When my husband Danny and I started dating in 2007, we were both exactly $0 in debt. Over the last decade, that beautiful $0 ballooned into a colossal +$649,000 (and growing). The question that we get asked all too often– how did this happen?
How we ended up with +$649,000 in debt
After getting married, we graduated with our bachelor’s degrees in 2010 fairly unscathed. Danny had NO student loan debt, and I graduated with a measly $3,500 that I had to borrow my last semester. While measly, it was still a negative number. I had never had debt before. It made me uncomfortable.
Our plan was always to go to law school (me) and dental school (Danny) and we knew that student loan debt would assuredly accompany our higher education. What we didn’t understand is just how awful compound interest can be on a six figure balance and just how much debt we would actually walk away with.
What we did
Danny went to graduate school to amp up his application for dental school. In total, that Master’s of Biomedical Science degree cost us about $60,000. We justified that if that degree could get him into dental school, it would be worth the cost.
I was lucky to attend a very affordable law school, where the cost of tuition was low. I earned my J.D. in 2015 with about $44,000 in student loan debt. I ended up applying to law school one year earlier than I anticipated. My original plan was to start one year after Danny started, so that we could graduate together. This would allow me to work full time for a year to save up a little for school. At the last minute, we decided it would be better if I started school as soon as I could. I would become a lawyer one year faster, meaning I would be earning a lawyer’s salary one year earlier. It seemed like I would earn more money as a lawyer than as a “sociologist.” (Also, hey p.s. there just aren’t that many sociology related jobs for undergrads.) But making this last minute decision meant that I had already missed deadlines for scholarships. That did not come without a cost and should have been factored into my decision of whether to wait one year or apply immediately to law school.
And then there was dental school. Oh my lucky stars there was dental school. I think we were just so grateful that Danny got into dental school that we didn’t take the time to consider the costs too much. Sure, we were nervous about taking out all the student loans, but we felt (and were assured by others) that we’d be able to manage the payments after school. Danny’s dental school cost about $84,000 a year. At 6-7.9% interest, that added up FAST and combined with my law school, undergraduate degree, and graduate degree, left us with more than $600,000 in combined student loan debt by the time Danny graduated in June 2016.
We lived frugally. We used coupons. We didn’t buy fancy things. I was able to work during some of my summers and part time as a research assistant which helped us to have something to live off of besides our loans.
We did not think too much about our student loans. It never occurred to us that we could (and should) start making payments while we were still in school. We had heard of income based repayment plans and were familiar with a few different strategies to paying off the debt, but we never stopped to consider what we were going to do. I think we assumed that things would magically work out for us.
We did not use a budget while we were in school. We rationalized that it was too difficult to calculate what our budget should be when we weren’t even earning significant income. Our thought process was to spend as little as we could. But student life is a trap for eating out too often and drinking too much soda. We fell into those traps.
Then I graduated law school, and everything changed.
I took a job as a judicial law clerk when I graduated. It was an AMAZING experience, but let’s just say it was not a huge money maker. I had student loan payments that were then coming out of their “grace period.” We had a new son to worry about. No one that I talked to (faculty/professional development/financial people at my law school, other law students, other dental students) seemed to have solid advice for managing student loans. Most people I talked to were convinced that finding the way to lower your monthly payments as much as possible was the way to go.
I didn’t know much about money, but I knew that lower payments meant it would take longer to pay off, which meant more interest was accruing, which meant school was costing more in the long run. (p.s. this is true even if your loans are going to be forgiven using any of the IBR plans).
I got stressed out. Me being stressed out lead to a furious journey, seeking the best solution for how we were going to handle our loans. I wanted know every single thing there was to know about money and student loans and how to get out of debt as quickly as possible.
I read every personal finance book I could get my hands on.[P.S. some of my favorites for starting out – Total Money Makeover 7 Years to 7 Figures, The Millionaire Next Door, Rich Dad Poor Dad.] If there is a book, blog or a forum dealing with finances, student loan debt, investing, and or becoming a millionaire, I have likely read it.
