By any measure, 2018 was an exceptional year for helping others be less stressed out about their student loan debt. Because of that focus, Student Loan Planner did well too. I’m more excited now about running this business than I was at this point in January 2018 because I have no idea if we’re going to be a multimillion-dollar business or if interest rates will spike, student loans will all be forgiven by a new administration, and I’ll no longer have a business (only half kidding, haha).
This is my second time writing a year in review post. If you want to compare this year’s results to 2017, you can check that out too. Here’s my two purposes in writing this annual review:
- Inspire you to entrepreneurial activity in your own life
- Show you revenue, expenses, site stats, and other key metrics and explain how we’re seeking to align everything with our core mission of serving you
Origin Story: Helping My Wife and Trying to Make My In-Laws Proud
I won’t go into the full back story of how I started SLP. If you’re curious, just check out the year in review post above from 2017.
I got into helping people with student loans because my wife struggled to figure out her debt. Before getting married, I wanted to feel like we had a plan in place to pay it all back. The complexity I encountered made me learn the rules well enough to program a calculator that could solve the question of “what should I do?”
Getting that calculator featured on Business Insider in 2016 is what got enough eyeballs on this site for critical mass. To this day, that was the largest traffic we’ve ever gotten in a 24 hour period.
Making this site profitable was mainly driven by me wanting to get approval from my in-laws. They wanted me to show them that I could get a reliable income after I claimed to be retired at the age of 25.
I don’t blame them. I didn’t have a clear direction in life at the time, which was fine looking back. It’s ok to wander without a specific goal.
What’s funny is to think that I now make more money than I would have if I’d stayed in the relatively lucrative bond trading profession.
I never would have guessed that when I quit my job in 2015 with a one way ticket to Iceland (thanks to a Facebook ad for $99 one way airplane tickets).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that your next big success could literally come out of nowhere. There’s no way I could’ve planned what happened and I think it’s ok if you give yourself permission to have less stress.
Who Did Student Loan Planner Help in 2018?
We had 607 clients in 2017.
In 2018, we helped 876 clients, about a 44% increase.
If you look at the table below, you’ll see the occupations that reach out to us for plans the most. This is our client list along with their average debt since inception in October 2016.
You’ll see that dentists, physicians, and veterinarians have been our biggest group of clients. Chiropractors and lawyers seek our help in large numbers too.
If you don’t see your occupation listed up on the table above, make no mistake that we’re here for you too. We’ve helped cantorists, air traffic controllers, unemployed musicians, bakers, electricians, and more.
Anything job that could’ve resulted in student debt, we’ve probably helped at least 1 person in that field.
I’ve worked hard to produce more content speaking to pharmacists, psychologists, and others too. You can find content specific to your profession by looking at our sidebar and clicking on the most relevant category.
Some of our average debt numbers might look bizarre, like our average for nurses and teachers. There are plenty of nurses out there who go to expensive programs and are then left out in the cold on how to pay for it. Same with teachers pursuing master’s degrees. The ones who just owe $20,000 probably aren’t going to find it worthwhile to pay $295 to $595 for our services. They just don’t have enough debt.
Of course, our average debt by occupation is skewed upwards by a third or more above the national average. Folks with relatively low debt tend to just use our refinancing page to get a lower interest rate.
Once you owe more than one or two times your income, getting the student loan repayment decision optimized is extremely important for your financial security. Hence, folks with larger debt amounts are the most common users of our consult service because the more you owe the more damage you can do by getting it wrong.
Site Stats for 2018
Here’s our results for 2018. We had 547,532 pageviews with 321,807 users. That compares favorably to 2017’s total of a little over 190,000 pageviews.
Our bounce rate, defined as the percent of readers who enter and leave without reading more than one page, dropped to around 80%. The amount of time folks spent on the site went up a bit too.
For comparison, here’s 2017.
Most Viewed Posts of 2018
Here’s what readers like you read the most in 2018:
- How FedLoan Cost Us $20,000 (viewed 28,975 times)
- Top 40 Tips If You’re Pursuing PSLF (viewed 24,977 times)
- Physical Therapist Student Loans Are Soaring (viewed 21,591 times)
- Refinance Your Loans with an Amazing Cash Bonus (viewed 18,894 times)
- Veterinarians Are Treated Horribly Under Student Loan Rules (viewed 18,045 times)
I know from experience what it’s like to have nobody read your blog, so thank you for your kind words and comments over the past several months. I’m definitely very excited that our traffic went up about 2.5 times.
Revenue and Expenses for 2018
In 2017, our revenue was about $180,000 and expenses were about $45,000, for net profit of around $135,000.
In 2018, our revenue was about $454,000 and expenses were about $230,000, for net profit of around $224,000.
