my progress wherever. I find it extremely motivating to see my daily interest go down after I make all my payments each month and to see how much sooner my debt payoff date is.
Update June 2016: I officially paid off that first loan!!! This means that I have now moved onto my next focus loan, which also has a 8.05% interest rate, but it is much smaller, only $16,000. I plan to pay this one off in one year, June 2017.
Update March 2017: I paid off my second loan 3 months early! I now have no loans with an 8% interest rate, finally! Now onto the next one.Also, ReadyForZero no longer offers their service. I have finally found a tool that works well and I find it very motivating and helpful in my debt payoff. Check out my review of the website!
How Much to Pay Each Month
It can be difficult to decide how much you can afford to pay towards your debt each month. I strongly recommend paying extra each month, any extra money you have, even if its $20, can make a difference in your debt payoff date. For me, I can afford my required payment in one paycheck, so I pay my bill on the 15th, when I’m paid. I never budget for my additional payment. This may sound odd to some people, and for a lot of people this might not work. However, I am currently in a very different situation than most. After I finished grad school, I moved back in with my parents in order to really tackle this debt, and they live 20 minutes from my job. This means that I don’t have many bills each month. Also, I work other jobs each month, like tutoring and babysitting, that make my income vary month to month. I do budget for gas each month, my bills, my 2 savings account, and my 403b account. You’ll notice that I do save each month, it’s not much, about $250 across the 3 accounts, but while I’m living with my parents I want to make sure I’m saving some money while I can. Since I pay my bill on the 15th each month, this allows me to make my additional payment at the end of the month when I am paid again. This is when I go through my budget for the month and see how much money I have left over that can go towards my debt. I hope to be able to pay an additional $1,000 each month.
Update June 2016: Since writing this post my monthly payment plan has completely changed, I found ways to make it much more aggressive. I made it a goal for myself to pay off all my student loans before I turn 31, that’s in 7 years. So, I went to my ReadyForZero account and changed my debt payoff date to determine what I would need to pay each month to pay it off by then. Turns out an extra $1,000 allows me to be debt free by my 31st birthday. I’m currently paying at least $2,600 each month with my teacher salary, living at my parent’s house (thanks Mom and Dad!), working extra jobs, and lowering my savings withdrawn each month. Instead of $250 I only put $125 into savings each month so that I can focus on my student loans.
This system might not work for you, but it’s what is working for me and my current situation. If I wasn’t living at my parent’s house, I don’t think this system would work for me since I probably would not be able to afford paying my entire bill in my one paycheck. What’s your debt payoff plan? What strategies have worked for you?
This post may contain affiliate links. Check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.
UPDATE: I have made all my student loan binder sheets available for you to download to make your very own student loan binder!
Recently I posted about some tips for making a debt payoff plan, one of my tips was to get organized. I organize all of my loan information in my student loan binder. I’m a binder girl, I just really like how easy it is to find everything I need in a binder. And it keeps things nicely organized. By having a binder just for student loans, it reminds me just how big a part of my life they are currently. I’m excited for the day when I wont have to have a student loan binder, but for the time being, it helps me stay organized and tackle this massive amount of debt.
When I first decided that I needed a student loan binder, I wanted to make sure it was pretty. That sounds kind of ridiculous as I type it, but student loans can be pretty depressing, why not make it a little more exciting! That made me pick lime green for my binder, it’s just such a nice pop of color to brighten my mood when I sit down to track my debt. And, I happened to find it while I was in the process of moving home (hah! Free baby 🙂 ). And of course I had to make a nice cover sheet for my binder, another way to brighten my mood.
Now, onto the inside of this bad boy. I broke my student loan binder into 4 sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. Debt is where I keep my payoff plan and a student loan payoff page that allows me to see the “big picture” of my student loan debt. This has all my loans on the page with how much I paid that particular month, the balance remaining at the end of the 6 months, and total payment for each month. This section is where I can see how I’m doing in my payoff plan, and how much more I have to go. The following 3 sections are places to keep things organized for my specific private and federal loans, and my TEACH grant that I have. I keep a log for each individual loan that helps me see how much I paid each month on that particular loan. For my TEACH grant, I don’t keep a log for each individual grant because I don’t need to pay these back, assuming I meet all the requirements in the next 8 years.
