As of 2020, Americans owe a staggering $1.6 trillion in student loan debt with an average of $32,371 per student. For many people, student loan debt is looked at as a lifelong commitment, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right plan, discipline, and hard work, you can pay off your student loan debt sooner than you think. And no, you don’t have to have a high salary either.
So, how did I pay off $50,000 in student loan debt in two years
Before you jump to any conclusions, no my parents didn’t help me out and I didn’t have a high salary either. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Business Finance and accepted a job as a project manager after graduation. I was earning $52,000 a year over the course of paying off my student loans.
Upon graduating, my goal was to pay my student loans off as fast as possible. I didn’t want that burden on my shoulders, so I created a plan that anyone can do.
If you are disciplined enough, you can follow the steps I took to pay off my students loans in a short amount of time and do the same – even those who earn much less than $52,000 a year.
Part 1: Eliminate Living Expenses
During college, I did research on ways to live for free. I knew this was Americans’ biggest expense on a monthly basis and by eliminating it, I could put all that money towards my student loans.
I found house hacking was going to be the best way to eliminate my living expenses. To learn how to do this, read The Five Step Process to House Hacking your Way to Financial Freedom. Breaking this strategy down, it involves buying a 1-4 unit property, living in one unit/bedroom and renting out the other units/bedrooms.
My strategy was to buy a duplex, live in one unit and rent out the other one. I ended up purchasing a duplex for $192,000 and my principal, interest, taxes, and insurance was $1,332 per month. I was able to rent out one unit for $1,300 a month and I rented out the remaining two bedrooms in my unit for $500 and $550 a month. In total, I was bringing in $2,350 a month and only paying out $1,332 for my housing expense. Therefore I was positive over $1,000 a month because of house hacking, effectively eliminating my housing expense.
At this point, you might be asking how I was able to afford buying a duplex right after I graduated college. The answer is, I used a 3.5% down FHA loan in combination with a $15,000 down payment assistance package offered by my city for first time home buyers. At the closing table, I only needed to bring a check of $185.97 to purchase this duplex. Yes that is correct, I was able to buy a $192,000 property with less than $200 dollars out of my own pocket.
I was also able to get this loan without a cosigner by showing my lender a written and signed offer letter from my employer. One thing that benefitted me was I started building my credit as soon as I started college, therefore I had around a 765 credit score.
House hacking is possible for many people and it truly allows you to live for free. However, it doesn’t come without its own risks. By using this strategy, you are now a homeowner and have the responsibility of taking care of it. You will also have tenants to manage, which can be a challenge in itself.
Before you do this strategy, I recommend you educate yourself and again, read The Five Step Process to House Hacking your Way to Financial Freedom to get a better understanding of this strategy.
Part 2: Consolidate and refinance student loans
At the same time as eliminating my housing expense, I was in the process of consolidating and refinancing my student loans. Even though I planned on paying my student loan debt off in two years, this would help me manage my payments easier and save money on interest.
As soon as I graduated and had my job, I consolidated my loans. There are many places that do this and they all offer different interest rates and benefits. I suggest shopping around to find the best interest you can; this will save you a lot of money if you pay your student loans off over a longer time.
Personally, I used Laurel Road to consolidate and refinance my students loans and I was able to get a 4.26% interest rate. While this isn’t the lowest rate someone can get, I thought it was fair and it was a lot less than my private student loans interest rate.
When consolidating and refinancing your students loans, you want to make sure to shop around and find the best rates. If you have government student loans, they usually have fairly low interest rates already, so be sure to refinance only when it makes sense.
Part 3: Build a Budget
The next thing I did was build a budget. Keep in mind, all of these steps are happening at the same time. I had my goal of paying off my students loans in two years and I needed to do all of these steps as quickly as possible.
During college, I started tracking all of my living expenses. I used a simple spreadsheet and that is what I am still using today. You can find it here. After graduating, my monthly expenses changed a bit and I wanted to physically write them down to see how much I was spending. These are the monthly expenses I had:
- Transportation (Gas): $200
- Groceries: $150
- Cell phone: $70
- Gym membership: $35
- Auto Insurance: $135
- Emergency fund: $200
- Miscellaneous (clothes, eating out, entertainment): $300
Again, my housing expenses were completely covered by house hacking a duplex – including all utilities, even my internet expense. Furthermore, I was (and still am) driving the same car I drove throughout college saving me money from expensive car payments and insurance.
In total, not including my minimum student loan debt payment, my total living expenses were around $1,090 per month. I also had around six months living expenses set aside, as an emergency fund, that I added to on a monthly basis.
An additional benefit I had was being able to stay on my parents’ health insurance plan during this time. This allowed me to save on monthly health insurance costs while I was paying back my student loans. If your parents are kind enough to allow you to do this, you are able to stay on their health insurance plan up to 26 years old, under the Affordable Care Act. During college, I recommend having this conversation with your parents to see if this is a possibility for you.
Compared to the national average, these living expenses are very low. It takes extreme discipline and proper planning in order to do this. I could easily be spending much more on transportation, groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc, but I wanted to stick to my goal of paying off my students loans in two years. Because of this, I was willing to make sacrifices and use creative ways (like house hacking) to reduce my living expenses as much as possible.
As I stated above, my salary was $52,000 a year. After taxes, I was taking home around $40,560. On a monthly basis, that is around $3,380. I was making a little bit of money from my house hack, but I put that surplus in a seperate account for repairs and maintenance.
Besides my salary and house hack, I didn’t have any other sources of income at that time.
Part 4: Breaking down the numbers
The overall plan of paying off my students loans in two years, is based on my monthly cash flow, i.e. my income minus expenses.
My monthly cash flow:
$3,380 – $1,090 = $2,290
After all of my expenses I was able to save almost 68% of my take home pay on a monthly basis. And guess where it was going? Right to paying off my student loans. Specifically, I was paying $2,100 a month towards my student loan debt. The remaining $190 per month I was just saving and putting into my checking/savings account.
Again, I had around $50,000 of student loan debt upon graduating and I was able to pay $2,100 towards that every month.
$2,100 * 24 months = $50,400
This is how I was able to pay off $50,000 in student loan debt in only two years.
I understand not everyone is going to have the same opportunities, challenges, or circumstances as I had when paying off my student loans. Don’t let that stop you. There are stories of people making less than I did, paying off their student loans in two to three years.
You can do this as well. It takes discipline and a definitive plan, but anyone can do it. Anyone can lower their monthly expenses or increase their income. It takes hard work, but it can be done.
If paying off your students loans in a couple of years is your goal, write that down every single day in a notebook. I have been doing this for the past couple of years to keep myself on track and honest.
Create a plan and stick to it. You can do what you set your mind to, just stay disciplined and focused.