When Art N., physical therapist (PT) and founder of the blog Flexcents, graduated in May of 2014, his $97,000 student loan balance grew to $107,000 because of interest. Spending four years getting a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and three more years getting a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, Art put in the time for his career.
Unfortunately, having a doctorate didn’t automatically mean making big bucks, so he decided to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). What he failed to account for was feeling trapped in his job. But this story has a happy ending.
Learn more about Art’s student loan debt success story and how he paid off his six-figure debt without student loan forgiveness.
Graduating with six-figure debt
After graduating with six figures of debt, Art felt like PSLF was his only option. Though he had the schooling and degrees to show for all his hard work, the salary didn’t quite match up.
“In my area, the average entry level PT starts out in the low $60,000’s and the earning ceiling is $90,000 unless you work multiple jobs,” Art explained. “When you consider all the time and money spent in becoming a physical therapist, the return on investment is pretty poor.”
Not quite at the right salary to pay down his debt, Art took measures to save money and work toward paying it down. He lived at home with his parents, packed lunches and — thanks to Philadelphia’s reliable public transportation— rode the bus most places.
His main three expenses — housing, food and transportation — were kept at a minimum, so he was able to focus on paying down his debt.
Pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Though Art kept his expenses as low as possible to pay down debt, he knew pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness would be the smartest move. He was working at a nonprofit clinic and was ready to commit to the 10 years of service and 120 payments in order to get the rest of his student loans wiped away.
“Unfortunately, I failed to account for not enjoying my job,” Art said. “I also became more anxious seeing my debt grow since my payments made under the PSLF were so small; they were essentially negligible.”
Seeing his debt balloon and dealing with a toxic workplace, Art felt trapped. To get student loan forgiveness, he had to work at a nonprofit under PSLF. But as time went on, the stress at his job became too much.
“In the end, I decided that no amount of student loan forgiveness would be worth trading for my happiness,” he said.
Instead of staying at the job in order to receive student loan forgiveness, he had to change course and start fresh.
Art left his nonprofit job and got a new one with a supportive team. He started feeling better about life and improving his daily habits, like getting back into weight lifting. Since PSLF was no longer an option, he decided he was going to pay off all of his debt.
Within one year, he was able to pay off a total of $115,000 — his total student loan balance, plus the added interest that had accrued. He accomplished this feat by throwing nearly all of his savings at his debt and working 60-hour weeks at two jobs.
Art’s student loan repayment strategies
To pay off six figures of debt, Art used a number of strategies, big and small, to conquer his debt. He signed up for autopay to score a 0.25% interest rate discount. And any cash gifts he received went toward his student loans. He also deducted the interest from his student loans on his tax return.
He took on more hours and worked like a beast to pay off the debt. Taking on a second job helped increase his earnings to a total of $87,000. By living frugally at his parents’ home, he was able to put 50% to 75% of his income toward his student loans.
Despite being off PSLF, he remained on an income-driven repayment plan to have smaller monthly payments on his low-interest loans. This way, he could aggressively pay down his high-interest loans.
After contributing financially to the household he shared with his parents, his mom offered him a $30,000 personal loan. Although he realizes this option isn’t available for everyone, he used this opportunity to save thousands of dollars in interest and finally paid off his remaining debt.
Looking back, during this time he wished he had moved forward with student loan refinancing to get a lower interest rate. But he was nervous about giving up the Pay As You Earn repayment option that federal student loans afforded him.
Moving forward after student loans
After paying off his student loan debt and keeping his frugal lifestyle, Art got married, and his in-laws proposed that the couple live with them. At first, he felt conflicted, but he realized the move would prevent his wife and him from living paycheck to paycheck — and help them save up for a down payment on a home.
His advice to other student loan borrowers is to come up with a plan of action. He also recommends telling family and friends about your debt-free journey, not only so they can encourage you, but also so your circle can be more understanding if you say no to big events or travel. Additionally, he thinks it’s important to know both yourself and your financial habits well.
If you’re a spender and have a hard time saving, a cash envelope system or automatic transfers to a savings account can help. Know your weak points and come up with a plan so you’re not relying on willpower alone.
Have your own student loan debt success story
Once you’re debt-free, you can use the freed-up funds as fuel to go after your other life goals.
“Nothing has to change when you pay off your debt,” Art said. “The behaviors and habits you adopt during repayment can put you on the fast track to other goals, like buying your dream house, starting a business, traveling or retiring early.”
Paying off debt can unlock your potential and help you focus on the life you really want. Want to pay off your debt like Art and write your own student loan debt success story? Get in touch with us for a custom debt payoff plan.