What we would have done differently in school:
There are a few things we would have done differently:
- Hunted for scholarships before and during school
- Had a more solid application for dental school so we could have chosen to attend a cheaper dental school
- Done something to create passive income while in school (i.e. purchased a duplex and rent out one side)
- Side hustled during school. (i.e. we could have started our blog sooner, sold things on e-bay, sold plasma, anything to make a few extra bucks)
What we are doing now:
We now have a budget and a financial plan in place. Our goal is to have no student loan debt by the end of 2021 (5 years after graduation). We live off of about $3000 per month and the rest of our combined income and income from side hustles (like our physical and financial a fitness program) gets dumped into student loans. We paid off my law school ($48,000 after interest) in less than 18 months and so far, we are on track for paying off Danny’s dental school by 2021!
But we aren’t sharing our journey just to talk about ourselves. Well we kind of are.
But this website is really about YOU.
I created this blog because I wanted to raise awareness about the student loan debt crisis. If I can, I want to help you with your own student loan debt. At a minimum, I want you to know that you are not alone. Certainly, my own personal experience with our student loans and finances is intertwined throughout the blog, but I hope that you will actually gain insights on how to manage your own debt and finances. We will offer:
- creative ways to substantially increase your income
- frugal living ideas
- student loan repayment plans and options
- budgeting and personal finance discussions
We hope that you will feel comfortable sharing your insights, thoughts, and questions by commenting on posts that interest you. We have a rich community (see-what-I-did-there?) of readers who will keep you uplifted, motivated, and offer their insights on how we can all get out of debt and go from being in the “red” to “green.”
Learn with us!
Learn with us as we navigate through this crazy journey paying off debt. 70% of Americans are graduating with student loan debt. Are you deeply in debt? Do you know someone who is? Please share our website with them!
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35 thoughts on “OUR STUDENT LOAN DEBT STORY”
Thanks for sharing your story!
You’re not alone with that student loan debt and actually, you managed to get out of law school pretty unscathed! I graduated law school with $87k in debt myself and know many more with much more than that. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m pretty sure the current average debt for a law school graduate is $140k or so.
Dental school is another matter as well. Average dental school debt is around $240k now. So even if you were completely average, you’re looking at $380k in student loan debt.
The tough part with going after these degrees is how late you begin your career. Ms. FP did 4 years of dental school, then did a 1 year GPR, and now is doing a 3 year residency in order to specialize. This puts her at 32 years old before she even earns her first real paycheck. She remarked to me the other day how she sorta just wishes she had a paycheck.
The important thing is to keep living like a student for as long as you can while you crush those loans! Imagine how much you’ll have once those debts are gone!
Yeah, last I heard the average law school debt was right around $140K– so surprisingly, our debt situation could actually be worse, ha. The problem with tuition (dental school, law, or any other 6 figure school) is that dang interest! I just can’t believe how fast it accrues. Its accruing right now as I’m typing and its ruining my life. $500k in debt becomes $600k really quick when rates are hovering near 8%. Its awful! And I agree- its tough feeling late to the money game because we’ve been in school so long. Thanks for reaching out! Always enjoy your posts. Not every day we meet someone who has survived both dental and law school 🙂
Wow, I didn’t know dental school was so expensive! Thanks for sharing all the numbers, interesting to see how it all added up.
Hey Brian! Danny’s school was more expensive than most. We should have shopped around!
Wow – that’s brutal…you guys better have nice teeth after all of that! 🙂
Financial Panther is right – you can knock it out. It will take time, for sure, and a good financial plan, but you can do it. You didn’t mention what all this fine education has gotten Danny in the means of salary, but if it is like any of the dentists I know you will be well on your way to reducing this debt in the next few years. Keep at it and don’t give up. You have done plenty of research and that knowledge will be worth it’s weight in gold (fillings). 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement 🙂 and the excellent puns! Time is the hardest part about our situation. We aren’t going to be able to knock it out overnight, that is for sure, so just gotta stay motivated!
Oh my gosh, you must have nerves of steel! I can’t imagine having a child in my third year of law school, especially while watching that much debt rack up. I’m sure you’ll both be fine going forward, since you both have the ability to be high income earners and you’re already well practiced at living frugally. Keep up the good fight! (And secretly, I’d love to read about your new rental property journey here, too!)
