How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 Months

Lately, I have received many questions asking how I was able to pay off my student loans so quickly. I haven’t talked much about my student loans since I paid them off in July of 2013, but I know many struggle with their student loan repayment plan each and every day. Due to this, it is a topic…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 31, 2023

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How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 MonthsLately, I have received many questions asking how I was able to pay off my student loans so quickly. I haven’t talked much about my student loans since I paid them off in July of 2013, but I know many struggle with their student loan repayment plan each and every day.

Due to this, it is a topic I am always happy to cover. Paying off your student loans is a wonderful feeling and I want to help everyone else experience the same.

 

Background on my student loans.

To start off, I am going to provide a quick background on my student loans.

I worked full-time all throughout college. I worked as a retail manager from when I was a teenager until I graduated with my two undergraduate degrees (I was a double major). Then, I was lucky and found a financial analyst position right when I graduated. I took around six months off from college, then I went back to get my Finance MBA, all while still working full-time and building my business.

Even though I worked full-time, I didn’t really put any money towards my student loan debt while I was in college.

Instead, I spent money on ridiculous things like going to my favorite Mexican restaurant WAY too many times each week and spending money on clothing that I didn’t need.

I didn’t have a realistic budget back then, at least not a good one. I didn’t think about my student loan repayment plan at all either!

So, when I finished my Finance MBA, I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to start getting real about my student loans. I had six months after the day I graduated with my Finance MBA until my student loans would come out of deferment.

I knew I had to create an action plan to get rid of my student loans.

And that’s when I took a HUGE gulp and decided to add up the total of what I owed.

After adding all of my student loans together, I realized I had $38,000 in student loan debt. No, this might not be as much as some of the crazy stories you hear out there where others have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, but I wasn’t exactly near the average of what others owed either. I also wasn’t happy because I kept thinking about how I had been working full-time for many years, yet I didn’t even put a dent on my student loans.

After totaling what I owed, I decided to buckle down and start my debt payoff near the end of 2012.

I ended up finishing paying off my student loans in early July of 2013, which means it took right around seven months for me to pay them off completely.

It’s still something I cannot believe is true. I always thought I would have student loans hanging over my head for years, so I am extremely grateful that I was able to eliminate them so quickly.

Now, you may be wondering “Well, how do I do the same?” Or you might even be thinking that it’s not possible for you.

However, I believe you CAN do the same and that it IS possible for you.

For some, it might take longer to pay off your student loans or it might even take less. It depends on how much you owe, how much time you can spend on making more money, and honestly, it also depends on how bad you want it.

Related tip: I highly recommend SoFi for student loan refinancing. You can lower the interest rate on your student loans significantly by using SoFi which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time.

Related content: How Do Student Loans Work?

Here are my tips to pay off your student loans quickly:

 

Do you know how much student loan debt you have?

Like I said above, the first thing that made me jumpstart my student loan repayment plan was the fact that I took the time to add up how much student loan debt I had.

It shocked me so much that I probably wanted to throw up. That’s good though because it can be a good source of motivation for most people. I know it was for me!

When you add up your student loans, do not just take a guess. Actually pull up each student loan and tally everything down to the exact penny.

I highly recommend that you check out Personal Capital (a free service) if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital is very similar to Mint.com, but 100 times better as it allows you to gain control of your investment and retirement accounts, whereas Mint.com does not. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation, your cash flow, detailed graphs, and more. You can connect accounts such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more, and it is FREE.

 

Understand your student loans.

There are many people out there who do not fully understand their student loans. There are many things you should do your research on so that you can create the best student loan repayment plan.

This mainly includes:

  • Your interest rate. Some student loans have fixed interest rates, whereas others might have variable rates. You’ll want to figure out what the interest rate on your loans are because that may impact the student loan repayment plan you decide on. For example, you might choose to pay off your student loans that have the highest interest rates first so that you can pay less money over time.
  • Student loan reimbursements. Some employers will give you money to put towards your student loans, but you should always do your research when it comes to this area. Some employers will require that you work for them for a certain amount of time, you have great grades, good attendance, and they might have other requirements as well. There are many employers out there who will pay your student loans back (fully or partially), so definitely look into this option.
  • Auto-payments. For most student loans, you can probably auto-pay them and receive a discount. Always look into this as you may be able to lower your interest rate by 0.25% on each of your student loans.

 

Create a budget.

If you don’t have one already, then you should create a budget immediately.

First, include your actual income and expenses for each month. This will help show you how much money you have left over each month and how much money should be going towards your student loan debt each month.

 

Cut your budget to create a quicker student loan repayment plan.

The next step is to cut your budget so that you can have a better student loan repayment plan. Even though you may have just created a budget, you should go through it line by line and see what you really do not need to be spending money on.

There’s probably SOMETHING that can be cut.

You might not have even realized it until after you wrote down exactly how much money you were shoveling towards nonsense until now. However, now is better than never!

