Journey to No Debt – No More Student Loans!

In 2006 after graduating high school I always knew I wanted to go into computer *******. I’d been doing it for years, but there were only a few places in the country offering it. We didn’t have any money so in order to pursue this path I’d have to borrow everything. I chose an accelerated bachelors program (22 months) at a for profit university, classes were 8+ hours a day so there was no time for a job on the side. I’d often spend 16 hours a day at school and in labs.

Because of my degree I got a job in my field 3 months out of school, and with 90k of student loan debt at the age of 20. I started out with a salary of 35k and could barely make my large student loan payments and rent, but got by. Over the next 2 years I taught myself computer programming and then switched positions and doubled my salary overnight, and my income has been growing ever since.

Do I use my degree now? No. But did it lead me to where I am now? Yes. So you never know.

All that aside, here is a detailed breakdown about what it looks like to claw your way out of student loan debt. My tuition was 68k + 12k in living expenses, then another 10k of interest while I was in school.

sudent_debt_chart

Principal Paid Interest Paid Total Paid Average Payment
-92,549 -51,106 -143,655 -799
Year Principal Interest Pay Down Amount Loan Balance # of Payments Average Payment
2007 73,207 0 0 -73,207 0 0
2008 7,750 0 -7,750 -80,957 0 0
2009 9,783 -14,426 -9,824 -90,782 7 -799
2010 -337 -5,612 379 -90,403 12 -562
2011 -1,181 -5,985 1,181 -89,221 12 -599
2012 -6,528 -6,021 6,528 -82,692 13 -965
2013 -5,070 -5,125 5,070 -77,622 15 -679
2014 -7,567 -4,846 7,669 -69,953 18 -653
2015 -9,563 -3,981 9,563 -60,389 29 -467
2016 -10,788 -2,699 10,788 -49,600 17 -793
2017 -25,343 -1,729 25,353 -24,247 15 -1354
2018 -24,477 -628 24,247 0 19 -1091

And here is a CSV of every payment I’ve made, interest included, and a running total of the balance.

I refinanced in 2016 which rapidly accelerated my ability to pay down the debt, and also started dumping more money into it from my side hustles. I paid off all the small loans first, then took that extra cash and put it towards the larger loans. It took me roughly under 10 years from getting my job in 2009, until August 2018 to pay them off, making huge headway these past two years. You’ll notice a giant leap and payment last year of 11k, that was a royalty check I received for 2016 & 2017. Sending off that payment was tough to do, but once I did and realized how much further it put me towards my goal, it made me feel better.

Increasing income is also a major component. If you’re in a field where you can climb the corporate ladder it might be easier to get steady bumps, but some industries it’s not as easy. I’ve been with the same company for the past 10 years. All of my raises have been a combination of switching roles, yearly increases, and leveraging offers. My salary has looked like this:

2009-2012 are estimates before I started tracking things better
Year Salary Increase Reason Side Hustles Gross Income
2009 35,000 Initial offer 35,000
2010 40,000 Standard Raise 40,000
2011 45,000 Standard Raise 45,000
2012 62,870 Transitioned to engineering 62,870
2013 61,291 No company-wide raises 61,291
2014 61,968 No company-wide raises 61,968
2015 76,532 Standard Raise 1,680 78,212
2016 76,532 No company-wide raises 2,937 79,469
2017 76,532 No company-wide raises 25,410 101,942
2018 90,000 Leveraged offer 18,487 108,487

My advice:

  1. Save on tuition and living expenses as much as you can. A good school matters, but not as much as you’d think if you’re hard working and talented.
  2. Apply for any and every scholarship under the sun which I certainly didn’t do.
  3. Live like a hermit after graduating until your debt is paid off. You don’t need to impress anyone. Lifestyle inflation is real and it’s easy to want the new thing once you start making better money. I still drive the same car I bought in 2009.
  4. Take every extra dollar you make and put it towards your loans. Some would say it makes more sense to put the money in the stock market on low interest loans and make minimum payments. I agree. It makes financial sense. But it doesn’t make emotional sense. The freedom of not having debt and the security it brings far out ways the benefits of making a few extra bucks in my opinion.

I know it seems there might be no end in sight with massive debt, but diligence and discipline is key. Eventually you can claw your way out and that’s when the real fun begins!

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