3 People on Crushing Student Debt And Creating the Lives They Want



In our next 3 People story, we meet three professionals from diverse backgrounds, cities and careers, who open up about their finances, careers and overcoming student loan debt. Each person’s financial picture, student loans, and repayment strategy differs; however, each refinanced their student loans through SoFi to take control of student debt and pay off their loans faster.

Americans currently owe over $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve. And when the amount is broken down, its significance becomes even clearer.

CBS News reported in May that the average 2016 undergrad student loan debt is $37,172. But that’s nowhere near what grads of top tier b-schools and law schools face: six-figure student loan debt. Grads of Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management leave campus saddled with average student loan debt of $115,048. Head west to the University of San Francisco Law School, and the average climbs to $162,434.

Those numbers spur a lot of talk about how to eliminate student debt, but often such conversations border on useless or even fatalistic when unaccompanied by a clear financial strategy. A thoughtful, solid plan, though, changes everything.

Meet three SoFi members with different backgrounds and in different careers who have strong game plans. Amber Adele Landers, Jenna Truckenbod, and Kevin Cruz are crushing their student loan debt, making major moves, and creating the lives they want after choosing student loan refinancing with SoFi.

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Amber Adele Landers

Age: 31

Location: San Francisco, CA

Relationship Status: Single

Number of kids: 0

Alma Mater(s): University of Missouri, Columbia (2006), Pre-Pharmacy; University of Missouri, Kansas City (2011), PharmD

Total Student Debt: $170,000

Career: Pharmacist

Annual Income: $130,000

Rent or own: Rent

Monthly rent: $2,400

SoFi: Why did you decide to attend the University of Missouri and major in biochemistry?

AAL: It’s a big school, and because I’m from a small town, I wanted to go somewhere with a lot of people. Plus, it was convenient—only three hours away from my home at the time.

I chose biochemistry after I met a female pharmacist at a career fair in high school; she told me about her job. I really like science, and I knew I wanted to do something that would help people, but not require as many years of school as being a doctor.

SoFi: Did you work throughout school?

AAL: Yes. During grad school, I was a pharmacy tech at Walmart. I worked two nights a week on five-hour shifts, and every Sunday for eight hours. As an undergrad, I worked part-time, four days a week in the computer lab on campus.

SoFi: How has your Doctor of Pharmacy degree assisted in achieving your career goals?

AAL: It prepared me to help people better understand their medications, and to counsel them on possible side effects. My degree also trained me to recognize drug interactions, and catch and correct medications before delivering them to patients.

SoFi: How has your salary and job function changed since graduating school?

AAL: After graduating, I was an intern making $20 an hour. I stayed with Walmart and became a pharmacist once I passed my exams. Now I make six-figures.

SoFi: How much debt did you have when you graduated?

AAL: My total combined debt after graduating was $170,000, which came from ten private loans and five government loans. My grad school debt was $160,000 and my undergrad debt was $10,000.

SoFi: What made you decide to refinance your student loans?

AAL: My ten private loans all had a 6.8% interest rate. A friend, who is really into money management, told me about the Mr. Money Mustache blog, so I started reading it. One of the articles focused on how refinancing is a smart way to tackle student loan debt. There was a link to SoFi, so I clicked on it to learn more about the process.

SoFi: What was your student loan interest rate and term length before refinancing, and after?

AAL: In addition to my private loans at 6.8% interest, I had five government loans at 2.5% interest. Each loan had a term of 10 years. I left my government loans alone, but refinanced $33,000 of my high-interest private loans with SoFi. Now I have a 5-year loan with a variable interest rate of 4.375%.

SoFi: How much money did you save refinancing, and when will your loan be paid off?

AAL: Refinancing cut my monthly payments almost in half. Before, I was paying over $1,200 every month. Today, I pay $636 a month. All of my students loans—my five government loans and my one SoFi loan—will be paid off by May 2020.

SoFi: How has refinancing changed your quality of life and financial well-being?

AAL: I’m more optimistic and less burdened. Refinancing has made me feel like I took a giant leap closer to being debt free. Soon I won’t have any student loans, and I’m so excited for that day!

SoFi: What other money management strategies do you use, and what is your next big financial goal?

AAL: I use Mint for budgeting, and I still read Mr. Money Mustache. I also have a friend that gives me advice and I’m part of a little stock-buying group.

