Over 100k in Student Loans – How We Paid Off 50k in 2 Years!

paying off six figure student loans

Today I’m happy to share Jeena Cho’s story with you. She borrowed over 100k for student loans and she’s figured out a way to knock out her debt. Jeena’s top 4 tips are below.

“At 21, borrowing $100,000+ for law school seemed like a no-brainer. After all, once I land that job at that fancy law firm, with my fancy office, with my fancy house, car and wardrobe, earning a six-figure salary, repaying $100,000 should be easy. Right?

For the first seven years after graduation, all I managed to do was prolong the cycle of debt. As long as I was making the monthly minimum payments and keeping all the balls in the air, I was doing great. My life was all about living a lifestyle suitable for a lawyer, filled with nice things.

When my husband and I got married, we sat down and took stock of our finances. Seeing our numbers in black and white, on paper was a real eye opener. So, we sharpened our pencils and got to work. In the past 2 years, we paid off about half our student loans. Yes, about $50,000!

 

How We’re Tackling Our Six-Figure Student Loans… 

1. Pull out the calculator - This may seem obvious but I find that most people avoid this like the dentist. Say you have $120,000 in loans at 8%. If you repaid it over 25 years, the total amount repaid would be about $280,000! Your monthly payment will be $930. Calculate it over 5 years and the monthly payment jumps to $2,430 but the total amount repaid decreases to $146,000. That’s $134,000 in savings. Play around with the numbers and find a number that feels right for you.

2. Ask yourself ‘What are my priorities?’ – We made a list of what’s important to each of us individually, then compared our lists. What we valued was time with family and friends, travel, health and financial security. What wasn’t on our list was fancy clothes, or luxury goods. The plan was simple: spend according to our values. We made a budget to reflect what’s important to us.

3. Attack – I wish I could tell you that there’s some secret to getting out of student loan debt. There isn’t. Think of it as removing a Band-Aid. You can rip it off or prolong the pain by peeling it off slowly. After running various repayment scenarios, we picked 3.5 years as our target repayment term. Instead of making our payments monthly, we pay weekly via BillPay. This allows us to adjust the payment if necessary and there’s satisfaction of seeing the debt balance decrease each week. I keep an amortization schedule on my desktop and cross out the payments as we go. (Note: Most loans will advance your payment when you pay more than the scheduled amount. Be sure to put a note “do not advance payment” so that the extra amount will be applied to the loan. Check with your lender about the terms of the loan permitting this.)

4. Take charge - The most difficult part of getting out of debt is changing your mindset. Once we changed our mindset from ‘we need nice things now’ to ‘we need to get out of debt’ it was easy to change our habits. We reduced many of our expenses such as dining out, cable, wine purchases, Starbucks, etc. Before spending, we ask ourselves ‘do we need this?’ and ‘is there a way to get this for less?’

What I learned through this is that even though we’re spending less, we’re happier. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses’ we find what works for us. We are focusing more on creating happy memories instead of accumulating more stuff.”

 

Jeena Cho is an attorney out of San Francisco that works with people who are in overwhelming debt. When not practicing law so enjoys blogging and travelling with her husband.

 

Do you have student loans? How have you approached paying them off? How do you wrap your mind around an overwhelming amount of student loans?

17 comments

in Paying Off Debt, Struggle

17 Comments

  1. gowa // January 19, 2013

    wow, this is a great post! truly inspiring and very relatable. thank you!

  2. frugalexpat // January 20, 2013

    Great post to read.. very inspiring.. I think in general debt payment is really challenging while plunging to debt is really easy.

  3. Jeanette // January 21, 2013

    I admit at first I thought, “This isn’t relatable I don’t even make 50,000 a year” but I also don’t have anywhere NEAR as much debt. So proportionally this is very inspiring!

