Paying off your student loans can feel like a grueling journey, especially if you have a lot of it. And there’s a lot of student loan debt out there—$1.5 trillion to be exact .
It’s becoming clear just how much student debt can have a negative impact on the psyche of the student debt holder. In a survey conducted by SoFi, 83% of respondents felt like they couldn’t relax due to their student loans, and 50% felt that student loan debt has made them feel depressed.
More than a third have reported losing sleep due to student loan debt, and plenty of others say that it’s caused them to miss out on opportunities to travel, practice self-care, and make major life decisions.
If you’re in the throes of student loan debt repayment, you should know that there’s hope: Catie Gould and Veronica Scafe, two SoFi members, show us that it can be done. Not only did they each pay off their nearly $100,000 in respective students loans, but did so in about four years—significantly faster than their original loan terms.
It is important to note that these results may not be typical of every person paying down student loans. Below, these two members share their student debt journeys as well as their tips to help pay off student loans.
Meet Catie Gould and Veronica Scafe, SoFi Members
If you’ve got student loans and are looking for inspiration to get rid of them once and for all, Catie Gould and Veronica Scafe are your people. Both paid down nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.
Catie Gould paid off her student loans in just over four years—an impressive feat considering she graduated with around $91,000 in student debt from her dual degrees in material science and mechanical engineering.
Veronica Scafe found herself in a similar situation after graduating with $99,800 in student loans from obtaining her Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Even though Scafe had only expected to leave graduate school with $80,000 in loans, she was able to pay off the balance in an incredible three years and eleven months.
Their Personal Strategies For Paying Off Student Loans
Right out of school, Gould and Scafe deployed similar strategies for paying off their student loans fast; they both worked hard at keeping their expenses low, even with their new, higher salaries.
When Gould graduated from school, she avoided “lifestyle inflation” even though she was making more money than she ever had before. “Not very much changed for me after graduating. I am a saver by nature. I kept driving my old car, living with roommates, shopping at thrift stores, taking local vacations.”
And Gould didn’t stop there. “I bought a bicycle to get around town, tried gardening, and cooked my own food most of the time. I said no to plenty of things, but most never felt like a sacrifice.”
It helped Gould that she didn’t have expensive tastes to begin with: “Festivals were a big thing I never knew about. I was shocked that people pay $300+ to go to weekend music festivals.”
Scafe recounts an experience similar to Gould’s. She and her husband “never expanded our lifestyle to fit our salary so we never had to make cuts.” Scafe added, “We live pretty frugally. We have a modest home. We cooked most of our meals at home and took leftovers for lunch the next day.”
Just as keeping expenses low was an important tactic for both women, so was making additional payments towards their student loans. Neither wanted the emotional burden of paying back loans for longer than they had to, nor did they like seeing so much of their loan payments go towards interest payments and not the principal.
Simply having a long, hard look at how much you’re spending in interest payments every day, week, or month, may be the motivation you need to pay your loans off faster than the standard ten-year repayment schedule.
“I sometimes calculated how much interest I owed every morning just for waking up,” says Gould. From this exercise, she noticed that the daily interest charges on her student loans cost her “more than eating out every day, which I considered pretty indulgent,” and this motivated her to take action, and fast.
Gould and Scafe also refinanced their student loans, which provided them both the extra boost they needed to pay their loans back on such short timelines. By refinancing and qualifying for lower rates, more of each payment could be applied to the loan’s principal and not just interest.
What pushed them to pull the trigger on refinancing?
When Gould started her first corporate engineering job, the company was in the midst of layoffs. Luckily, she kept her job, but she says that “the layoff had a huge impact on me.” This experience at work pushed her to explore even more options for lowering her student loan bill.
The concern of how she’d make payments if something were to happen to her job, along with interest rates that she felt were far too high—some of them at 8.75%—inspired her to tackle her debt through extra payments and refinancing.
Gould refinanced around $36,000 of her debt through SoFi. She said, “Getting out of a higher interest rate was really helpful to pay down my remaining student loan balance. I feel a lot more in control of my future and how I chose to spend my time. It’s steered my life in a direction I never anticipated.”
Scafe also knew the feeling of wanting her loans long gone, and fast. “I obsessed over them and I think that’s what motivated me to get rid of them ASAP.” Having multiple loan payments scattered throughout her month was a nuisance.
“I refinanced to lower my interest rate,” she says, but also desperately wanted to have only one monthly payment. Paying down multiple loans faster than their scheduled repayment terms was a logistical hassle, and required significant manual maneuvering. “It got really frustrating.”
Both women refinanced their loans with SoFi, lowering their interest rates and saving them money on interest while consolidating their multiple loans—both federal and private—into one loan with one easy payment.
Tips to Help Pay Off Student Loans Early
“Tracking your spending is a must,” says Gould. She used Mint to track her spending, though there are many methods of doing so. The important thing, says Gould, is to do it. “The difference between months I looked at my budget frequently and months I didn’t was about $300 to $500 of savings, just from being more aware.” And putting those savings towards a student loan payment seriously expedited her loan payoff journey.
When it comes to spending money, try to cut whatever doesn’t bring you true joy. “There is always something forgettable that you are spending money on every month that you can cut.” For Gould, one of these things was dining out. For you, it could be something different, but the lesson here is to identify what really doesn’t produce joy for you, and ruthlessly eliminate it. Spend on only what you love.
“There is no way you can cut out all your expenses, and you need to let yourself have a little leeway to feel like you are living a great life. Some treats I got myself were evening classes in things I found interesting.
I took calligraphy, pottery, Arabic, essay writing. I also have some nice camping gear. I always equated these extra things to lunches—a $10 expense that I wouldn’t miss.”
Scafe, on the other hand, extols the virtues of paying yourself first. Whether you’re paying off loans on an expedited schedule or saving up an emergency fund, it’s wise to spend what is left over after saving and not vice versa.
While you should always keep a buffer in your checking account, too much cash lying around could be just asking to be spent. You can move it towards your loans or a savings account as soon as payday hits instead.
For both women, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel was crucial to their perseverance. They stuck with it, even when it felt like student debt freedom would never become a reality.
For Scafe, having her debt eliminated has been a big stress relief. Gould says that she feels in control of her future and how she chooses to spend her time, and that nothing compares to the feeling of paying off her student debt. And while neither claim that the process was easy, or entirely possible for many on their relatively short timelines, both believe that it was totally worth it.
If you have student loans like Scafe and Gould, keep pushing to reach your goal of being debt free. You can use our student loan payoff calculator to get an idea of when your loan payoff date could be, and it’s never too late to start putting strategies in place to help accelerate your loan payoff—even if it’s just a little at a time.
Also, you can consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi to potentially lower your interest rate and get a shorter term, and therefore help to expedite your own loan payoff journey.
Disclaimer: The savings and experiences of members herein may not be representative of the experiences of all members. Savings and experiences are not guaranteed and will vary based on your unique situation and other factors.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.