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debt payoff


How Student Loans Impacted my Credit

Student Loans Impacted my Credit

When I graduated grad school in 2015 I had a plan in place to pay off my $200k in student loans. I had a teaching job lined up and planned to find some extra tutoring jobs to increase my income. I had just started really looking at my personal finance in the months leading up to graduation, started budgeting, created my plan, and started looking at my credit score. I always thought my credit score was my lifeline to doing anything in my future and I only assumed that with my crippling debt that my score would be horrendous. Boy was I wrong, my student loans impacted my credit, but in a way I never imagined.

Of course, my student loans did impact my score, they obviously come up, but they didn’t impact it the way I had thought they would. My assumption was that my credit score showed how much debt I had, so my score would be terrible. How could it not be terrible when I was 22 years old and had accumulated $200k in student loans? What I didn’t realize was that your credit score simply shows how good you are at managing all the debt you have accumulated, the amount you have doesn’t necessarily matter. For example, if you keep your credit usage under a certain percentage, you have a good score because it shows you are good at managing your debt. If you always make your payments on time, you have a good score because you are good at managing your debt. My score at 22 years old fell in the “good” range, which excited me because I assumed I could get it to excellent quickly and refinance my student loans.

Again, I was very wrong about my credit score and how it is used. Within one year my score fell within the excellent range, I was so excited to refinance my student loans with a lower interest rate. The time didn’t matter to me, I wanted the lower interest rate to apply more money to the principal each month. With my excellent score set I did the paperwork to apply to refinance my student loans. Originally I was “pre-qualified” for a wonderful interest rate of 5%, a HUGE improvement from my 8% loans I was dealing with. This was simply based on a soft credit pull, meaning it doesn’t impact my credit score, but they get my credit score number. So, based on my lovely “excellent” score, I was viewed as a “safe” borrower and was rewarded by a great interest rate. That is until they did the final hard credit pull to determine my definitive refinanced loan. I was quickly denied because my debt to income was too high. So even though I had an excellent credit score, partially due to making 100% on time payments, I was denied because I had too much debt.

This was a part of my debt free journey that I didn’t expect. I was making huge payments every month, well over the minimum and had my nice “excellent” credit score, but still couldn’t help myself pay off my debt quicker because I had too much of it. This is where the credit score doesn’t make sense. I stuck to my plan and have now paid off 4 of those private student loans and every time an account closes, my score drops briefly. So, as I’m lowering my debt, lowering my debt to income ratio, my score drops initially, followed by an increase. Do you check your credit score regularly? How has it impacted your debt free journey?



Debt Snowball or Avalanche?

Debt Snowball or Avalanche

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This is something I really struggled with when I began my journey to financial freedom. When I first began I was really into Dave Ramsey and using his baby steps. It’s what started this whole thing for me. As I did more research and learned more about personal finance, I was stuck with trying to decide which method I should use to tackle my debt. There are pros and cons to each and you ultimately need to decide what is the best method for you. But, I hope this can help make your decision a little bit easier. There is also a wonderful tool you can use to figure out what the best method is for you and your debt free date, you can read a review about it here.

Debt Snowball

This is the method that Dave Ramsey always recommends, and it is a great method for tackling debt. This strategy involves listing your debts from smallest to largest amount. You focus on your smallest debt first throwing all of your extra money at that debt, the rest of your debts get just the minimum. This allows you to make traction on one account. Once you have paid off the first debt, then all the money you were putting to it goes to your next smallest debt. This continues until all debts are paid off. This allows you to experience quick wins in the beginning and motivates you to keep going once you get to the larger debts. If you are someone with consumer debt, I would definitely recommend this method because it will help you when you are first changing your habits. This is also beneficial if you don’t have a lot of debt because if you can get out of debt in 2 years or less, interest won’t really make a huge difference in the big picture of your debt payoff. The negative of this strategy is that if you have large debts with high interest rates that will take you a long time to pay off, then you will lose a lot to interest.

Debt Avalanche

The other strategy is the debt avalanche, which is very similar and follows the same system of the snowball method. The difference is that instead of listing your debt smallest to largest by amount, you list them largest to smallest by interest rate. Once you have your list, you focus on the debt with the highest interest rate first and everything else gets the minimum payment. When the first debt is paid off, you move onto the next highest interest rate. This is good for people that only have student loans and don’t necessarily need the motivation of paying off debts in the beginning. The biggest positive of this strategy is that you save money in the long run and is good for people that are going to need multiple years to pay off their debt. This allows you to save the most possible money during your debt payoff. The negative of this method is that you might not experience any debts being paid off for a little while if your biggest interest rate is your largest debt.

I personally use the debt avalanche method, which took me awhile to decide on. Ultimately, I knew it was going to take me many years to pay off my student loans of $201k and my sole motivator was paying them off fast and saving the most money in the process. Which debt payoff strategy do you use?

