16 Millennial Women Who Climbed Out Of Student Loan Debt

by Natalia Lusinski
Hannah Burton/Bustle

Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 Millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what Millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating.

As you may know, getting student loans is usually synonymous with going to college. Though many people are still paying them off, even for decades, some people pay them off sooner. I spoke to millennial women who climbed out of student loan debt. That's right — they have ZERO student loan debt left. They're living examples that it's possible — more than possible — to get out of student loan debt, no matter how much of it you may have.

"If you aren't having trouble making payments, but are overwhelmed by the thought of making these payments for another 10 or even 20 years, you should consider refinancing," Kat Tretina, expert at Student Loan Hero, tells Bustle. "By refinancing, you can reduce your interest rate and put the money you are saving right back toward paying down the principal. Another way to pay off your student loans faster is to use the debt avalanche method — you order your debts from the balance with the highest interest rate to the lowest. You make the minimum payments on each debt and make extra payments on the debt with the highest interest rate. Once you pay that debt off, you roll what you were paying toward it, including the extra, over to paying down the debt with the next-highest interest rate."

Interesting, right? I was curious how millennial women paid off their student loans. Did they do what the experts above suggested? And what kinds of tips and tricks can they share with others? Here's what millennial women told me. Be prepared to be amazed at how they paid off their student loan debt — I know I was!

