Do you ever feel totally alone when it comes to paying off debt? For me that is one of the hardest parts about our journey paying off $650k of student loan debt. Sometimes it feels like we are the only ones. But the truth is, there are plenty of people out there paying off six figures of debt. There’s nothing more encouraging than hearing stories of other people who have been successful in their journeys paying off six figures of debt and that’s why I interviewed Tiffany Dansie about her family’s journey paying off $180,000 of student loan debt in 3 years! Here’s how they did it.
What was your total amount of student loans?
$155,000 when we finished school in 2009. In 5-6 years, we had accrued interest because we could not make the minimum payment. Our total was now up to $180,000.
What degree(s) did you earn?
a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy.
Are you married? If so, did you and your husband both have student loans?
Yes! It was my husband that went to school for Physical Therapy. We both finished our undergrads with no student debt, but we chose to go to a private school for his Physical Therapy degree which is where we racked up the loans.
How long did it take you to get out of debt?
How did you decide you wanted to pay off debt?
We went to a conference where we learned about finances, relationships, and business. We intended on learning how to earn more money… when in reality, we needed to get our finances in order! When we started to get REAL with how much we were paying in interest each month on our student loans ALONE, how much we were spending on food, clothes, and where our money was actually going, we were appalled! It was sickening to get real with the numbers. We had been burying our heads in the sand but once we started looking at our bank accounts, our credit card statements, and what we were actually spending and where our money was going, that’s when we got serious about getting out of debt!
Were your student loans federal, or private?
If they were federal, why didn’t you choose one of the federal income driven repayment plans (such as REPAYE)?
We did Income Based Repayment for several years because we could not afford our minimum payment. The amount we were required to pay each month (based on our income and family size) didn’t even cover the interest each month. So interest accrued and capitalized each year, so our balance was going up each year instead of down. We accrued $25,000 in a matter of 6-7 years. So over the course of 20 yrs on that plan, our amount owed would be huge as the interest piled up. On IBR, your balance is forgiven after 20 years. However, the “forgiveness” amount is counted as income and you’re taxed on it, unless you work for a non-profit. Do the math. It can “sound” nice upfront but it can be a nightmare later!!
Did you refinance your student loans with a private lender?
We did not refinance. We didn’t look into this a ton, but from what we were told, if you refinance, they take the average of the interest on your loans, and they can round up so you could end up paying more and some companies will charge fees. This might be an option for some people and worth looking into, but do the Math and check all the boxes.
[Amber butting in here. There is a LOT of confusion about refinancing your student loans versus consolidating your student loans. Student loan consolidation is generally where you keep your student loans with the federal government. All they do is exactly what Tiffany described here– they take the average of the interest on each of your student loans and combine your loans into one loan for one (averaged) interest rate. Refinancing with a private lender, however, takes your loans out of the hands of the federal government. Typically (depending on your credit score, among other things) you’ll get a much lower rate by refinancing with a private lender. We recently refinanced with a private lender and cut our interest rates in half. If you want to learn more about it, you can read more here: Everything You Need to Know About Refinancing your Federal Student Loans, and Reasons Why You Should (or Should Not) Refinance Your Student Loans. There are plenty of pros and cons to each path– it is very important to make an educated decision.
Is there anything you wish you could do over in regards to your student loans?
Start paying them off sooner! I wish we had crunched numbers sooner and known our spending habits. I wish we had gotten our heads out of the sand long before we did. I wish we had realized that paying off even a little bit at a time, helps! It all adds up!
What advice would you give to someone with six figures of student loans and just starting to pay them off?
1. Increase your income. But DON’T increase your spending. That needs to DECREASE! For most people, when they increase their income, they just increase their spending. DON’T DO THAT! Find ways to earn more money and put it toward debt. Decrease your spending. There are ALWAYS ways that you can decrease spending. Figure out what you actually NEED and what is a luxury. Simplify. Ideas: cheaper cell phone, cancel cable/ do a cheaper version, sell things that aren’t needed, do online grocery shopping (HUGE SAVINGS FOR US), stop going to Costco and Target as often, grocery shop once a week (don’t go back for that 1 item that turns into 7), meal plan, etc. Remember, if you want something different, you have to DO something different. So you HAVE to decrease spending.
2. This formula was life changing for us. When you get a paycheck, put 10% toward debt, 10% toward a tithe (if you don’t believe in or want to pay tithes, put that 10% toward debt also), 10% in savings, and live on 70%. The lower your spending, the more you can put toward debt. Find what formula works for you and be consistent with it. (Even if it’s 30% toward debt and live on 70% and just have an emergency fund of a few thousand in the bank).
[Amber inserting again here! I love Tiffany’s idea– this ratio worked great for her family and it might work well for yours too, just find whatever works for you and run with it! For us, we do almost the complete opposite ratio, but that’s just because our debt is SO massive.]
3. Small choices add up! Don’t wait until you have a ton of money to pay off debt. Pay it off as you go, in small increments. It will add up and give you momentum to keep going when you see success!
4. Stay surrounded by people who are working toward a similar goal. Don’t compare yourselves to other people but surround yourself with people who are supportive and will cheer you on rather than pressure you to spend or live a super different lifestyle.
5. Go over your finances regularly. Print off your bank statements and credit card statements quarterly so you can become familiar with where your money is going. This isn’t done to shame your partner or yourself of where you’ve been spending too much. It’s literally just to help you become more mindful of where your money is going. It made a world of difference for my husband and I.
6. If you want something different, you have to DO something different. So if you aren’t paying off debt like you want to, figure out what you are going to do differently!
7. Invest in yourself. Better your skills so you are worth more in the workplace. Go to conferences, read Personal Development books, learn to work with people, learn about relationships, how to earn more money, etc. Invest in YOU!
8. Most people are broke. Do the opposite of what “most people” are doing when it comes to finances and buying stuff. 🙂