We worked towards cutting our budget as much as we could. I can’t remember exactly how much we cut it by, but I know that it was enough to where I felt like I was putting a dent in my student loans.

Even if all you can cut is $100 each month, that is much better than nothing. That’s $1,200 a year right there!

Side note: If you are still in college, I highly recommend that you check out Campus Book Rentals. It allows you to get your text books for cheap. I almost ALWAYS rented my text books and it saved me a ton of money!

 

Earn more money as a part of your student loan repayment plan.

The month I paid off my student loans was a month where I earned over $11,000 in extra income. While this does sound crazy, I did start off by making just $0 in extra income. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Even if $11,000 a month isn’t possible for you, I’m sure something is. If you can make an extra $1,000 a month in extra income, that can help you knock out your student loans in no time.

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Pay more than the minimum payment each month.

The point of all of the above is to help you pay off your student loans. However, you can always go a little bit further and pay off your student loans more quickly. The key to this is that you will need to pay more than the minimum each month for you to speed up your student loan repayment plan process.

It may sound hard, but it really doesn’t have to be. Whatever extra you can afford, you should think about putting it towards your student loans. You may be able to shave years of your student loans!

How much student loan debt do you have? What’s your student loan repayment plan?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. I am very impressed you are able to clear your student loans so quickly.

    1. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thank you for the advice! I owe quite a bit of money from my undergrad engineering b.s. and unfortunately haven’t been in the right location to land that money making job yet. I try to pay extra each month but I realize after reading this that I reallllyyy have to make that a priority! Great read, xoxo.

    1. Thanks Sam! When do you think you will have your debt paid off?

      1. Shoot I don’t even know, at this point I’m just trying to pay well above what I owe each month and hoping that will help but I should probably sit down and calculate exactly how long it will take. On the plus side, my husband and I just went through and decided how we’d allocate my paycheck so that we will start putting much more in savings AND have our credit card debt paid off in less than 2 years, boom. Though that’s not perfect & it’s certainly not quick, to have a decent sized savings AND be debt free…now that’s definitely good news. I love your blog so much, I’m always learning great tips! -Sam

  3. Very impressive Michelle! In just 7 months, you’re a ROCKSTAR! I’ve been paying my student loan for 1 year and 3 months. I think I’ll have more than 4 months left before I can settle it. I wish I had known how you did it earlier so that it would have taken me less than a year.

  4. Such a total inspiration Michelle! And I’m totally agree with you that even if all you can cut is a small amount each month, that is much better than nothing.

  5. Chenell

    Thanks for breaking down how you made it work in such a short amount of time. $11,000 monthly income is awesome, nice job! I’m glad you brought up the 0.25% deduction, it’s such an important oversight for a lot of people.

  6. I started with $206k and I’m down to about $154k – I should be at $125k by the end of the year. I’m paying $1,100 extra per month onto my student loans, for a whopping $2,700/ month. Cannot wait for these numbers to disappear.

    1. Wow that is amazing Natalie! Great job on paying them down.

  7. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    Your story is always an inspiration to others. Now that I do have a little financial knowledge my plan is to help my daughter to graduate from college without student loans. Its great that you had the chance to pay those loans off. Thanks again for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you! Good luck to your daughter ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. We are student loan debt free! Yay! We had about 22K when we got married, but we paid it off over time then with a huge lump sum at the end. It was at a low interest rate (3.25%), but we just wanted to put it behind us.

    Great job on your loans, Michelle!

    1. Thanks Holly! I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years since I paid them off.

  9. Nice work Michelle! I’m going to follow in your footsteps and see if I can get $34K paid off this year. Might take me a bit longer as I don’t have any side hustles at the moment. We’ll see how it goes.
    Thanks for the inspiration! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    I was lucky that my parents helped with school, I lived at home, and I had a coop job, so I was able to graduate debt free. It’s made such a difference to never have had student loans. It’s amazing that you paid them off so fast and were able to move on with your life!

  11. Great Job Michelle! Living debt free is the only way to live. Your story is going to help a lot of people follow in your footsteps down the path to financial freedom.

    1. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Amy

    Great breakdown!

    I owe just over $4K on my grad school loan, but the interest rate is just 1.75%. As a result, it’s a low priority for repayment. My husband owes just under $58K on his grad school loan, so that costs us a much bigger chunk every month. ($505 for his vs. $97 for mine.) Because we also have consumer debt, that’s our repayment priority now, and we pay these minimums on the student loans for now.

    1. 1.75% is very low! The interest rates on mine were all around 7%, so I wanted to pay them off quickly.

  13. I’ve been working on building up to 11k in extra income for the past two years and I’m still closer to the 2-3k mark. I’m so impressed you did it so fast.

    1. I definitely think you’ll be there soon! When I look back on it all, I still can’t believe how quickly everything grew.