In total, I paid off $81,000 in nine years. The biggest thing I did to pay off student loans was to increase my income. I was making so little money after graduating with my M.A. from NYU, so I started side hustling just to get by. After a while, I started my blog,, and became a freelance writer. I quit my nonprofit job and more than doubled my income. Before that, I moved from NYC to Portland to cut my rent in half. I took on any job I could get on Craigslist, TaskRabbit, and more. I committed to paying off my debt, no matter what. I paid the minimum for the first five years, but after graduating from NYU in 2011, I got serious about debt repayment. I paid $68,000 in 4.5 years. At the end of 2015, I made my last payment. By focusing on the high-interest debt first and making multiple payments each month, I was able to get out of debt fast. Earning more — and putting that toward debt — helped me reach my goal even faster.
I paid off $28,000 total, and now I'm debt-free. I paid more each month, starting with an extra $10 a month. Then, every time I got a windfall, like a birthday check or tax refund, I'd add it toward my loans. When I moved to a new city and my cost of living went down, I took the money I saved and added it toward my loans. Then I moved in with my then-boyfriend and mutual friend and I took the $359 difference in rent and added it toward my loans. I tracked my expenses religiously and focused on debt payoff. I made my last student loan payment exactly three years after my first one.
I graduated with over $16,000 of student loans and paid them in full within 13 months. I was automatically placed on the longest possible payment plan, but the thought of still paying my student loans in my 30s or 40s was terrifying. I didn't ask anyone for financial advice (but maybe should have!) other than the multiple people I spoke to at the student loan office throughout the process. Instead, I did what I knew best — I opened up a spreadsheet and started looking at where my money went. From there, I cut my expenses to the bare minimum and started throwing as much money as I could at the loans every month. I started packing my lunch, cycling to work, and wearing the clothes I already had. It became a bit of a game for me, and I celebrated by treating myself with something small at every $1,000 milestone. If I had created a budget during university, I probably wouldn't have graduated with debt at all. Better late than never, right? Now, I write about paying down debt on my blog, Budget Undercover.
I paid off my loans (bachelors of business and MBA) after graduating when I was 24 — the debt was around $100,000 in total. Throughout my MBA, I was working part-time at a bank as a teller — and that barely covered my living costs. From the heavy burden of my student debt and getting through life with the bare minimum, I decided I need to make a change ASAP. I decided to launch my own little shop on Amazon. I began by selling tea to coffee to all the other little things you can think of. Even though I barely had any sales at first, the cost was really low and I didn't need to hold inventory since I was drop shipping from my local wholesaler. I severely cut down my discretionary expenses, such as going to parties, impulsively buying clothes, and eating out at restaurants. I started cooking for myself and spent more time on my school and business, which led to less time on doing other things that cost money. I took all the profit from my shop (after paying for living expenses) and put it directly to my student loans. My suggestion for other students is to only spend money on the necessities and great investments. Their future self will thank them for that. To my disbelief, by the end of my MBA, I was almost able to pay off my entire student loan before acquiring any deadly interest. Now that I am finished with school, my entire perspective of finding a good 9 to 5 job has changed to creating my own retail business, so in one way, you could say my student debt was able to direct me to the right path in my career.
I paid off my student loan debt in the first year that I was out of college. I graduated with about $25k in loans, despite working multiple jobs through college. I paid much more than the minimum payment each month, and didn't have any help from a financial expert. I made a spreadsheet with the amount of money I thought I could reasonably pay off each month, and then tracked against that. Out of curiosity, I did the calculations for how much I'd have to pay per month to pay it all off in one year, which at the time seemed impossible. Out of college, I made about $55k a year, so after student loan payments and taxes, I was living below the poverty line. I lived with roommates a few miles away from my job to shorten commute time, picked up overtime hours, and got some referral bonuses that I put towards my debt. I learned how to cook cheap meals, didn't travel, etc. It really sucked, but I knew I preferred getting it over with as soon as possible before lifestyle inflation kicked in.
I graduated in 2011 and just finished paying off $50k+ in student loan debt — in less than half the loan duration of 10 years. I started paying what I could right away, even though there's a six-month grace period. I got briefly obsessed with personal finance, learned as much as I could, and made conscious decisions that allowed me to prioritize paying off my loans. For example, I always looked for living situations with roommates and below market (for example, I lived in a small spare room in Boston for $375/month). I was still able to travel quite a bit by doing so frugally (waiting for deals, taking Megabus, staying with friends, etc.). For someone who still has a while to go, my biggest advice would be to watch your spending on the biggest categories (rent and food). Don't agonize yourself over your daily $2 cup of coffee that makes your day brighter; be smart about big, recurring expenses like housing and transportation. You'll maintain your sanity while freeing up hundreds of dollars extra to put toward your loans.
I started with $100,000 in student debt after obtaining my Master's degree in 2015. I have now paid off all my interest-bearing debt of $95,000 in 18 months! My non-interest bearing debt of $10,000 is on track to be paid off by June (three more months). My significant other, Joe, acted as my financial adviser. He works in accounting and finance and showed me early on in our relationship how much interest I would be paying if I continued to just pay the minimum. Definitely look into refinancing. I used CommonBond, which enabled me to refinance my existing student loans at a lower interest rate — this saved me over $14,000 in interest. Think outside the box and explore all your options to make and save even more money — see if your roommates will pay for the year's rent up front, pick up a side hustle (I created DIY to Wealth), etc. Utilize visual budgeting tools like Mint — know where your money is going and make paying off your debt a game. Plus, surround yourself with those that will help you achieve your financial goal.
I paid off my student debt, $18,000, by budgeting and pursuing multiple business ventures so that I could bring in extra earnings. I work as a full-time architectural designer and used a spreadsheet to allocate the money I was earning each month (and not a dollar more) to every one of my expenses. It's important to not only acknowledge the budget on the spreadsheet, but truly stick to it. You can still "treat yourself," but create categories for those moments, such as dining out, entertainment, or travel budgets, and remember to stay within your allocated amount. My plan also always involved extra earnings, as I started my Avon business under my mother when I was in high school throughout college. My Avon business is really flexible, so I can fit it into my everyday routine; I can take calls on my morning commute and drop off brochures when I grab lunch at my favorite spot. Whatever "side hustle" you choose, you must put in the time, effort, and heart to make it successful — you'll get out of it what you put in. It's daunting to evaluate your student debt situation, but once you’ve done so, I would recommend paying down those loans with the smallest balance first and making minimum payments on the others, then combining that payment to pay down second smallest loan, etc. Stay focused and don't forget to celebrate the small accomplishments as you work towards your goal of saying goodbye to student debt for good.
