Hey all! Welcome back to the Student Loan Series. This is the continuation of a post series that started with Saving Joyfully.
The purpose of this series is to gain some insight from some friends who also had large amounts of student debt. I’ve given you my tips for paying off student loans, but I’m sure I haven’t covered everything.
I reached out to Diana because she had an exceptional amount of student loan debt (even compared to me). However, she has managed to pay off a substantial amount of it in just a few years. So, of course, I wanted to know how she did it!
Without further ado, let’s get down to the interview.
1. First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? When you were younger, what did you want to be when you became an adult?
I am 26 years old and a teacher, I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if this is what I’ll do forever, but for now, it’s working for me. I’m from New Jersey and went to Syracuse University. I never thought I would be interested in personal finance, but once I started learning more and more, I got hooked!
2. What was your major in college? What was your main reason for picking that major? Did you know your major before starting school?
My undergrad was in inclusive elementary and special education and my masters was in literacy education. I wanted to work with children for as long as I can remember, so teaching was a natural fit for me. I picked my university based on the education programs, but also the ease to transfer to something else, if it wasn’t right for me. Syracuse University offered an awesome program with great employment percentages post grad, got me into a classroom my first semester, but also was a big enough school that it would be easy to transfer.
3. Do you feel your major/degree has helped advance your career so far?
I definitely think that it has. I was hired on the spot in the district that I wanted to teach in. In the teaching world, it can be very difficult to be hired right out of college, especially with an elementary degree. Luckily, I had multiple certifications and the reputation of my university in education helped a lot.
4. What about your student loans? Do you feel that so far, it has been worth it to borrow money to attend school?
Syracuse was a lot of money, I’ve thought about this a lot. I definitely think it was worth it to borrow money to attend school, but if I could do it again, I’d probably do it differently. I definitely would not have attended such an expensive school for a career that is not high paying. However, I know the reputation of Syracuse was the reason I was hired on the spot, they told me this at my interview. This makes it very difficult to say I would do it differently.
5. If you don’t mind sharing, what was the total amount of your student loans? Are you student loan-free or still working on them?
My student loans totaled $201k when I began paying them back and I am still chipping away at them. I started paying them off in November 2015 and have paid off $115k so far.
6. Can you tell us about your student loan payoff strategy? Have there been any major challenges or struggles while repaying them?
It has been an interesting journey to paying these off for sure. To begin, I had to move back home with my parents to afford my payments. My minimums were going to be $2,000/month when I first started repayment. On a teaching salary, that just wasn’t going to happen if I had rent, electric, etc to pay for each month. Once I moved back home, I immediately created a plan to pay them off quick, which for me was the debt avalanche. This method allows me to save the most money in interest because I’m focusing on the highest interest rate loans first. Living at home is definitely challenging at times, but totally worth it when I can pay off my debt at such a fast pace. Also, it has been super challenging to be a teacher with this much debt. I have not received a raise in 2 and a half years due to my district not having a contract. Luckily we just settled on one and hopefully I will be getting a raise shortly. Due to not getting a raise, I have supplemented my income with a lot of side hustles in babysitting and tutoring, which gets tiring, but is worth the extra money.
7. Did you ever apply for refinancing, consolidation, income-driven repayment, etc.?
Yes! I totally encourage people to get creative with their student loans as long as you understand the implications of these programs. I have refinanced and used income-driven repayment. I refinanced my private student loans for a lower rate to save money in interest. I use income-driven repayment for my federal loans, but make sure to pay off the interest each month. I do this so that I can pay off my private loans faster thanks to a lower minimum on my federal loans. However, my minimum payment would not cover my interest each month, so I make sure to cover at least that so it does not capitalize.
For more information about student loans, check out Diana’s post about blind student loan payments.
Any final tips for someone who is working on paying off their student loans?
Celebrate the small victories, cut your expenses in your budget, and definitely get a side job that you love. The extra income can make all the difference in your debt free journey.
Thanks to Diana
Thank you Diana for sharing those valuable tidbits about your experience with student loans. Student loan debt totals at least $1.5 trillion at this point, but I’m confident that together, we can beat it.
Do you have a story about student loans? Share it in the comments below. Or, if you would like to be next in the Student Loan Series, let me know! I’m always looking for new people to share their stories.
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Hey there. My name is Bob Haegele and I'm a personal finance writer who has been freelancing since 2018. Since then, I've built a six-figure career as a freelance writer. My work has been featured in Business Insider, Forbes Advisor, TIME.com, USA Today, and many other outlets. Interested in starting a blog of your own? Check out my post on starting a blog.