As for my next big financial goal, I’m continuing to save for retirement. I have a 401(k) that my employer matches to 5%. I’ve had that account since my first job with Walmart back in 2004. I also have a savings account for traveling, because I take one international trip every year. I went to Panama about a month ago with my sister, who is teacher. Last year, we went to Japan and Norway, and the year before that, Thailand.

SoFi: What was your last “pleasure purchase,” how much did you pay for it, and why did you have to have it?

AAL: I just moved to a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. I’ve moved around so much that I never spent money on furniture. I’ve also never lived by myself before, so I really wanted to get some pieces that I liked. I bought a delicious velvet blue couch and an antique table made in Scotland. Even though they’re gently used, I paid around $2,500 for them. I love old things that feel like they have stories attached to them.

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SoFi: Where do you see yourself professionally and personally in five years?

AAL: I plan to stay in retail pharmacy. I get so much joy out of helping people. But I’ll probably be in San Francisco for only two more years, because the rent is so expensive. Then I’ll move to Colorado; I’m a big snow skier. My sister is planning on moving there with me.

SoFi: What advice do you have for recent grads struggling with student loan debt? How should they approach getting out of debt and meeting other financial goals?

AAL: Make eliminating debt the primary goal. I graduated with around 20 others, and each of us had a different way of handling debt. I always paid $400 or $500 more than I had to each month, and it made a really big difference in reducing the loan principal. I know it’s easy to say, but if you could apply a little more money—even $50— to student loans each month, the balance will go down quicker.

Signing up for auto payments is also really helpful, because you get a 0.25% or a 0.50% interest rate reduction when doing so. With your student loans on autopilot, you don’t obsess or miss a payment, which is really important because you don’t want to ruin your credit.

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Jenna Truckenbod

Age: 31

Locale: Sioux Falls, SD

Relationship Status: Married

Number of Kids: 1

Alma Mater(s): University of Nebraska (2007), B.S. Biochemistry; University of Nebraska (2008) B.S. Clinical Laboratory Science; University of South Dakota (2013), M.S. Physician Assistant Studies

Total Student Debt: $160,000

Career: Physician Assistant

Annual Income: $98,000

Rent or Own: Own

Monthly mortgage: $1,600

SoFi: Why did you decide to attend University of Nebraska and major in biochemistry?

JT: I went to Nebraska to get away from South Dakota, try something new, and be on my own for a while. I choose biochemistry because I always knew I wanted to go into the medical field, and it’s a must for that. I’ve always had a passion for helping people and problem solving.

SoFi: Did you work throughout school?

JT: I didn’t work while in grad school, but as an undergrad, I was a waitress and I worked at Gallup as a phone interviewer for its research surveys. I also worked for a politician, reaching out to voters and helping to organize parades.

SoFi: How has your graduate degree assisted you in achieving your career goals?

JT: My second bachelor’s is in Clinical Laboratory Science, which allowed be to become a medical technologist. I worked in the lab of a Nebraska hospital conducting tests for two years, until I decided to go to the University of South Dakota for a master’s degree in Physician Assistance Studies. I wanted more patient interaction and to be able to make decisions on patients’ diagnoses.

SoFi: How has your salary and job function changed since graduating school?

JT: My salary has nearly doubled since becoming a PA, which has helped me pay off my debt a little faster than I probably would have without the degree. I really enjoy going to work everyday, because I’ve been able to secure more leadership and decision-making positions, including leading an Urgent Care team to make sure patients are seen quickly and efficiently.

SoFi: How much debt did you have when you graduated, and what made you decide to refinance?

JT: I had four loans totaling $160,000. Of that, $40,000 was from undergrad school and $120,000 from grad school. Even though I paid more than I had to every month, I felt like I wasn’t making headway. It was frustrating. So I researched different ways that I could refinance my loans. I also went to a banker, who talked to me about some options. Then I found SoFi through a Google search. I read reviews of the company and was impressed— people had really good things to say about their experiences.

I eventually went back to the banker to get his opinion, and he thought refinancing was a great idea. So, I took a risk, and it paid off. I refi’d with SoFi only two years ago, but my loan balance is now down to $120,000.

SoFi: What was your student loan interest rate and term length before refinancing, and after?

JT: Three of my four loans were government-consolidated, set at a 6.8% interest rate; the fourth was at 7.8%. All of the loans had 30-year terms.