My student loans were $24,000, and I paid them off in five years. I didn't use a financial expert, but I used an online personal finance tool [which no longer exists] that helped me realize that it would be possible to pay off my loans in five years rather than 10 if I made some adjustments. The #1 thing I'd recommend to pay off loans quickly is to enter a field that has more potential for wage growth, if you can. Your first job out of college is highly crucial to your long-term salary. I made a vow to never pay more than $1,100 for rent. Until I paid off my loans, I always had roommates. When I received raises, I didn't change my lifestyle and, instead, increased my student loan payments. In the last two years of my payment period, I paid more than double the amount that was due every month.
My husband and I paid off our $71,000 combined total principle of student loan debt in four years. We paid the minimums on all of our loans and then extra on our highest rate loan. When that one finished, we would continue to the next until they were all gone. We had to budget carefully to reach our goal — expenses like cable and eating out were a rare treat. Most importantly, we worked 2-3 jobs or overtime to bring in extra cash to pay down our loans. There has never been a day that we have regretted paying them down as quickly as possible. My husband and I also bought a house, made a major repair on said house, paid for a wedding and honeymoon, and moved twice (once cross-country) in that same time frame. I wanted to help others do the same, so I started my blog, Optimistic Millennial, a career and money blog for Millennials, and am also a contributor for Forbes [on Millennial matters].
My loan amount was $13,000 — I had some scholarship money and I went to a public university. I paid off my student loans by paying 50 percent more than the minimum payment and was able to it off in six years. It was a sacrifice at the time, but I knew I wanted to get rid of this loan as soon as possible. It was also hard to be frugal since I had a low-paying job ($29,000) after graduating in December 2009, during the economic crash. I didn't use a financial expert, but was prudent with my money and set aside money just for my loan. I also made sure to not accrue credit card debt and only paid what I could afford so I would feel comfortable enough to pay more for my loans. There's no need to live a flashy Instagram life if you can't afford it. It's better to be wise and have self-control. It's something you don't want to hear when you're young, but it's a necessary mantra to learn and apply to your life.
I came out of school (June 2011) with $30k in loans, and it was paid off in full in June 2015. As soon as I had a specific financial goal in mind — to be debt-free so I could leave my full-time job — it was actually so easy to put all my extra money towards my student loans. Each paycheck, after paying my bills, I would literally just put ALL of my extra money towards the loans. Then, I literally didn't have any way to spend it otherwise. I have not always been the most financially savvy person, but my fiancé is. He really did a great job of explaining the long-term benefits of paying off the loan vs. paying monthly for the next five years. When you have a long-term goal in mind (like buying an apartment) and you actually do the math to see how much MORE money you will have if you pay the loans off ASAP versus over time, it makes it so easy to want to pay them off.
I graduated in 2013 with $19,000 in student loans. After the six-month grace period was up, it took me 13 months to pay it all back. For the majority of that time, I worked full-time in an entry-level marketing role at a startup and also worked weekends in retail. I lived with my parents, so my bills were very minimal. Any money I made went straight to my loans. My monthly payment was set at $200 per month, but some months I paid almost 10 times that amount. One strategy that I stuck by was paying down the highest interest rate loans first and then I worked my way down to the one with the lowest interest. My advice to others is to not obsess about it. I had a nonexistent work-life balance for the majority of that time and, while I'm relieved that I paid it all off and paid only a tiny fraction of interest, that's time I'll never get back. And 2017 is the year of the side hustle, so if paying down debt as fast as you can is the name of your game, choose your primary and secondary jobs wisely. You will look back at your accomplishment and be proud of yourself, but don't miss out on life in the meantime.
In 15 months, I completely paid off $300,000 in student loans! The best tips I received on paying my student loans were: When you are done with school, live below your means to the best of your ability, sacrifice a few more years of living on a strict budget, and pay more towards student loans. As a medical professional, I graduated with $300k in loans after completing my residency. Though I was extremely fortunate to have a good-paying job, I still chose to live below means. I chose to move into my parent’s house (with my boyfriend!); it was a big sacrifice to live at my parent’s house, but it was rent-free! I also kept my 2004 Honda Civic longer than most other recent graduates would. I went out to eat less and really thought about my spending and reviewed my budget often. Even as a physician, I took an additional leap of faith and pursued an home-based business to create more income on top of my physician's salary. Being disciplined, I was able to use my income to pay my loans aggressively. Sit down and write a budget, be smart with your money, make sacrifices, find ways to earn extra money, use the extra money to pay off the debt.
I started at $20k and am now at $0 (I actually paid it off last week!). I made the choice early on to attend a community college and then transfer over to a state school, which helped me to avoid falling into a six-digit hole of debt. While at school, I worked full-time, saved money, and tried to avoid needing to take out any additional loans. Once I graduated, if I had more money (from things like taxes or birthday gifts), I'd make sure that some (not all — not that crazy!) of that went towards my loan. I'm glad I did it this way because now I don't need to worry about those annoying loans and get to focus on my small business, MostRecklessly.
My student loan debt was $103,000 and I was terrified. I felt trapped by my payments. First, I started by making my suggested payments by Sallie Mae, now Navient. I have two Master's degrees, and went back to school the same year I graduated and became partially certified to teach in 2009 as I was halfway through the program. I invested money into myself so I could started making payments in 2009. I felt horrified that it would take until 2024 to pay everything off. I worked 80-90 hours a week in the summers and, when I received my pay, I put all of it to my loans. It became a game to me. I had to isolate myself for a bit and only eat ramen noodles, etc. I applied for the teacher loan forgiveness and, because I teach special education students, they forgave $25,000, and I paid the rest out-of-pocket. I basically went without. Anybody can do it, as long as they fight to not keep up with the Jones'. In January, I launched, which are online classes I created to help others pay off their student loans. Make it a game, and reward yourself every time you pay off one small loan. I had 19 loans. I paid the smallest loans first because it gave me energy. And the last two were the biggest and I broke those up by making big payments and being broke in the process of those last two.

I'm still impressed by all the above stories about how these millennial women paid off not some, but all, of their student loans.

"Student loans can be overwhelming, but avoiding them won't make them go away or save you any money in the end since you’re still racking up lots of interest," Brianna McGurran, student loans and personal finance expert at NerdWallet and fellow female millennial, tells Bustle. "If you're unsure of what to do or feel overwhelmed with student loans, check out your options for federal student loan repayment. You might qualify for income-driven repayment, which will lower your monthly bill to between 10 and 20 percent of your income. Or, you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, depending on the industry you work in. Also, find out what motivates you the most when it comes to paying off your student loans. For example, paying off the loan with the highest interest will save you the most money in the long run, but paying off the smallest loan amount first might make you feel more accomplished and empowered to continue paying down your loans. When I started paying extra toward my loans, there were several that carried 6.8 percent interest rates — I paid off the smallest of those first so I would stay committed to paying off the rest quickly, and it worked. I also try to make one or two extra payments a month, depending on what I can spare."

Whatever method you choose to pay off your student loans, one thing is for sure: It is possible. Yes, it may take some people longer than others, but the point is getting it done, right?! Right.

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