Debt: It's the four-letter word that can wreak havoc on your finances. In our Debt Confessions series, real people share how they tackled debt - from credit card bills to student loans to everything in between - and how it felt to reach their zero-balance goals.
Here, one man shares how he paid off his student loan debt of $87,000 in just two-and-a-half years thanks to multiple side hustles.
Kevin Han could have easily put his $87,000 in student debt loans on the backburner when he graduated from law school at the University of Minnesota in 2013. Instead, he became the rare lawyer at a large firm who made food deliveries on his bike and watched other people’s pets at home in order to help pay off his debt as quickly as possible. “I kept the perspective that only a few months earlier I had been living like a student,’’ Han says. “It’s so much easier to upgrade your lifestyle than it is to downgrade.”
Han, 30, was making $110,000 right out of school, but he had met several other lawyers who were still paying off student loans after 10 years at his firm because of their lifestyle choices. He also realized that he didn’t want to work for the firm long-term, so he made a point of paying down his debt as quickly as possible to give himself job flexibility.
Han started with lowering his housing costs by moving in with his then-girlfriend, Caitlin, who is now his wife. Their apartment cost $1,200 a month, compared to friends at the firm who were paying a monthly $2,000 to $3,000. “You definitely have to have a partner who is supportive,” he says, “because if one person is trying to inflate the lifestyle and the other isn’t, it’s just really hard.’’
“Even with a paycut, I didn’t notice the change in my lifestyle because I got so used to living on less.”
A pair of side hustles that brought in $6,000 over a year also helped him reach his goal faster. “I discovered this whole world of the sharing economy,’’ he says. As a dog owner already, Han figured he could handle adding a few more dogs to the mix to make money. He used the app Rover, which allows people to pay others to watch their pets. Living in a densely populated city, he was able to line up almost daily work.
Han went without a car to save money, biking or taking the bus to work every day. He used apps like Postmates, DoorDash and Uber Eats to pick up extra cash by delivering food on his bike. “I basically got paid to bike,’’ he says. “On my way home from work, I would just get on one of these apps and see if there were any deliveries where I wanted to go. There are so many ways to make something on the side today with all these apps.” (Han created a blog to document his progress and share what he learned while getting out of debt.)
In just two-and-a-half years, Han paid off all of his student-loan debt. He left his firm and took a role as a government lawyer in Minneapolis — which came with a $50,000 pay cut but better job satisfaction, he says. “Even with the cut, I was still saving just as much as I was saving before,” says Han. “I didn’t notice any change in my lifestyle because I got used to living on less.’’
Next up, the Hans will tackle Caitlin’s debt from dental school, which she is close to finishing. “We just got married six months ago,” says Kevin, “so her debt is technically my debt now.”