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kk on bridge with dog

How did you acquire $30,000 in debt?  What did that debt consist of?

My $30k+ debt was all student loan debt. I was fortunate to receive some pretty substantial scholarships from my undergraduate university which kept my debt load low. I then foolishly borrowed a bunch of money to attend a fancy, “brand name” graduate school.

What did it feel like to have that much debt?

Awful! I felt like a giant gorilla was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t catch my breath. That probably sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true! Although my debt load was relatively, “low” in comparison to some of my peers (who borrowed $100k or more), I was miserable being in debt. I hated feeling like my paycheck wasn’t my own. Every month when I electronically transferred a payment to my student loan company I felt angry at myself for taking out loans instead of saving for a few more years and paying for school in cash.

How long did it take you to pay it all off?

I paid off $5,000 over the course of about two years (in between undergrad and grad school), and then really buckled down after I finished graduate school and paid off the remaining $25,000 in 2 years.

What resources did you use to help you through this process?

Friends, family and mentors. My family was really supportive of my decision to pay off my debt and cheered me on along the way. At the time I had no idea that personal finance blogs even existed. Bummer, right?!

Did you face any challenges along the way?

Every day was a challenge, but making sacrifices is the “name of the game” when you’re paying off debt. I had a few expensive emergencies happen when I was in the middle of paying down my debt. For a split second I felt like quitting and going back to paying my minimum payments. But I dealt with the emergencies and kept plugging away at the debt and I’m glad I did.

How did the debt affect your marriage?

I’m not married, but Eric (my boyfriend) and I were dating and living together while I was paying off my debt. He was incredibly supportive throughout my journey to become debt-free. What’s really neat is he got inspired by watching my progress and actually paid off his own student loans at the same time!

What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?

This is a great question. I think some people think that you have to have a really fabulous income to be able to pay off a substantial amount of debt. That was not the case for me! I was a social worker at a homeless shelter for most of the time I was paying down my debt. I was later promoted within the agency, but for most of the 2 years I was paying off my student loans I was making just over $40k.

How did it feel once you paid it all off?

Wonderful! It’s actually kind of hard to put the feeling into words. When I made that final electronic payment I felt so liberated I think I squealed a little bit.

What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?

  • Do what works for you! I know It’s an overused saying in the personal finance community, but, “personal finance is personal”. What worked for me might not work for you.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s easy to look at a large sum of debt and feel overwhelmed. When I, “woke up” and realized that I had $30k in student debt I felt completely overwhelmed. Take things one day at a time and break down your big goal down into smaller more manageable goals. If you do have a setback in your debt payoff journey don’t beat yourself up, just pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.
  • Be patient with the process. You probably didn’t get into substantial debt in a week and you’re not going to get out in a week. Be optimistic, but realistic about what is manageable for you.
  • Ask for help. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness! Be mindful of the company you keep and surround yourself with people who are supportive of your decision to pay down your debt. Ignore the “haters” and the “naysayers” who only have negative things to say.

You can learn more about KK and her journey out of debt and into building wealth at her site, Student Debt Survivor.

Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.