It didn’t happen overnight

April 19, 2011 · 24 comments

I’m pretty impatient, this was especially true when it came time for me to work my way out from a $28,000 student loan bill. The only thing I wanted more than being debt free, was to be debt free NOW! My intense desire to get out of debt was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.

Marathon not a sprint:

My minimum payment to Sallie Mae was $178/month. Do you know how frustrating it is to pay over double that, but barely see the principle drop? SUPER FRUSTRATING! The first $170 of my payment went straight to interest, I felt like I was barely making a dent. I felt defeated. I was giving Sallie Mae virtually all of my discretionary income and getting what appeared to be nothing in return.

As my intensity was decreasing and my frustration was increasing, I had an epiphany. I DIDN’T GET IN DEBT OVER NIGHT! No, it took four looooooong years to rack up that $28,000, so why was I expecting to get out of debt in a few months?

Renewed focus:

Right as I was about to crash and burn, this little epiphany completely reignited the fire in my heart. I was ready to kick Sallie Mae in the ovaries, repeatedly. I had a goal and it was simple, “Get out of debt faster than I got in debt.” This took the pressure off each individual payment, and gave me a long term perspective. My frustration turned to focus. Focus that I desperately needed.

You know the rest of the story. As my income grew, my $500/month payments turned to $1,000, $2,000, and at one point $10,000 payments. Watching my balance go from $28,000 to $27,000 was disheartening, but watching it go from $10,000 to $9,000 was FREAKIN’ AWESOME! Three years after graduating college, I reached my goal. I was debt free.

I hope this story encourages, but more importantly reminds you that the journey out of debt is a marathon and not a sprint. If you racked up $10,000 on credit cards over ten years, it’s probably going to take you a few years to pay them off. If you financed your undergrad and graduate education (7+ years of loans), you probably wont be getting out of debt in one or two years. Think macro not micro.

I think it would be really cool if YOU shared a little bit about your situation. How long did it take you to get in debt? How long did it take (or do you expect it to take) you to get out? When you feel defeated by your debt, how do you stay focused? Respond in the comments below and let’s encourage one another!!!!!

1 Finding My Way

Getting into debt was a slow process that took about 7 years. I’ve been steadily paying it off for the last 5 years. I’ll be done with my debt at the end of this year so I can move on to other things like saving for my retirement (I”m not lucky enough to have an employer that offers a pension plan).

I’m pushing to get out of $23,820.74 of debt this year because I’ve had enough of carrying debt. At one point I had 4 credit cards, a loan and a car payments to make. This last $23,820.74 is the last remaining credit card for me. Definitely time to be done with the debt!

2 Rob

Four years found me $116k in debt. I hate Sallie Mae with such passion, now I’ve only $63k to go. Unless my income doubles this year I won’t be paying it off faster than it took to rack it up, but it will be done within the next couple of years.

3 David

Here’s how I stayed focused. I made a point to remember what my rock bottom, most in debt point was. This became my magic number. I then spent 3 years paying it down, always noting what % I had paid off.

I made a spreadsheet in my checkbook that tracked what my debt % was twice a month (I get paid bi-weekly).

Even though it would be discouraging to think “I’m still $XXXX in debt”, it was always encouraging to see bi-weekly progress.

TL:DR version: always remember where started, and how far you’ve come. Don’t get discouraged by how far you have left to go.

4 Austin

It took 2 years in college to get $15,000 in student loan debt. It has been over two years since graduation and we just received the “your account is now paid in full and has been closed” email from Sallie Mae. It was a great feeling, and now we’ve got a smaller loan to tackle. As a matter of fact, we just paid $3,000 towards it, so we have about a $5K balance. It sure is going to feel good to get it knocked out!

5 slug

It only took me 2 years to build $80k in debt for my MBA. It’s going to take a lot longer to pay it back, but given the interest rates (less than 2%), there is little incentive for me to greatly accelerate payments. In fact, in a few years when interest rates on money markets exceed the rates on my loans, the incentives will be aligned in a manner that suggests I should pay the minimum, which is just what I’ll do. Paying debt down aggressively is often the best thing to do, but not always.

6 Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

I had about $30k in debt after five years of college and two bachelors degrees from two different colleges. I’ve been making the minimum payments for the last three years and I’m loving it. I’ve been investing a lot in the last three years because all the stocks have been on sale. Now that I think prices will level out, I’ll probably be more aggressive with my student loans.