Money Management

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months

When I began this debt payoff journey I was $200k in student loan debt, just starting my first year teaching, moving back home with my parents, and had no idea how I was going to manage this whole thing. I had a plan, I had a job, and I was starting to create some great side income streams. Then, the summer started. This should be the best time for a teacher, right? Wrong. No paycheck for 2 months when you have a $1,400 minimum loan payment to make each month is stressful. Of course, I had saved money throughout the school year for those two months in order to make at least my minimum. And of course I had some side hustles going on to bring in some income, but it was no where near my salary. That’s when I discovered using gift cards to get through the hard months.

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months

When you don’t have your income like you’re used to, but you know it’s going to happen, it’s great, solely because you can plan for it. I was able to save enough money each month to cover my bills in the summer and start thinking creatively about my money. That’s the crazy thing about being in crippling debt, you start to think super creatively in order to get more money in your pocket.

About the same time I started to panic about not having my paycheck, I was also doing a huge purge of my things. I was hoping to sell some things to make some extra money. In the process, I found a TON of unused gift cards. That’s embarrassing to admit HA! I literally stashed them probably years ago and totally forgot about them. But, that got me thinking, why don’t I use these to help me in the summer?

So I survived my first summer without my salary and knew what I needed to do for the following summer. I saved each month for the summer so I could pay my bills and I hoarded every single gift card I received. Now, to clarify, if it was a restaurant one, or clothing, I didn’t necessarily keep it. The ones I kept were the ones that could be used anywhere, like Visa or Mastercard gift cards. And I absolutely kept Target gift cards because this teacher loves that place for back to school! So, what are the creative ways you have come up with to make ends meet when your pay isn’t consistent?


July Debt Payoff

I started my debt payoff journey in November 2015 officially. That’s when my student loans officially went into repayment and I started throwing all of my money at my debt in order to pay it off as soon as possible. Since then, I’ve made many changes in order to increase my payments every month. When I first made my plan, my debt payoff date was just before my 31st birthday. My goal is to get that date closer and closer every month by improving my budget and increasing my income. I’m going to share with you all a breakdown of my loan payments and how I increase my monthly payment. I’m also hoping that by sharing with you all my goals, it will hold me more accountable to work towards them.

 July Debt Payoff


The summer is tough for teachers, I don’t receive my normal paycheck in the summer, I’m on a 10 month salary. That means my income is strictly from my side hustles. However, I do save $300 every month during the school year, so I can afford my debt payoff on a 10 month salary. Here’s a breakdown of where my money came from this month.

Fitness Coaching: $100.00

Tutoring/Babysitting: $1,129.76

Summer School: $506.83

Ibotta: $30.50

School Year Savings: $1,500.00

Total: $3,267.09


I save a lot in my expenses by living at home. I don’t have rent or utilities to pay each month, which saves me a ton of money and allows me to put a lot more towards my debt. My expenses here do not include my loan payments or my investment accounts. In July my expenses were $693, which includes my groceries and gas.

Loan Payments, Savings, & Investment Accounts

It might come as a surprise, but I actually contribute money every month to my savings and investment accounts. I know this is not typical for most people on their debt free journeys, but for me, while I am living at home, I am contributing $100 each month to my high yield savings account and investment accounts.

My current debt payoff date is September 2021, I’ll be 29 years old. I have been able to make significantly greater payments then I originally thought I could thanks to my side hustles. In order for this date to stay the same, I need to at least pay $3,166.71. My loan payment for the month of July was $2,473.92. This means I came in short this month, but considering I was working strictly from side hustles, I’m pretty proud of this number. This just encourages me to work even harder come September when I’ll have my salary back.


A Review of my Favorite Debt Payoff Tool

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Back in November of 2016 my debt payoff world came crashing down around me. My favorite debt payoff tool, ReadyForZero, was no longer going to be offering their tool. This tool had the works, everything I could have asked for, and it was free! I’ve spent months trying out new tools and just couldn’t find one quite like ReadyForZero and felt as though I was settling with the one I was using. Then, I stumbled upon undebt.it and my debt payoff once again feels organized and is motivating me once again. Here’s a review of my favorite debt payoff tool!


Many Different Options

One thing I really like about undebt.it is that there are different options of plans based on what you want from the tool. There is a free version that allows you to input all of your debt information, a customized payoff plan based on what strategy you want to use, and keep track of your payments on your accounts. The tool updates your totals for you once you add payments and allows you to see how much debt you have paid off and when you will be debt free, my favorite part!


They also offer undebt.it+, which costs $12/year and gives you access to everything that the free account gave you, and then so much more. With the plus account you are able to manage bills, get payment reminders via text message or email, an account summary emailed to you monthly, projections and stats to represent your debt payoff, and so much more!


This tool is incredibly motivating and makes it so easy for someone new to debt payoff. Once you input all of your accounts they create different plans for you and you get to pick which one is best for you and your situation. I personally use debt avalanche because I have such high interest rates and large loans.