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 21, 2013

      I totally understand how it could seem unrelatable at first. I think the important thing with all of our stories is to think about the similarities rather than the differences. No matter how much each of us makes or how much debt we each have it’s the feelings that are universal. Plus, I know of people who are loaded and are in a ton of debt and I know people who don’t make much money and who are great with their money. In some respects the person who makes less money is actually better off financially simply because they can manage their money better.

  4. Couponologist // January 21, 2013

    Anna, I think your point about focusing on the similarities is so important. Debt is debt, and the absolute amount of debt matters less than the ratio of income to debt. I think the latter often goes hand-in-hand with how much anxiety it causes. Thanks for this post!

  5. Hostel // January 21, 2013

    This hit the nail on the head for me. I have just about that much of my own student loan debt. That’s why I started the spending fast.

  6. Rebeka // January 21, 2013

    This is great. I graduated law school in May and I have even more debt than you (darn private school). It’s really daunting to think about. Your strategy on this is awesome. I’m definitely bookmarking this to keep student loan repayment in perspective. Thank you!

  7. Alaina M. // January 22, 2013

    This is an awesome post and is truly inspiring. It is amazing to read about people that have made the sacrifices and have made it happen when it comes to slashing debt! Very powerful!

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 28, 2013

      So glad to hear that! I agree with you, seeing that getting out of debt is possible from all sorts of walks of life and experiences is super helpful!

  8. Aaron // January 29, 2013

    This post is very encouraging. Like Jeena, I graduated law school in 2008 with over 130,000 in debt. After struggling to build my own practice, I’m now able to pay $5,000-$7,000 per month on my student loans, and have dropped my loan balance to below $50k as well. More than anything, it takes an attack mentality. Reading through other people’s success stories like this one fires me up. I will be debt free by the end of this year, and I can’t wait!

  9. latusha // February 1, 2013

    Yes I have student loan debt!! I owe over $54k. Not until recently did I think should even try to pay it off before the 30 years were up. I’m beginning my own journey to try and pay it off as soon as possible. I’ve been able to pay off my car and other debts but this is the last big one. Great story Jeena. Congratulations.

  10. Do or Debt // February 8, 2013

    I have 55k left to go on an original 68k balance. It’s so hard and painful to deal with. I spent many, many a night having anxiety attacks and feeling regret towards my education. Then there is always the “well, it’s too much, so who cares” thought that comes to mind. One day I just realized all the crying, tears, regret won’t make them go away and I had to do something.

    I want my loans done with asap. It is a mindset thing also. Really focusing on envisioning your future life without debt. I want to be 32, without debt and continue living my life the way I want to.

  11. Christine // March 27, 2013

    My boyfriend and I just moved in together and we have been working overtime on making our apartment feel more like a home. While all the new furniture and decor is nice, in the back of our minds is the $14k student debt still looming over my head. Really lovin’ the advice on changing your mindset from ‘we need nice things now’ to ‘we need to get out of debt’; getting out of debt is my priority but I definitely haven’t been treating like it is. Thanks for a great article!

  12. JaneD // September 23, 2013

    I had 36K in student loans when i finished with grad school. In 5 months, I have gotten it down to 30K, and in little over a year from now I will be debt free! I am paying 2K a month and anything extra I have left over. If I can do this on a 48K salary, then anyone can do it. Do what you can to save, even if its move in with parents/roomie/boyfriend/etc. to help. The key is remembering that stuff doesn’t make you happy! Being debt free and having peace of mind does. All of the nice vacations, homes, and etc you see on facebook are almost ALWAYS debt ridden. Don’t be like them. You all can do it!

  13. Shannon // November 4, 2013

    Great advice and proof that what seems like an overwhelming amount of debt CAN be paid off!

    For those who haven’t heard of it, having a Mint account helps me keep track of my spending in each category (rent, food, fuel, etc).

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  • Anna

    Hi, I'm Anna! I paid off close to 24k in debt in only 15 months & it completely changed my life! I want you to have a debt-free life too so here you'll be able to read all about: How to do a Spending Fast®, saving & making more money, DIY's, & a lot about living awesomely with less. Let's do this!

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