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I paid off my student loan in a year

Retiring $12,000 of debt over a year's time is doable with some sacrifice.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 20, 2013 12:42PM

This post comes from Kristin Wong at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.


Get Rich Slowly logoThe other day I pulled a file from my cabinet that's been gathering dust since 2007: "Student Loan." In 2007, I paid it off, and I haven't looked back. Well, except to check my credit report. I wanted to make sure the nightmare was really over, after all.


Image: Graduation cap (© Stockdisc/SuperStock)It wasn't too much of a nightmare, really. With interest, I owed a little over $12,000. But when you're making $10 an hour and dreaming of moving out of your parents' house, it sure seems like a nightmare.


I graduated in December 2005 and received my "We're about to start charging you interest" letter five months later. I soon became hellbent on getting out of debt.


At the time, I carried a small credit card debt that originated from a pair of Doc Martens I had bought in high school and never wore. It started off as $100 and then spiraled into $900, partially because I only ever paid the minimum amount. I was young, dumb and hid this from my parents, who would've been angry.


Shortly after graduating, I got my first "real" job. I was salaried, I had health benefits, and I was making more money than I ever had. I got an apartment and was excited to pay off that $900. But the student loan would be kicking in soon. My dad was reading Dave Ramsey at the time, and he was insistent that I pay off my debt.


Between this and the horror stories I heard about  people's student loan drama, I was encouraged that mine wasn't an overwhelming amount. I could pay it off soon, I thought. Way sooner than the 20 years they'd determined on my repayment schedule.


Paying off student loan debt early isn't for everyone. But I had a private loan that I shouldn't have taken out in the first place. It carried a variable 8% interest rate, and at the time I had no desire to try to out-earn my student loan interest by investing. Most importantly, I just wanted this debt out of my life. So here's what I did.


I avoided lifestyle inflation

While I technically could have taken a trip or lived in a better apartment or worn better clothes, not having any debt was more important than any kind of lifestyle improvement. Despite my lender neatly calculating my monthly amount, I didn't see my debt as a monthly bill. I saw it as one large amount, and as long as that amount was there, my income would be dedicated to it.


Thus, I couldn't conceive of going on a tropical vacation when a friend asked because I owed thousands of dollars. (When I did conceive of it, my mom quickly squelched the idea. "You're 23," she would tell me. "You have plenty of time to travel.") I decided to sacrifice to pay off my debts and live like a pauper. 


It was worth it. A year after paying off my student loan, I took a two-week trip to Europe, where I didn't once think to myself, "Ugh, I'm eating pizza by the Coliseum but I'm in soooo much debt." It was a completely guilt-free trip.


I didn't have "mad" money

If I came into a small amount of money for whatever reason -- a bonus, credit card rewards -- I never thought of it as my "mad money." I had a strict amount allocated for entertainment, and if I came into something extra, it didn't go toward more entertainment. It went toward my student loan.


I admit, there were times that I'd get a little something extra and use it for a want instead of a need. But I always ended up feeling guilty about it.


Again, the idea was to work at my debt wholeheartedly so that I could be completely free in a short amount of time. I didn't want to sacrifice a little for 10 years or even five years. I wanted to sacrifice a lot and pay it off ASAP. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that my debt amount was modest, and that paying it off quickly was doable.

I paid attention to the details

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my lender. I'd pay a huge chunk of my loan, and instead of applying it to the principal, they'd apply it to future interest -- and the interest amount was predetermined to be for a 20-year period. That's a lot, so periodically, I'd have to call and shorten my repayment term. I also had to let them know any extra money I was paying was to go to the principal.


Each month, I calculated the amounts they would come up with to make sure they were right. If they weren't, I called. As the balance decreased, I became more and more encouraged.


I moved back in

Finally, the ultimate sacrifice: It was the beginning of 2007, and I think I had something like $6,000 left on my loan. I was determined to pay it off by the year's end. Around that time, I got a new job that paid double what I had been making, so this was especially encouraging.


"I could pay this off by July!" I thought. But then I realized that if I moved back in with my parents, I could turbo-boost my debt repayment and pay it off even sooner. Luckily, my parents didn't charge me rent. That was great. What wasn't so great, however, was how strict they were. I was 24 years old and I had to be home by midnight.


My mom and I fought a lot. "Even when you're 30," she would yell, "I'm going to be checking up on you!" She was right. Last weekend, I went to a party that was a couple of hours away, and my mom made me call her when I got there.


Back then, I felt like moving back home was my biggest sacrifice. Now, I live 3,000 miles away, and when I miss my parents, I think about the times that I stayed home on a Friday night so we could watch TV and laugh together.


At any rate, saving an extra $700 a month allowed me to pay off my loan just a few months later. Early in 2007, a year after my student loan repayments began, I was officially out of debt.


Ultimately, I have my parents to thank for my financial freedom. My dad's insistence and my mom's frugality intimidated me into wanting to get out of debt. Later, those qualities encouraged me to save money to pursue my goals. It's funny, moving to another state to chase a dream was the last thing my parents wanted me to do, but their advice helped me do it.


That year, including moving back in with them, was rough. But the sacrifice was so worthwhile.


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