They keep on every page you go to in the top right corner your current progress on your debt payoff. I LOVE this feature. I find it so motivating to see if the debt payoff day changes when I make extra payments and see the percentage paid off get larger.

Payoff Plan

Once you have picked your plan, they create a debt snowball table specific to your plan. I love this feature because it tells you exactly what to pay on each of your loans to stick to your plan. For someone who is new to debt payoff and not totally sure how to navigate it, this would be so helpful! I also love that your payments that you already made for the current month are in blue so you know exactly where you stand in the plan.


I really love this tool and I am so happy I found it finally. What I really love about it is that the creator of this tool was just paying off his own debt and needed a tool to use and he wasn’t happy with any of them out there. I love that he took initiative to help himself and so many others pay off their debt. I personally really like this tool and found it very helpful immediately after I set up my account. I highly recommend this tool, especially for people who are just starting their debt payoff journey and could use a tool to help them get started. One downside of the tool is that they don’t have an app for your cell phone. The website does load nicely on my iPhone, but no app is currently available. What tool(s) do you use to manage your debt payoff plan?

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Making Money

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

I’m going to be hitting my 2 year mark of this crazy debt free journey in November. Over those 2 years, I have learned and improved my plan a lot. One of the biggest ways I have improved is the amount of money I bring in each month. If you had told me when I started this ride I’d be making $1,200 every month just in side income, I’d think you were nuts. But, it’s true. Find out how I make an extra $1,200 every month.

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

Private Tutoring

By far the best way I have added to my side income is private tutoring in my town. If you have a skill you can teach others, I definitely recommend this. People are willing to pay top dollar for someone who is highly skilled in something they want to improve in. Personally, I am a certified as an elementary teacher, special education teacher, and a reading specialist. I get the most interest in parents of younger kids who are struggling to develop their reading skills. Once you realize what you can tutor, there are plenty of sites that can connect you with families and handle payment.

School Tutoring

On top of private tutoring, I also tutor through the school I work for in two different after school programs. One focuses on homework help and requires no prep work for me (it’s actually wonderful to not have to prep anything) and the other focuses solely on reading and writing and students must meet certain criteria to attend. Both of these are great ways to earn a little extra at work. I would consider this to be similar to those of you that can earn overtime. I don’t get paid based on my salary, but it is still extra money.


I have so many different families I provide different kinds of services to. Some I strictly babysit for, some I strictly drive their kids around to different activities. It all depends on what the families need, but I have found enough families that I no longer need to find more and I just work when I can. I found some through my family friends and others through Care.com. This is a great way to make extra money, especially when you find families that you get along well with.

It definitely took me a long time to see this really become a steady source of income and I definitely can’t rely on it. However, there have definitely been some months recently that I ended up living off less than my side income and my entire salary went straight to my debt pay off. How do you make extra money every month?


Ways to Keep Motivated during Debt Payoff

Recently I have had some serious low blows in terms of keeping motivated during debt payoff. Things just don’t seem to be going my way and it’s making it hard to stay motivated. I’m extremely stressed at work this year, which is making me extremely tired. This then makes it hard to get myself to all of my side jobs in the evenings. I recently tried refinancing my student loans only to be told I have too much debt. Why thank you sir, I’m aware I’m drowning in $156,000 in student loan debt, but do you see that I’ve paid off $44,000 in 14 months?! I feel like my life revolves around my student loans and it’s been incredibly hard for me to keep pushing myself recently, especially after being told I can’t refinance because I have too much debt. However, there are some ways I do motivate myself when I feel like giving up.



Focus on your accomplishments.

The first thing I always do when I feel unmotivated is look at how far I’ve come in my debt payoff and remind myself I’m doing everything I can. I look at my monthly payments that I’ve made and see how much they have increased over the last 14 months. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the big and little victories in this long journey. I celebrated paying off my first loan this past year and celebrated breaking into 5 figures for my private loans. It’s important to do that to make this journey a little less overwhelming.

Recognize the sacrifices you’re making.

When I’m feeling unmotivated I remind myself about all the sacrifices I’m already making for my debt payoff. I remind myself that I’m already doing so much, I don’t need to do more than I’m doing right now. I work 4 jobs currently, live with my parents, and budget my spending each month. For my sanity, I need to remind myself that it’s enough, I can’t do more than that.

Find others who are going through debt payoff.

By far the most motivating thing for me to do is to head over to Instagram and Pinterest and find others who are working on their debt free journey. I find it so motivating to hear other people’s debt free stories and how they got to debt freedom. It can be hard to find people around me that can relate to my situation and want to pay off their debt, which is why the Internet can be a wonderful thing.

I hope these few things can help you when you’re feeling down on yourself about your debt payoff. I know it has helped me when I feel like I’m never going to finish paying this debt off. What are some ways you keep motivated when you feel like giving up?