7 Will @ HackingTheBank.com

I accumulated my debt over four years of college. Since May I’ve slashed my student loan from $43k to $26k. I still have a LONG way to go, but I’m confident I can get it paid off within a year and a half, which is about half the time it took me to get into debt. I absolutely never want to be in debt like this again.

8 CityFlips

My student loans are deferred while I’m in grad school. With the new income based payment plans (which I honestly don’t know too much about), paying off the loans should be easier. I’m hoping to have them payed off in about 2 years after graduating.

9 Brucebucks

This is very encouraging, because I have been stressing about my our student loan debt lately. We started at around $23,000 in student loan debt, and we are currently at $17600. I want it gone now!!! But I need to realize that it does take some time. I make double payments and a few $1000 payments here and there, but nothing substantial that it moves anywhere. It can be discouraging to see the slow payoff, but I must remember what you said, it took 4 and 1/2 years for my wife to build up this debt, and it will take some time to get rid of it. Slow and steady wins the race. I will not settle for the $140 payments. I will always pay more than I owe for the month. I want to get rid of this thing as soon as possible.

10 Big City Beer Budget

I entered University in 2001 with $2,500 in the bank with no Educational Fund. Forward to 2008, a bachelors and masters degree later and a bill for $33,000 in student loans.

I was VERY, VERY fortunate to land a fantastic job straight out of university that enabled me to pay back my student loan in less than 1 year.

This was an 18-month contract, and I knew that I wanted to have this student loan off my back before the contract ended. I set myself a lofty goal of 1 year….eek, that’s $2,750/month not factoring interest. “Okay, I can do it”.

Here’s how I ditched the debt (including interest):
1) I paid a minimum of $1700 per month onto my debt = $22,400
2) I applied my tax refund onto my debt = $5,400
3) I sold my car = $1,800
4) I put every per diem cheque from work onto my debt = $7,000
5) I put every birthday/christmas money onto my debt = $600

I was fortunate enough have a parent who let me live rent-free while I was paying down my debt. I was fortunate enough to have a job that provided me with a vehicle, so I was able to sell the car I’d had since high school. My job paid us $60/day per diems, and since we’d generally be too busy to eat we usually netted at least $35/pay. More than 200 days on the road sure adds up.

It wasn’t easy, but I was able to pay off my loan in 10 months, 2 months shy of my goal!

11 Ana

I took me 5 years to get my $24k student loan. And certainly I don’t want to spend another 5 years paying it off so I’m having a hard time right now but I wanna be debt free by the end of this year, which is my 3rd year out of school.

And just in case you’re wondering, the truth is I don’t regret acquiring the debt, because it allowed me to study in one of the best Universities in my country. And my performance was so good that they gave me a full scholarship to study my MBA. Yeah, I killed two birds with one stone :)

12 Jenna

Thanks for the reminder. Plus, during those four years of creating debt, you also gained a lot of valuable skills to help you get a good job, make more money and pay off your debt faster. It’s a trade off.

13 Jake

Well it took me about six years (yes, just for my bachelors degree) to accumulate 41,000 dollars in student loan debt. I graduated in 2008 but paid the minimum payments until just recently. My wife and I have started (september ’10) paying agressively on the loans and have whittled the debt down to around 29,000. I hope to have it paid off within a year. I agree with you and really want to kick Sallie Mae in the babymaker. Not because she is a horrible organization but because she personifies my own stupid decisions in going to a private christian school that no one has heard of. I could have gone to Cal State Fulerton for 3,000 a year in tuition and had plenty left over. Damn you Sallie Mae, you remind of my stupid decions!

14 rockandrollaccountant

What a sweet, sweet post. You really put things into perspective by pointing out that simple little fact that one cannot reasonably aim to become debt-free overnight when they spent x years getting into it in the first place. WHEW! I don’t feel like such a financial loser now. I’ve amassed about $25,000 in student loan debt – my biggest, and soon to be only, pile of debt – over the course of 8 years of post-secondary education. (No, I didn’t become a doctor or even obtain a graduate degree – I wanted to be a professional audio engineer / producer and then decided to sell out and go back to school after my rock and roll school diploma to get my business degree.) And I’ve only recently begun to consider paying that debt down aggressively vs. saving for the future. Tough call. Very tough. I’m still not sure what the right answer is, and much like you I feel like the payments I DO make towards my student line of credit are barely drops in that big, bad bucket. I guess it’s all about having a goal in mind and setting out on a mission to pay off student debt to meet that goal. Which is obviously a very personal thing.