Now, I have one 10-year loan with a variable interest rate, which is currently at 4.25%. Prior to that, it was 3.8%, so it’s gone up a bit. But I don’t mind. It might gradually increase every year, but the rate is going to be less than what I would have been paying with the 30-year term loans.

SoFi: How much money did refinancing save you, and when do you expect to pay off your student loans?

JT: I’m saving over $20,000. The term length went from 30 years to 10, so that’s 20 years of interest saved. I’m actually hoping to pay my loan off earlier—by 2023, in fact.

SoFi: How has refinancing changed your quality of life and financial well-being?

JT: Before I refinanced all I could think about were my monthly student loan payments. I was always stressed and anxious. But now I feel there’s an endpoint. My payments are making a dent on the principal—even when I pay the minimum. Plus, when I have a good month, I pay more. It’s made my quality of life so much better. I can relax knowing that the student loans will go away eventually.

SoFi: What other financial planning strategies do you currently use, and what is your next big financial goal?

JT: When I started in Sanford Hospital’s transplant department in July, I made sure I contributed the max to my 401(k), to take advantage of the employer-matching benefit. I put in 6% and the hospital puts in 5%. Because of my student loan obligations, I really didn’t have extra money to put toward retirement before. But now, I can pay my student loans and invest in my future.

Also, when I got pregnant last year, my husband and I made sure that we had saved enough money to pay for daycare. We gave ourselves an allowance and put a cap on how much we spent on shopping and dinners out, so we could maximize our saving efforts.

As for our next big financial goal, we hope to pay off our car loan by the end of next year.

SoFi: What was your last “pleasure purchase, how much did you pay for it, and why did you have to have it?

JT: My husband and I went to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in February. The total cost was around $2,000. We try to get away once a year to someplace different. It’s a chance for us to relax, have fun, rejuvenate, reconnect, and be in love.

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SoFi: In five years, where do you see yourself professionally and personally?

JT: Professionally, I hope to still be working at Sanford Hospital. I just love learning about kidney transplants, and I look forward to stretching myself and taking on more leadership roles. Personally, I’d like to get settled here in Sioux Falls, have two more kids, and be a little more involved in community volunteering.

SoFi: What advice do you have for recent grads struggling with student loan debt, and how should they approach getting out of debt while also meeting other financial goals?

JT: I tell everyone dealing with student loans to go to SoFi and refinance. You don’t have to stick with government loans; there are options. And if you refinance for lower monthly payments, you can put the money saved toward other life expenses and goals.

Also, do your research and be smart about it. If you are in debt, think of ways to get out of debt instead of thinking of ways to buy a new car. Stay within your means. You may have to struggle for a while, but once you’re out of debt, it will all be worth it.

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Name: Kevin Cruz

Age: 33

Locale: Los Angeles, California

Relationship status: Married

Number of children: 1

Alma Mater(s): California State University, Channel Islands (2008), B.S. Business

University of Maryland School of Law (2014) J.D.

Total Student Debt: $99,000

Career: Attorney

Annual Income: $175,000

Do you rent or own?: Own a condo

Monthly Mortgage: $4,500

SoFi: Why did you decide to attend Cal State, Channel Islands, and major in Business?

KC: I had other options, but Cal State, Channel Islands, was a new school, and I believed in its potential. Members of my family knew the leadership of the school, and knew how hard they were working to develop it. Also, the professors were from the community. Many of them had real-world experience running their own businesses, and I found their advice really practical. They didn’t do it for notoriety or name recognition.

SoFi: Did you work throughout school?

KC: Yes. I worked full time at a bank, in compliance, and attended undergrad and grad school in the evenings. When I needed to, I was able to switch my work schedule to accommodate my class schedule.

SoFi: How has your law degree from the University of Maryland assisted you in achieving your career goals?

KC: It has allowed me to progress in working in compliance departments and auditing. After the big financial crisis, a lot of jobs and opportunities were created. I had a professor in law school that said that if you want job security, if you want to be the best at something, learn everything you can about the problem to help solve it and become an expert.

SoFi: How much debt did you have when you graduated?

KC: I had small loan of $4,000 from undergrad school, and my law school loans were close to $95,000.

SoFi: How has your salary and job function changed since graduating school?

KC: I was able to transition from a compliance role to an in-house attorney position in December 2014. Passing the bar created a lot more flexibility, and allowed me to command a higher salary and customize the positions that I want based on my education and background.