A binder system for organization is what works for me, the most important thing is to make sure your system works for you. Find a system that works and stick with it! I find it so motivating to input all the numbers and see how much I have paid off. I try really hard not to look at what I have left because it makes this payoff seem impossible, by focusing on how much I have already done, it motivates me so much more. I also use another tool online to help keep myself accountable and that my binder is up to date. How do you organize and keep track of your student loans and other debts?
This post may contain affiliate links.Check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.
Now that I’m finished with my grad degree, my loan payments are about to begin. This might sound crazy, but I’m actually really excited to start this journey. As I shared in my student loan story I have about $200k in student loan debt, mostly from my undergraduate studies. When it all really hit me how much I owed, I quickly began searching the internet and Pintrest to find out as much information as possible about debt payoff. This was almost a year ago now (Fall 2014) and I can’t wait to put my plan into action. Through the process I found these helpful tips that I have been using throughout grad school, and will really start using next month when my first bill comes in the mail!
Find a budgeting system that works for you, and stick with it! I was shocked to find how much I was carelessly spending each month, mostly on going out to eat. The easiest way I have found to budget is to use Mint to track all my spending. I have all my banking accounts linked up to my Mint account and created a budget for the things I spend money on each month, like gas and groceries. Also, it reminds you of the bills you have to pay and you can get a free credit check with advice on ways to improve your score! They even have an app to make it super easy to check and edit your budgets whenever you want.
2. Manage your Loans
For me, this meant using ReadyForZero to manage my loans. This tool allows you to enter in all of your loans and create a plan to pay off your debt. It even has this nifty tool that lets you see how much faster you would pay off your debt and how much your would save by making larger payments. Also, it shows you how much your daily interest is, talk about motivation!!! I have to say I am not planning to follow my plan completely that they mapped out for me because I don’t love the order that they pay loans off in. They go by the smallest loan with the highest interest rate, and that just isn’t something I want to do. However, this tool is wonderful to see your progress and easily calculate daily interest rate, how much is left, etc.
Update July 2017: ReadyForZero no longer offers their service. I have spent the last couple of months trying to find a tool that works like it, I couldn’t find anything and almost started making my own tool. Then I found this tool and I couldn’t be happier with it! Check out my review.
3. The Snowball or Avalanche Method
Look into Dave Ramsey, the man is a financial genius. He has some great tips about managing your finances in general, but has a debt repayment plan called, the snowball method. This method has you focus paying down one specific loan by putting all of your extra money towards this loan. All your other loans you should make a minimum payment on. When your focus loan is paid off, you apply that payment to your next focus loan. How you pick your focus loan should have some reasoning, either you are focusing on loan amount, interest rate or a combination of both. If you’re focusing on the smaller loans first, this would be the snowball method. This method plays more to emotions because you get small victories in the beginning to motivate you through the end. If you focus on your highest interest loans, this is the avalanche method. This method is purely mathematics and allows you to pay less in interest. Personally, I am focusing on my highest interest rate loans first, if I have more than one loan at a certain interest rate, I focus on the larger one.
4. Get Organized
This is going to look different for everyone, but it is important to find an organization method that works for you. Personally, I use a combination of ReadyForZero and a binder. ReadyForZero allows me to keep track of the bigger picture of my plan, how much I’ve paid off, my daily interest amount, etc. While a binder keeps all those pesky bills organized because they tend to go missing if they don’t have a home, and it helps me keep track of each individual loan I have.
5. Have Fun
During grad school I said no to doing a lot of fun things because it would cost me money. At the beginning, I was in hardcore debt payoff mode, and wanted to put as much money as possible to my loans. But I sacrificed having fun with my friends, and eventually the stresses of going to grad school full time and working full time weighed down on me. I realized I needed to enjoy myself and quickly found ways to do that without spending a lot or any money. My personal favorite is having a potluck with friends. What’s better than great food, great friends, and wine. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty cheap, too.
The goal of paying off student loans is pretty hefty, with a plan it makes it much more manageable. I hope these 5 tips help you as much as they have helped me to plan my debt payoff. What are some tips you have for making a debt payoff plan?
You might be wondering why I wrote “paid off”, because I didn’t truly pay off that amount during grad school. Like I shared in my student loan story, I created a strategy to make grad school work and pay down my loans during it. Some of the $23,000 was truly paid off, but most of it was just redistributed I guess you could call it.