Oh, right, I’m supposed to encourage others to pay off their debt … um … DO IT ‘CAUSE IT FEELS GOOD! … notrightnowbutsometimeinthefuture! YEAH!

15 Cordelia

I have a little less than 3 years left before my debt is paid down. (Then it’s another 3 years for the husbands’.) The thing that really keeps me motivated is the concept that $$ = freedom and time.

The less debt I have, the more I’ll be able to use my money for other things, which for me means the ability to cut back my hours at work, start working for myself, and having more time for the things that really matter to me. It’s so easy to get into debt because all your focusing on is the STUFF you want right now. When you start to realize that every dollar you spend is limiting your future freedom to live the way YOU want to, it can be a life-changing perspective shift.

16 Cassie

Wow Cordelia, Very well said. Keep that attitude and I bet you bet your 6 year projection by a bunch

17 Investing Newbie

Well, I didn’t have debt before grad school, but I’m expecting that it will take me 3 years to rack up $108,000 of debt. Yessir, a baby unicorn just died and I truly apologize for that. However, I’m going to start repaying that badboy this summer, so hopefully it will take me (from the time of my first payment this summer) 2 years to pay it off!

18 Kevin Yu

Wow that’s amazing. Luckily, I graduated with only about $8k in student loan debt. Right now it’s down to half of that. I’m not really concerned with paying it off since it’s around 2.25% interest.

19 Jon | Free Money Wisdom

I got in 10k of debt right after college. No, no, not college tuition debt, but it was an auto loan! It was a 5 year loan but I ended up paying it off within 8 months, pretty sweet huh! The key is to make it your sole focus with personal finance to eliminate that debt. I made it my personal mission to destroy it. That’s the fastest way to become debt free, through a full frontal assault!

20 Denise

It took me 3 years to develop a student debt of 17,500 with a 5.5% interest rate. I finished school 8 months ago, and the debt is currently sitting at about 13,200. I’m making monthly payments of $250, of which approx. $33 goes towards interest.

21 TeacHer

When I think about it in the terms you’ve laid out, I feel sick to my stomach. It took me one year – just one, intensive year of study for my master’s degree – to sink me waaayyy into debt:
23K in student loans for the degree
10K on a car loan (to get to the school I was student teaching at)
(almost) 6K in credit card debt to pay for living expenses with NO salary

Almost four years later I’ve killed the credit card debt (which I added another $1500 to right after I graduated to buy my new, grow-up self a fancy TV) plus one of my student loans. I’m down to about 14K in student loans and 4K on the car loan, which I’m aggressively paying off right now – it should be paid of by the beginning of September.

I ditched the debt by making extra payments every month from my regular salary and taking on TONS of extra responsibilities, like tutoring, writing curriculum, teaching summer school, etc. IMO, the only way to pay off debt fast is to take on extra work. You can only cut so much from your spending.

22 spiffikins

It took me about 10 minutes to get $26,000 in debt.

After finishing my 4 year degree without any debt, thanks to help from my parents and alternating work-school semesters the last 2 years, I worked for a year before deciding to go back to school.

The program I signed up for, was a 9 month post-bachelor’s degree in programming – and the tuition was $23,500 payable upfront.

I signed up for a student loan through my bank, a program at the time called “Brain Money” – which had a maximum amount of $26,000 that could be borrowed. Generally, students borrowed this money over the course of a 4 year degree, but I needed it all at once :D

The first 9 months, I paid interest-only each month (hence borrowing 26k even though I only paid 23,500 for tuition – I needed some cushion to make payments). Once I completed the program, I was hired right away in my field, and started making monthly payments.

Lucky for me, my loan was in Canadian dollars, and my salary was in US dollars – at the time, the exchange rate hovered at about 65 cents CDN to the USD. So my $350/month payments actually converted to just over $500 a month.

I took the loan out in November 1999 and paid it off in full December 2003 – and have been debt-free since then, until November 2010 when I took out my first mortgage!

That student loan was the best financial decision I’ve ever made – without it, I would not have the career I have now, nor would I have the *life* I have now!

23 YourFabLife

Whenever I feel myself getting discouraged about debt, I pull a month by month comparison of the progress I’ve made, and the calculate how much longer until it all goes away! That always helps put a smile on my face.

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