SoFi: What made you decide to refinance your student loans?

KC: I saw a SoFi ad on Facebook a year after I graduated. Until then, I didn’t even know refinancing was an option.

SoFi: What was your student loan interest rate and term length before refinancing? After refinancing?

KC: Before refinancing, a few of my government grad school student loans had the same interest rate, 6.8%, but the interest rate for the majority of my loans, which were Grad PLUS loans, was around 7.9%. My wife and I had over $250,000 in total loan debt, averaging over 7% in interest. Because I was able to pay off the $4,000 I owed from my undergrad, my portion was about $95,000.

I refi’d all of my grad loans to one 5-year variable rate loan with SoFi because I wanted an aggressive payment plan and to reap the benefits of a lower interest rate. And with the discount of .25% for signing up with the direct deposit, my rate came in just under 3%.

SoFi: How much money did refinancing save you, and when do you expect to pay off your student debt?

KC: Refinancing has already saved me close to $30,000. I now have one loan instead of 10, and I save about $800 a month on interest. The term of my SoFi loan is 5 years instead of 10, and the interest rates went from close to 8% to 3%. My student loan debt will be paid off in under four years, so by 2020.

SoFi: How has refinancing changed your quality of life and financial well-being?

KC: My education and improved financial well-being have allowed me to be more in control of my career trajectory. I can be more selective about who I work for and I what I do. Also, now that I see a clear end to my student loans payments, I’ve started doing a lot of research on investing and starting my retirement.

SoFi: What other financial planning strategies do you currently use and what is your next big financial goal?

KC: I plan to rollover contributions to my 401(k) from my previous employer into an IRA, so that I will achieve a higher asset status. That will allow me to participate in different stock and trade bond options at a no-commission cost.

Also, my wife and I are putting away $500 a month for my son’s college fund. Even though he’s only four months old, he already has $2,400. My goal is to put away at least $1,000 a month, sooner rather than later.

SoFi: What was your last “pleasure purchase,” how much did you pay for it, and why did you have to have it?

KC: My Apple watch; it was about $399. I bought it just for fun and to track my steps and activities. I’ve set it up so that when I check the time, I see a different picture from an online photo album of my son.

SoFi: In five years, where do you see yourself professionally and personally?

KC: I left my role as a vice president of legal counsel with a financial services company to work with a major bank. In three to five years, I would like to be managing a team in the compliance or risk group, to make sure that the bank is complying with regulations across all of its products in the lending space.

Personally, I want to continue to support my wife and our growing family. I think we want to have a second child in five years, if my wife is still cool with that.

SoFi: What advice would you give to recent grads struggling with student loan debt, and how should they approach getting out of debt with meeting other financial goals?

KC: I have a younger brother in that situation. He’s only 23 years old, has been at the same job for four years, and he’s struggling to cover his bills. I know other people in the same situation. I think the hardest thing for them to understand is that there are other career options. To be honest, I was a victim of that as well. I stayed at the same company for 11 years straight. I didn’t grow as much as I would have otherwise. In fact, I didn’t advance in salary or other job responsibilities, or learn anything new from age 19 to 30. Going back to school really opened my eyes to all possibilities. If you don’t take yourself out of your existing mindset, it’s really hard to change things.

If you ready to slay your student loan debt through refinancing, find out how SoFi can help make it happen.


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ABOUT Kara Stevens Kara is a New York City-based freelance writer and founder of The Frugal Feminista, a supportive online community committed to helping women transform their lives through financial empowerment and personal development.She holds a BA in Political Science from Oberlin College and an EdM in Organizational Leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College.Connect with her on Twitter @frugalfeminista


3 thoughts on “3 People on Crushing Student Debt And Creating the Lives They Want

  1. Amber from www.redtwogreen.com says:

    This is awesome! I love hearing success stories of people knocking out 6 figures of debt. My hubby and I have a combined student loan debt burden of $560k– 5 times as much as discussed here! We go back and forth on our best options to get rid of it all the time. For now the plan is refinance asap!

  2. This was really helpful to read as a current student in pharmacy school. Every time I sign for a student loan I have a burst of anxiety about where or not I am making the right decision – it is pretty scary gambling with my future! After reading this it gives me hope for a comfortable and secure future. People like Amber make student debt seem so manageable and this blogpost really inspired me! I look forward to working with SoFi when I graduate to refinance! Thanks, SoFi!

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