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 goals.
Here, one man describes the plan he and his wife put together to get rid of their grad school debt in less than a decade.
Scott and Jennifer Perry, both 31, finished graduate school in 2012 with a total of $65,000 in student loans — but they were determined not to be in debt for decades.
“We both hate having debt,” Scott says. “We feel like debt limits us from being able to do things we’ve always wanted to do. It’s like a weight on your shoulders, and we wanted to remove that weight as quickly as we could.”
So the couple devised a game plan to repay their loans as quickly as possible. Here are the steps they took to become free of their student loans in under eight years.
THEY ACCELERATED THEIR PAYMENTS
First, the Perrys chose to stick with the standard 10-year repayment plan rather than go to an income-based plan, which would have stretched their payments out over a longer time period. Then they decided to refinance their private student loans. “We were able to reduce our interest rate from 6.8% to around 2.5%,” Scott says. “This saved us a lot in interest."
While refinancing dropped their monthly minimum payments from over $600 to about $300, the Perrys continued to make additional monthly payments to keep whittling down their principal. Sometimes they contributed more than $2,000 in a month, and as they neared the finish line, they even sent in extra payments on a weekly basis.
THEY TOOK ON SIDE HUSTLES
Also key were Scott and Jennifer’s side hustles. All their extra income went straight toward their debt — and brought along some unexpected benefits, too.
Jennifer, a licensed physical therapist, started working at a local hospital on weekends, which brought in an extra $6,000 a year. Not only that, the experience broadened the types of patients she works with, which beefs up her resume for the future.
"Debt is like a weight on your shoulders, and we wanted to remove that weight as quickly as we could.”
Scott, who works as a project manager, began selling their old stuff on Craigslist, cutting grass for neighbors and completing surveys and market research studies. But his side hustling really took off when he found a way to make money doing something he loves.
After listening to the Side Hustle Nation podcast, Scott got the idea to start a website reviewing baseball and softball catcher’s gear. As an avid fan of the sport, it was the perfect fit.
“I started catchershome.com as both a creative outlet and as a mechanism to earn money on the side,” he says. “I love baseball, so it has been quite easy to produce content for the site.”
Between affiliate links and advertising on the site, Scott estimates it brings in as much as $700 per month during the baseball season, and about $300 to $400 in the off season.
THEY MOTIVATED EACH OTHER
Repaying their debt together brought the Perrys closer and helped keep them on track when one person’s motivation was flagging. And seeing their progress in real-time kept them focused as they neared the finish line.
“It united us around a common goal and gave us a common sense of purpose in what we were doing,” Scott says. “We even kept a monthly spreadsheet tracking our payoff amounts that I often printed out and put up in the kitchen.”
THEY STAY DEBT-FREE — AND FOCUS ON OTHER FINANCIAL GOALS
After getting rid of their student loans, the Perrys could have inflated their lifestyle. Instead, they put their freed-up money toward other goals, like boosting retirement savings, beefing up their emergency fund and even saving for future vacations, Scott says.
Being student-debt-free was also beneficial as the couple grew their family. After the birth of their son, Jennifer was able to scale back her work schedule to stay home one day a week with him — a choice they wouldn’t have been able to make if they were still paying off their balances.
Now, as the Perrys prepare for their second child, they’re able to allocate money toward the new baby’s arrival, while continuing to save for an early retirement.
Ultimately, they’re grateful they prioritized getting out of debt early.
“The less debt you have, the freer you are,” Scott says. “I urge everyone to — as best as they can — avoid debt and to pay it off quickly if you already have it.”