Lance Cothern: How My Wife and I Paid off $80,000 in Student Loan Debt Lance Cothern: How My Wife and I Paid off $80,000 in Student Loan Debt
My wife and I sat down and added up the amount of student loan debt she owed shortly after she graduated. Here is how... Lance Cothern: How My Wife and I Paid off $80,000 in Student Loan Debt

This article is part of our highlight May Money Stories series. This month we are featuring guest bloggers who will share their own true money stories and their personal journeys to overcoming debt. Please check back to our blog every Tuesday of this month to read our latest guest feature.

Victoria and I sat down and added up the amount of student loan debt she owed shortly after she graduated with a Bachelor’s in the Science of Nursing degree. In total, she owed over $80,000. While we were just dating at the time, we were in a serious relationship and had a good idea we’d be getting married in the future, so figuring out what to do about her debt was a huge priority.

We Made a Student Loan Repayment Plan

The first thing Victoria and I did was write down the important information for all of her student loans. For each loan, we wrote down who she owed money to, how much she owed, the interest rate, whether the interest rate was variable or fixed rate, the loan term and her minimum payment amount. This information would prove to be very valuable as we set up our plan.

We quickly realized that one student loan was worse than all the others after looking at the information we compiled. It was a private student loan with the highest interest rate, the highest balance due, the longest repayment term and to top it off, the interest rate was variable. We realized that in order to pay off her loans as fast as possible, it made the most mathematical sense to pay off the highest interest rate loans first. We decided to make minimum payments on all of her student loans and dedicate all extra money toward paying off the highest interest rate loan.

Another big decision about our plan was who should pay off the debt. Since we weren’t married at the time, we decided that Victoria would be the only one paying off her student loan debt, but I would save money in an account to put toward her student loans when we would eventually get married. Since we lived together, we decided I would pay the full rent to help her pay off her loans faster and that we would split the utility bills equally. By paying the rent in full, Victoria had an extra few hundred dollars each month to put toward her worst student loans.

We Kept Our Expenses Low

After we started following the student loan repayment plan, we had to figure out how to pay off the debt quickly. We didn’t want the over $700 in minimum payments to hang over our heads for over a decade, so we decided to keep our expenses as low as possible. We very rarely ate out at restaurants and kept our entertainment expenses to a minimum. Victoria set herself a very strict fun money budget of just $50 per paycheck and the rest of her money, after splitting bills, went to pay the student loans.

We Earned Extra Income

We solely kept our focus on keeping our expenses in check for about the first year of repaying her student loans. However, our eyes were opened to a new strategy to pay off her debt faster after that first year. We could earn more money.

I started a personal finance blog, now, about a year after Victoria graduated. It took a few months, but I eventually started to earn hundreds of dollars per month which I saved to use for future student loan payments. The extra income sometimes reached thousands of dollars per month as the blog grew. Victoria helped earn extra money, too. Since she was paid hourly, she could occasionally pick up overtime shifts to earn more money. These two sources of extra income would greatly accelerate our student loan repayment plan.

We Adjusted Our Plan as We Saw Fit

During the time we were repaying the loans, we constantly reevaluated our repayment plan. We made the decisions that would be best for our financial future as our life circumstances changed. For instance, we decided to use some money I saved for her student loans to buy a very inexpensive home to lower our housing costs early on in the debt pay off. This saved us hundreds of dollars per month and we used that extra money to pay off the debt even faster. Another example is when we switched from paying off the highest interest rate loans first to paying off variable interest rate loans first. It turns out that rates didn’t increase, but her variable interest rate loans had high balances so we didn’t want to take the risk that her loan rates would increase.

We Paid Off the Debt in Less Than Three Years

Less than three years from when Victoria graduated, we had completed paying off her student loan debt. It was an amazing feeling to no longer have to send in payments for her school debt. It was a bit surreal for the first few months after the debt was paid off, but we smartly used the extra money that had been used to pay off debt to build our emergency fund. It was tough to continue to keep our expenses in check, but we quickly realized that the money lessons we learned would continue to help set ourselves up for a bright financial future.

You, too, can overcome a great amount of debt. Whether you have student loan debt, mortgage debt, credit card debt or car loan debt, you can make a plan and pay off your debt. We wish we could have refinanced Victoria’s student loans, but when she graduated we weren’t aware of anyone that could lower her interest rates by refinancing. Luckily for those that currently have student loan debt, many people can now refinance their student loans to lower rates. Just make sure you shop around for the best rate before you refinance so you can pay off your student loan debt as fast as possible.


Explore your Debt Consolidation options.


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Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern

Lance is a personal finance freelance writer and contributor writer for LendingTree. He holds a CPA license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Beyond writing for LendingTree and freelancing, Lance runs his own financial blog, Money Manifesto.