Ahhh far from nerves of steel. More like nerves of the biggest wuss ever. I have slight freak outs pretty much every other day, haha. Racking up the debt is not the nerve racking part– its when those bad boys start coming into repayment that is horribly terrifying. We’ll definitely be sharing more of our rental income property journey as our student loan debt starts decreasing, but having a little extra cash flow each month has sure been nice in making extra payments towards student loans that is for sure!
Amber, I’ve been freaking out about finances for years, which means my husband will graduate with a tiny fraction of what you have – but debt is debt and freaks me out – because having three kids while your husband is in school is not cheap.
I’m looking forward to reading more of your tips on getting rid and saving up. I’m also totally inspired by your choice to open up your journey to the public.
Debt is scary but debt with babies is way scarier. And thanks for the encouragement Katie! How much longer is he in school?
Oof. Dental school sounds brutal.
I went to a significantly less affordable law school and graduated with far far more than $40,000 in debt. I went straight through from undergrad to law school, and having never held a full time, year round job I had no concept of money at all. Throw on top of that that all of the advertising talked about “average” starting salary for lawyers, which made it seem very affordable. I did not really consider the fact that I wanted to work in public service and would not be making anywhere near that number…
Like you, I came out and started trying to learn everything I could about money. Books, blogs, online forums. Anything I could find.
Best of luck on your journey! I look forward to following along.
I had no idea dental school could cost that much money. I’m glad to hear that he graduated but wow I am shocked!!! I look forward to reading your financial journey 🙂
In the last few years tuition has sky rocketed for dental school but he also attended a private school which clearly came at a cost ?Thanks for dropping in!
I didn’t realize advanced schooling cost so much either. I have a couple colleagues that are in the same boat. Even to become a public school teacher it seems like you have to have a master’s just to get hired in certain school districts.
Student loans is one reason I didn’t go onto grad school, plus it wasn’t required with my job. I graduated undergrad with $60k in 2008. I was focused on getting those paid off and said I would go to night school for my master’s if needed.
I’ve changed careers since then and I haven’t pursued certain fields of employment becuase I lack the advanced training.
Thank you for sharing your story! Although I interact with the dental community for research (I’m a biochemist), I had no idea that dental school was so costly! I can see a great deal of tenacity in your school journey that will carry you guys through this debt journey.
For any of your readers looking at a science masters program or PhD program, many of the programs pay for your school and give you a stipend to go to school (for the medical sciences it’s usually around 23-27k a year), as well as provide health insurance. It’s important to shop around for the right program, with good research and support.
Thanks so much Judi! And that is so true. By far, the biggest mistake we made. Shopping around for the right school (undergraduate or graduate school) is KEY. And that is great info about the stipends/getting masters/phd’s paid for. Thanks for sharing that!
We had around $40,000 in student loans, mostly from a master’s degree I earned and used only briefly. I think many people tend to bury their head in the sand when it comes to their debt. It’s uncomfortable to confront, but it’s not going anywhere on it’s own. You are already doing great and have taken the necessary steps to kill that debt. I look forward to following your journey to debt freedom!
By the way, have you read Your Money or Your Life? Another fantastic pf book!
Thanks so much Amanda. It is definitely uncomfortable to confront. So much easier to pretend like it doesn’t exist but like you said, its not going away on its own haha. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Haven’t read Your Money or Your life but I’m googling it now, thanks for the rec!
Oh gosh, this is the problem that every single student faces. Trying to pay off your student loans. I am also in the process of trying to pay it off but mine is a LOT lesser compared to yours and I’m already stressed out on it. Can’t imagine how it must be for you.
But really I feel the most important thing is to start and actually have a plan and start making small contributions every month to paying it off. It makes everything seems so much doable then!
That is so true! Having a plan is KEY and starting somewhere, even if its small, every month will eventually make a big difference.
Holy crap! I had no idea dental school was that expensive. Good thing you were able to find a lower cost law school as I know people with student loans for a lot more than $44,000 for law school.