Those numbers are before taxes, so keep that in mind.
Obviously, I’m excited that our revenue and profit increased. However, that’s not my main goal. That would be making sure we’re the best in the world at solving your student loan problems and anxieties.
I think we did a really good job of that in 2018, hence the growth of our business. Around two thirds of our revenue comes from consulting directly, and another third comes from other sources, such as referral compensation we get when you refinance your student loans through our links, online courses, and other referral partners like Betterment for investing and Policygenius for term life insurance.
Investments in the Business
Our expenses exploded in 2018 because I hired a bunch of new people. SLP is still smaller than the optimal size I’m comfortable with, so it makes sense to invest. We’re now a team of four consultants instead of just me. Rob, Lauryn, and Justin have already made big contributions last year, and I’m very excited to see what they’re capable of in 2019.
We also made big additions on the content creation side of things too. My brother has helped us with YouTube, Brittney has been key to our PR, podcasting, and social media. Chonce has published and edited countless blog posts. Carrie made sure we all stayed on task and kept me organized. Chenell assisted us with our paid media strategy. There’s a team of folks I also turn to for advice on strategy and content who are invaluable.
In other words, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to get you useful content. I’d be lost without them.
We experimented with freelance writers too. I’m enormously appreciate of their efforts. Content from talented writers costs a lot of money, so hopefully you enjoy their articles. Melanie, Ben, Lindsay, and Kevin, thank you.
Enjoy those Cash Back Bonuses Because They’re Really Expensive
On the revenue side, most big websites in the student loan space make a lot more than we do because they refuse to give cash back bonuses for refinancing student loans. Why give away a huge source of revenue when you can obscure it? It’s a rational question but a temptation we haven’t given into.
I think giving you $200 to $500 when you refinance is the right thing to do. It also lessens our conflict of interest when we’re consulting. The refinancing companies are willing to let us take a percentage of our normal referral bonus and essentially have them send it to you instead of us.
If insurance companies would let advisors share commissions with customers, I think there would be much less focus on fee only in the financial planning profession. That’s one reason I don’t think commissions on refinancing impact our recommendations or influence us.
To show you how this works, let’s say that both us and a competitor make $500 when someone refinances through our link. They keep all $500, while we give you $300 and keep $200 for example.
The competitor spends a chunk of that $500 on writing great free content, educating you about refinancing, and creating useful calculators and tools. We’re left with $200 to do the same.
Maybe it’s too ambitious, but my goal is to give you all that free stuff but also give you bonuses each time you refinance (you can do so every time you can find a lower rate, although don’t go overboard).
Hence, if we ever got acquired by somebody (not looking or interested in that), one of the first things they’d probably do is eliminate those bonuses.
Having you tell your friends about Student Loan Planner is absolutely critical to our business model and helps keep us independent. I know you tell people about our company and that helps a ton when we’re up against giant corporations that will spend $50 for a Google ad when you type in “refinance student loans.”
Yes, Student Loan Planner is the Vanguard of Student Loans
I like to compare SLP to Vanguard because I used to work there, but there’s another reason too. We have a similar fee percentage on the assets / debt we help with.
I am an extreme idealist burdened by natural skepticism / cynicism about the way the world works. This is how I look at the world of financial services, student loans, and higher education.
I look at how some financial advisors earn tens of thousands per year on clients without doing very much work or having unique skills and I think “wow how boring.” They probably look at me and think, “wow how poor.”
Universities that charge four or five times the fair price of their degree probably believe it’s justified. I’m horrified even though I know my economics classes taught me people respond to incentives.
When I look at the world and see five figure charges for what should be a three or four figure charge, I get motivated to try to create a solution that does that.
That’s one reason why I’m proud that even though we consulted on $218 million of student debt in 2018, our revenue was “only” $454,000. That’s around a 0.2% “expense ratio.” If you include the tens of millions that readers refinanced, we’re close to the 0.10% ratio that Vanguard charges for their mutual funds.
Vanguard is the most ethical company in the investment world, and I want to be the most ethical company in the student loan world.
If we do everything the right way, you’ll trust us and tell your friends about SLP. That’s the best compliment I can get.
We Started the SLP Podcast in 2018!
We’ve had about 400 to 500 downloads an episode in the first couple weeks. I don’t have super high expectations here since it’s a very niche focus, but if the stuff we’re talking about applies to you, it’s game changing.
I think the podcast will be a way to bring a lot of free help to folks who normally don’t read our blog posts in 2019. Please share it with your friends and leave reviews so more people find it.
How Did We Perform on My Goals for 2018?
- Hit $500 million of debt consulted on over 1 calendar year – We failed since we only hit $218 million. I think our price increases over the past year slowed down our volume. That said, I was on the verge of going crazy back when the price was lower and I was doing like 10 consults a day, so I think this is ok that we missed this goal.
