Post-college life

One Grad Student’s Inspiring Six-Figure Debt Payoff Story

With a feeling of relief and a sense of accomplishment, pharmacy school graduate and Utah Poison Control Center worker Paul Hinckley sent through his final student loan payment. After three years of singular focus on payoff, he had finally repaid the $104,000 in student loan debt that he acquired while in graduate school.

“It was the most incredible mouse click of my life,” Hinckley recalls. Now, he inspires other grad students to conquer their own debt.

Hinckley knew he wanted to be a pharmacist starting in the tenth grade, but had always been nervous about taking on debt. Still, he understood that it would enable him to accomplish his goal.

While he was able to fund his undergrad education using scholarships and grants, Hinckley wasn’t as lucky when he needed to pay for four years of graduate school. His solution was to take out a significant amount of student loans.

Still, Hinckley took every precaution to not take out more than he needed—he worked between 20 and 30 hours a week so that he’d only need to take out loans for tuition and not for living expenses. Some semesters, he was even able to cover part of his tuition.

Though Hinckley worked hard to keep his graduate school student loan bill as low as possible, his four-year doctorate program still left him with a whopping $104,000 tab. Debt was unavoidable for him, just as it is for millions of students across the country.

Hinckley was overwhelmed, but he decided to fight back against his anxiety. He made it his mission to pay his debt back, and fast.  

After graduating, he wasted no time before diving into an accelerated payment plan. “Whatever their minimum payment was, I didn’t really care,” says Hinckley, “Because I was going to pay all of my excess money, beyond my living expenses, to my loans.”  

Hinckley estimates that during those three years, between 50 percent and 60 percent of his take-home pay went toward his student loans. He believes that one of the keys to his success was keeping a similar standard of living compared to while he was in graduate school.

Currently, Hinckley mentors pharmacy school students and often finds himself answering questions about student loans. He always encourages them not to wait until their six-month grace period has ended before beginning repayment, if at all possible.

Though payments aren’t due during the grace period, interest accrues, potentially delaying grads in their journey to becoming debt free.

“I tell them to work right away and start paying down the loans.” It can be difficult to do, but Hinckley assures them that focusing on debt payoff will pay dividends down the line.

To get in the right money mindset, Hinckley also encourages soon-to-be grads to identify their “personal luxuries,” and cut all of the rest. “As I was beefing up my financial education, one thing that really resonated with me is the idea that you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

For Hinckley, this meant treating himself to the occasional local vacation while he was paying off his student loans, while simultaneously eliminating most other discretionary spending.

To give himself the opportunity to splurge, Hinckley took on a part-time job (a “side hustle”) at a retail pharmacy; this extra income went toward travel experiences. The second job increased his weekly workload, but gave him the extra income he needed to have some money for fun during a time when the majority of his income went to loans.

Although it was far from easy, Hinckley maintained a positive attitude throughout his debt payoff journey. To make it work, he led a minimalist lifestyle by partaking in free activities, avoiding eating out at restaurants, and forgoing monthly subscription services such as Netflix.

Having grown up with a single mother and six siblings, Hinckley says that he was used to doing without “luxuries.” Making his financial situation better than the one where he was raised and removing the emotional burden of debt from his life has been the underlying motivation for all of the hard work in his life, from getting into a rigorous graduate school program, to working while in graduate school, to having a side hustle at a retail pharmacy, to sacrificing some material comforts so that he could pay back his student loans as fast as possible.

That said, Hinckley also acknowledges that not everyone will have a high income out of graduate school, and that this was a large factor in being able to pay his loans off in just three years.

When asked if he would have done anything differently, Hinckley responds that he’d “refinance his loans earlier.” Having waited a year before refinancing his own student loans, he now tells other student loan debt holders to “refinance early and as often as you can, because lowering your interest rate makes a huge difference when the numbers [size of loans] are that big.”

Ready to take control of your student debt? Get started by refinancing with CommonBond.

Hinckley refinanced twice, the second time with CommonBond. Ultimately, this brought his loans from a 6.2 percent interest rate down to a 3 percent rate. Though he doesn’t have the exact figures, he estimates that with the refinancing alone, he saved himself around $18,000 in interest payments.

He saved himself even more money by paying more than the minimum every month.

It would be an understatement to say that Hinckley has been enjoying his extra income since paying off his loans last December. With the money that used to be earmarked for debt payoff, he’s now able to prioritize other financial goals like “attacking his mortgage payment” (he hopes to have it paid off in seven years) and aggressively saving for retirement.

Hinckley is on track to be financially independent long before the standard retirement date of 67. He’s lined up international trips in the last year, including 2018’s Impact Action Trip to Ghana with CommonBond.

Perhaps most importantly, Hinckley loves his job and believes that the journey—six figures’ worth of student loans and all—has been completely worth it.

Ready to start taking control of your student debt? Click here to learn more about refinancing with CommonBond.

Ready to take control of your student debt? Get started by refinancing with CommonBond.

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