You’ve probably already checked out SOFI, but if you haven’t you should definitely look into them for refinancing student loan debt. I haven’t used them personally but I’ve heard good things!
Haha, thanks! Yeah, it was crazy expensive and I was definitely lucky with the cost of my law degree!
I just now found your blog and I love your story! While we “only” have about $50,000 left in student loans, it is still a long process to pay them all off. I look forward to keeping up with your journey!
Hey Ashley! Welcome! We love your blog– we are trying your vegetable dumplings tomorrow night! And yes, it is SUCH a long process. Congrats on getting down into the 50k range!! Even though it probably still feels like you have a ways to go.. you all are well on your way. 🙂
I’m a little late to the party, but just discovered you through Rockstar Finances Net Worth Tracker. I had to see who held the covet bottom spot on the list. Hang in there with your debt repayment journey. It is a long process, but worth it in the end!
Sad to say, but the govt really failed the young generations, especially GOP that only concerned about those lobbyists. Why are they keep stressing the young generations with 8% interest rate when you can get mortgage at 4%? They borrowed money for school and education, not vacations.
I think we should stand up and fight again the govt for failing us. They let the corporations take advantage of us, having young people who isn’t smart with money making all these hundreds of thousands dollars decisions is just wrong.
Did you consult with your parents when you make these decisions, because ready your article, I can see there were many mistakes made, not blaming, i wish the old generations are knowledge enough to give us advice so we can be burden with less.
No wonder the doctors and lawyers these days are just trying hard to go after money, look at the stress they went through. It’s just sad… so sad…
Thanks for sharing your story! I nailed $200k of debt myself. So true: that compounding really gets you, especially if you don’t make enough in year 1 or year 2 to pay it down. I could have easily paid more during school itself. It balloons very quickly.
Kudos to you on working to repay it all.
So true so true. Sadly, the “older” generation were sold a story as well and pressured into believing that if their child did not have a college “education” – they would never be employed.
I am so sorry for all of you who are so indebted. This is a great blog. It isn’t just the lawyers and doctors who have bought into this debt, but the general population. I think that this is one serious issue which should be brought forward to Congress. No bandaids but true resolution. Band together and write to your Congressman, visit with them and demand accountability. This is Your government.
Thank you so much Mary. I agree with everything you said! Thanks for the encouragement.
Hey there fellow student loan debtors! 🙂 I “only” have a little less than $80k for my student loans, although with my husband SL debt that pushes us over $100k, so I definitely feel you on working as a team to prioritize debt! I had no idea dental school was so expensive either – I always knew doctors and dentists paid a ton to go to school, but none of my friends are doctors so I never knew exactly. Several friends are lawyers though so I know all about that 🙂
I blog over at Sunburnt Saver – I blog about paying off debt on a much lower income (my husband’s a teacher and I freelance) while saving for retirement. I found you guys on Rockstar Finance and can’t wait to follow your journey!
Hi, I would love to collaborate with you. Please email me back so we can talk about the details.
About how much did you pay a month to pay off the 200k in two years? Also, is the blog a significant source of income for you? Just curious!
Anywhere between $8k and $13k a month. It’s a part time income 🙂
I’ve been in the dental field for 14 years, first as a dental assistant and then as a dental hygienist for the past 10 years. I went back to school in 2011 as a non-traditional student to pursue dentistry. I was pre-dental, took the DAT, and was ready to go to dental school when I developed an autoimmune disease. I was misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia first which led me to decide not to pursue dentistry for fear of long-term musculoskeletal problems. I then switched to Master of Physician Assistant Studies. After finishing the first year, I decided that practicing the current medical model was definitely not for me. Now I’m getting my Master of Public Health degree with a much lower ROI and income potential. I will have ~$250,000 of student loan debt when I am done. I started an online business in 2018 to try to earn extra income to start tackling my student loan debt but so far that has only been a money pit. I look forward to learning more about your journey in hopes that it can help with mine.
Hi Crystal! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I know I (and many others) can relate! If I’ve learned one thing about starting a business, is that it takes way more time and money than you think it is going to. I hope it picks up for you soon!