- Earn $500,000 in revenue from exceptional results for our community – We almost succeeded! But alas, we missed the mark.
- Save our clients a projected $100 million in 2018 (a ton of people are on the wrong repayment plans) – We failed but came reasonably close! It depends on whether you use total savings or the more correct net present value (cost in today’s dollars). We use the latter, which makes projected savings look smaller. Even so, I think we saved our clients a projected $50 million in 2018. We probably did save folks $100 million if you include readers in that number, but we don’t track that. Take that Uncle Sam! You’re going to have to pay out for PSLF after all.
- Guide 2,000 clients on their options – We failed since we had 876 clients.
- Help readers refinance $100 million of student loans and save millions in unnecessary interest payments – I think we succeeded, though I don’t have perfect data on the volume of loans we helped refinance. If we missed it, we certainly came close.
- End the year with 20,000 readers on our email list and make the messages we send fun, important, or hilarious (hopefully a combination of all 3) – We failed. Currently about 8,800 of you read my updates on our email list. If you want join, just visit the calculator page and hit the first button you see to download it. That’ll put you on our list. Still working on my sense of humor.
Changes Coming in 2019
Here’s a few of the big ways I see Student Loan Planner evolving in 2019:
- More faces on the site – We’ll focus on utilizing the talents of the team we have now better before we add any new folks. That said, if we’re successful in 2019 I wouldn’t be shocked if we added some new writers or editors and maybe a consultant or two.
- Me answering fewer emails – I used to be able to easily answer all the questions and comments from readers. I plan to do so as long as I can, but it’ll get more challenging in 2019 if my traffic goals are successful. Hence, Lauryn, Rob, Justin, and the team will all be answering more of your questions while I answer fewer for free just because I can’t physically, though I’d like to be able to.
- Another stab at an online course – I think there’s a dearth of excellent content out there on investing when you’re going for tax bomb loan forgiveness or PSLF. I think I’ll try to produce an online course in 2019 about this topic, even though our first online course attempt Student Loans 101 wasn’t super successful (except that several financial advisors bought it and I’m friends with some of them now).
Goals for 2019
Now I can set some goals for 2019 that I can justify why we missed in 2020, haha.
- Large increase in the number of readers finding us organically with 100,000 monthly visitors from google search. Right now it’s in the 15k to 25k per month range.
- Growing the podcast into 5,000 downloads per episode
- Spread our message to a combination of 20,000 monthly viewers from our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts.
- Speaking of Pinterest, get to 2,000 monthly visits from Pinterest or stop spending money on trying to figure it out. J from Millennial Boss you’re a genius. Amber thanks for your efforts here.
- Actually reach the 20,000 email subscriber goal.
- Increase YouTube subscribers to 2,000 thanks to my brother Roy!
- Actually advise $500 million of student loan debt in 2019
- Help readers refinance over $200 million of student loans
- Hit $1 million of revenue because we focused on helping you and delivered.
- Hit $400,000 of profit because I don’t fall victim to shiny object syndrome and let our expenses go too high.
- Save at least one life through our suicide prevention and mental health efforts (I’ve had several people email me actionable things they were going to do because they felt hopeless. If even one person doesn’t hurt themselves based in small part on our action, then the goals above don’t matter all that much and we succeeded in 2019).
Suggestion: Find Your Calling and Take a Risk to Help Others
I feel really blessed because I’m able to do something that has a big impact on others’ lives.
You might feel the same thanks to your advanced education that others don’t have.
If you know that you’re supposed to be a lawyer, dentist, physician, vet, etc., be the best you can be and help others by taking a risk.
Don’t just work for a big corporate group because it’s comfortable. Take a risk and start a dental / medical / vet / legal / other practice in an under served area. Take on a new side hustle on top of your day job to flex your entrepreneurial muscles.
If you’re a blogger, financial planner, or coach trying to build your business, I failed for years before having some success and being lucky. Keep at it. To folks who have had far more success than me, thanks for letting me learn from you.
Maybe you feel that what you’re doing now and what you’re meant to do are totally different. That’s ok too, as most of our student loan strategies don’t require you to work in a specific occupation.
Want to just quit and travel the world for a bit like I did? Depending on your family obligations, you might be able to save up a low five figure sum, get your loan repayment updated based on your new lower income, and travel for a year or two.
The sky is the limit for your life, but taking risks, both personal and professional, will likely get you to your desired destination faster.
I failed a bunch before succeeding somewhat with Student Loan Planner.
My hope for your 2019 is that you’ll succeed too.
After all, that’s our whole business model.
Feel free to ask questions or make comments about any of the above. I’ll answer as much as I can.