When I told people I was leaving my job as a web designer to go back to school to become a physician assistant, I got a lot of raised eyebrows in response. No one understood why I would go back to school in my late 20s only to graduate with six-figures of student loan debt. But I knew I had found my passion after working on a pro-bono project with a public health organization.
Making the jump from design to healthcare was the right decision for me, but my career switch also came with a hefty price tag: I graduated with over $100,000 in debt, which included $85,000 in federal student loans and $15,000 in loans from my family.
What felt even more alarming than the sheer volume of my debt was that I didn't know the first thing about how to overcome that debt. I had spent the last two years so focused on school, I wasn't thinking about the true cost of my student debt and how it would affect my financial future.
My partner, Joe, and I dug into the details of my student loans and crunched some numbers. I was floored to see how much I was paying in interest! We realized I’d make little progress if I continued paying just the minimum due each month. It became my goal to pay more each month so I could chip away at my student debt as quickly as possible.
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I started putting a significant portion of every paycheck towards my highest interest loan while making the minimum payments towards my other loans. I opened a Mint.com account to monitor my spending and started a blog to document the highs and lows of my debt-free journey and to help others be more financially savvy.
Joe and I moved in together, so cohabitating and splitting costs has been a huge help. We did our best to cook at home instead of eating out (meal planning has worked wonders on our wallets and waistlines); DIY-decorated our new apartment; and bought things second-hand or in bulk.
Even with disciplined budgeting and aggressive payments, I still wasn't making much of a dent on the total principal of my student loans. I re-examined my debt and realized that I needed to explore other options if I really wanted to pay off my student loans quickly. Joe recommended looking into refinancing -- he said I could probably get a lower interest rate than the 5.16% to 7.64% on my federal loans.
I found CommonBond and they came through with a huge decrease in interest. They helped me refinance my existing student loans to an interest rate of only 3.4%. I ended up refinancing my $66,000 in federal loans with CommonBond. I chose a 5 year payment plan -- it had a higher monthly payment, but I’d be paying significantly less in total interest.
The amount I was able to save on interest by refinancing with CommonBond is incredible. I paid a little over $1,100 in interest on my $66,000 principal in these past 8 months, versus the $15,000+ in interest I would have paid if I had not refinanced or continued aggressive payments. I'm also very thankful for Joe and highly recommend others find an accountability partner to keep you on the path toward financial wellness. This could be a significant other or even a friend – all you need is someone who will provide positive reinforcement when you stay on track, and who will motivate you when you're feeling discouraged so you can focus on building your future.