I highly suggest poking around on Pintrest if you have large amounts of debt. It’s what I did when I first started realizing I needed a plan to pay my debt off. There is nothing quite like reading other people’s success stories to motivate you to get serious about debt pay off and money management. Also, I recommend looking into Dave Ramsey, he is brilliant when it comes to debt pay off and money management. I’m planning to use his snowball method to pay off my debt.
During my one year of graduate school I truly paid off about $3,500 of the $23,000. I did this by working 2 jobs while going to school full time. It was definitely a lot, but with some organization and time management I was able to pull it off. If you’re going to work almost full time (I roughly worked 30-35 hours a week), I highly recommend working jobs that require minimal take home work. What I mean by this is, work jobs that allow you to do very little work at home once you leave work. For me, that involved working in a toddler half day classroom, babysitting afterwards, then going to class at night. The toddler classroom required minimal take home work and babysitting never required any work at home. Actually, babysitting worked perfectly because I could do work during the toddler’s nap time. Also, I lived by a budget and cut spending wherever I could, while still making sure to save 10% of my income every month.
The other $20,000 was paying off some of my private loans with federal loans. Even though I only needed a couple thousands to make it through graduate school, I still took out the maximum amount of federal loans they would offer me. I know, this sounds crazy and when I first decided to do it, I thought I was crazy too. But, I’m a teacher, meaning there are a lot of great federal loan forgiveness programs in place for me. This didn’t help me much since I had a ton of private loans (with super high interest rates) from my undergrad. By taking out federal loans to pay down my private I was kinda swapping the same amount of debt for a better interest rate. My particular private loan I worked on paying off with my federal loans carried a 8.05% interest rate and the federal loan had a 6.21% interest rate. I was very pleased 🙂 It might not seem like a big difference, but interest is the absolute worst, so getting a lower interest rate is always better.
What are some strategies you used to pay down debt while still in school?
When I first got accepted to Syracuse University as an undergrad, I was over the moon excited. It was my first choice school and had one of the best programs in the country for what I wanted to study, inclusive elementary and special education. Of course, it came with a hefty price tag, about $200k to be exact after the 4 years.
I applied to every scholarship I could find, but unfortunately got nothing. I received a small grant from SU, and work study, but nothing that made much of a dent in the cost of attendance. This continued for all 4 years. During my senior year, I began to look into graduate programs, and took a closer look into my actual amount of debt. My stomach turned when I saw the number that I had accumulated. My dreams of graduate school seemed impossible and I quickly arranged a meeting with the graduate recruiter at my school. She’s hands down the best human being on this planet and has helped me through all of my troubles throughout undergrad and grad school.
I walked out of her office with a meeting set up with a financial aid adviser, scholarship applications started, switched to a new, less credit grad program and emails sent out to all contacts within my school to get me scholarships. I had done a lot for the School of Education through my undergraduate career, so she hoped this would help me get the scholarship I needed. The process was slow, but I felt better knowing that I was doing something to hopefully be able to go to grad school that upcoming summer.
When I met with the graduate financial aid adviser she immediately asked what my major was currently and what I planned to study as a grad student. As soon as she heard teacher, she questioned why I had an ABSURD amount of private loans. Here’s a tip: Get as many Federal loans as possible before private. Federal loans offer much lower interest rates, more payment plans and more opportunities for forgiveness, especially for teachers. She recommended only taking federal loans for graduate school and to make whatever kind of payments I could during school.
I began graduate school studying literacy education, and took out another federal loan to cover the cost for that semester. As much as I didn’t want to take out even more loans, I figured I was so much in debt already, what was a few extra thousand? Then, everything quickly changed during the first week of classes.
While break during one of my night classes, I got an email that I received a scholarship that would cover half of my credits that semester and the following semester. Then, I found out my teaching job at a preschool would give me 4 free credits. That meant I would have 10 credits paid for completely out of my 12. I immediately emailed the financial aid adviser and asked if there were any other grants available to teachers. She said that the TEACH grant was still available to me as a grad student, it would cover the rest of my credits (if you’re going into teaching, look into it! It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing)!! I couldn’t believe that my entire fall semester would be covered!
My spring and summer semesters I didn’t receive as much aid, but in comparison to what I thought I was going to pay, it was a huge relief. You’ll probably find it to be funny, but I ended up taking out the maximum amount of federal loans they would offer me each semester of graduate school, even though I didn’t need much. I’ll save that for another post though 🙂
What’s your student loan story? How did you make higher education possible for yourself?