  14. Thanks for laying it all out in such detail!

    When I took out $16.5k in student loans, I knew I’d have to pay them back so I just made sure I had $16.5k saved up for when my grace periods ended. Kind of like financing a car… it’s a good idea to be able to pay in cash, you just want to put your money to work elsewhere.

  15. That’s a pretty incredible amount to pay that quickly. I really think maximizing income is overlooked and those side hustles are the key.

    1. Thanks Adam! I agree!

  16. Great post Michelle! It is a great feeling to pay off your student loans. It took me about three times as long to do mine, but it still rocked to have them done in just a couple years versus 10.

  17. I have about $68,000 in student loans. I am currently working on the debt snowball though. I plan on adding more to them when I can.

    1. Sounds like a good plan ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. $5.5K per month is not bad at all!

  19. Very inspiring Michelle! I have about 20k in student loans that I am beginning to pay off now. I’ve set up auto payments to lower my interest rate and I’m trying to add anything extra to the monthly payment. I’m also trying to earn extra so I can speed up the loan payments. Stories like yours really inspire others as you are living proof that it doesn’t take 10 or 20 years to pay back students loans if you have a goal and are committed to it 100% So thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Thanks! Good luck with paying yours down. I’m sure they will be gone in no time.

  20. I’ve always figured your insane ability to side hustle and earn extra income knocked those student loans out so quickly. It’s great to read all these other tips. I’ll have to share this post with Peach to give him some good ideas for when his student loans come a calling’ after he graduates in May (even though I’ve told him to already start chipping awayโ€ฆ)

    1. Yes, definitely share it with Peach ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Paying off student loans is a great reason to make extra money. I wish I’d done it sooner. We paid our off with some of the profit from the sale of my practice. It’s sad it took so long.

    1. Good job on doing it though!

  22. Yes, thinking about the ratio is definitely important!

  23. Haha I actually found it fun! It sort of turned into a game for me.

  24. Under two years sounds like a great plan!

  25. It definitely takes dedication to pay off this much money in such a short time. It’s really great that you were able to to make extra income and finally made it your full time income!

  26. Mr. Self Reliance

    Great advice! We paid ours off this year and it felt amazing!

  27. Don’t forget that if you work for a qualified non-profit you may be able to get your student loans forgiven after 120 payments or ten years! As a librarian, I’m set up for all payments made since 2008 taking me one step closer to forgiveness. Even though the amount I owe makes me physically ill, I can actually see the end in sight.

    If you work in a profession that qualifies, have your HR dept sign off on you and get the paperwork in to Federal Loan Servicing ASAP. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/public-service-loan-forgiveness-common-questions.pdf

    1. Yes! Great thing to add ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. You’re a total rock star and an inspiration to many of us paying off our student loan debts. I worked full-time while going to school full-time for my masters. And like you I didn’t focus on paying off loans or tutition. I did continue to pay some loans throughout grad but, but I really wish I paid more on my loans. Lesson learned!

  29. When I finished with college I had around $25,000 in student loans. At the time, I ended up consolidating my loans which knocked my interest rate down from 5% to under 3%. When I was making payments, I was still making the “old” payment and many times I would throw random money – birthday money, etc. – onto the debt.

    While most people aren’t too concerned with paying off their student loans quickly, I was. I didn’t want the debt to hold me back from taking a great job that didn’t pay well because of my loans.

  30. Jessica

    I graduated from law school in 2012 with $83,000 in loans. I knew I had to get rid of that debt as quickly as possible so I could enjoy life. Today, my balance is down to just below $35,000. The biggest impact for me has been applying at least half (usually all) of any extra income to my debt. That means birthday money, work bonuses, proceeds from selling clothes/books and anything else. I’m at the point where I am really considering bringing in extra income to kill the rest of the debt sooner rather than later.

    1. Wow you’ve definitely done great so far!

  31. Wanda

    I just stumbled onto your blog and was delighted to read about your student loan debt payoff. I have $88k in student loan debt and, after a few years of my head buried in the sand (deferment, paying minimum amount), I decided this month that I want this debt gone! I have an aggressive plan in place, with hopes of paying it all off in 3 years and 10 months. So far, I’ve adjusted my spending habits significantly and am putting as much as possible toward the debt (cancelled cable, no vacations, cut grocery spending and household help, reduced eating out). I love reading stories such as yours that remind me it can be done. The biggest challenge for me is finding ways to earn extra income. I can work my plan on my current salary (very tightly) but would love to accelerate it more with extra income. Freelance writing and editing appeal to me; I need to read more on how to get started. I am also looking at ways to increase my bonus potential on my current job. I’m so determined and appreciate reading how you’ve done it.

    1. Glad you found my blog! That’s amazing that you created a plan to pay off your loans. You can do it!

  32. Holly J

    This is very sound advice! Congrats on the accomplishment and thanks for sharing your tips.

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