When it comes to your student loans, you want them to decrease in size over time, but that’s not what happened for financial coach Cornelius Davis Jr. He took out $38,000 in student loans for a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Jackson State University, which he completed in 2001, but his debt ballooned up to $71,000 after leaving his loans in forbearance for seven years.

Davis Jr., 44, decided to get serious about his student loans around the time when he was making a big push to become completely debt-free. In total, he had over $170,000 in debt from his mortgage, car loans, student loans, and credit cards.


“I was definitely anxious about getting rid of the debt,” he said. “Repaying my student loans was a priority for me because I really wanted to be completely debt-free. My student loans were the last thing standing in between me and that goal, so I was extremely motivated to get them paid off.”

To do so, he pared down his budget and took on side hustles to help make extra money each month to put towards his loans, and he managed to pay off the $71,000 in two years. Here’s how he did it.

Cutting Back

One of the main things that helped Davis Jr. pay off his loans was cutting back on his monthly spending.

“I decided to temporarily let go of most of my unnecessary expenses to free up more money to pay toward the debt,” he said.

For Davis Jr., that meant cutting out all unnecessary shopping and making his own meals. It also meant canceling his cable TV and giving up golf for a few years—a sport he loves. While the sacrifice of his tee time was difficult, it felt good to see the progress that he was making at eliminating his debt. Now that he’s debt free, he’s back out on the course.

“There is no easy way to get out of debt,” he said. “You just have to roll up your sleeves, be determined, and do whatever you have to do. It might require making some drastic moves like taking on a roommate, moving in with family, or getting rid of things that you would rather keep.”

Taking on Side Hustles

Just cutting back on his monthly expenses wasn’t enough to ensure that he could quickly dispatch his debt, so Davis Jr. found ways to make extra money through side hustles.

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“I did market studies, mystery shopping, and site inspections for an energy company,” he said. “These generated anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 of additional income each month.”

He funneled all that extra money towards his debt. He believes that it’s critical to do what you can to get out of debt—even if it means giving up your evening or weekends so that you can work to earn extra money.

Refinancing Your Debt

One of the things that helped Davis Jr. the most was refinancing his student loans, though he wishes that he had done so earlier.

“The two biggest mistakes I made with my repayment were leaving the loan in forbearance too many years and waiting too long to refinance the debt,” he said. “I was paying 6.5% with the Department of Education until I finally refinanced to 4.6% with SoFi.”

When he finally refinanced his debt, he was able to save a significant amount of money on interest, which helped him pay off his debt more quickly.

Resisting Discouragement

There were times throughout the process where Davis Jr. became discouraged, but he developed a strategy to fight his desire to quit—which included clearly writing down his goals to remind him of what he was trying to accomplish.

“Any time I had those thoughts,” he said, “I pulled out my goals and revisited all the reasons why I wanted to get out of debt. That was enough to keep me focused.”

Finding ways to stay motivated that work for you is critical. While it might involve revisiting your goals, it might also involve celebrating each loan you pay off or finding a way to visualize your repayment so that you can stay positive.

Remember That It’s Possible

While you might sometimes feel discouraged about your student loan repayment, Davis Jr. wants you to know that it is possible to pay off your loans.

Paying off your student loan is definitely possible no matter how much you owe,” he said. “I managed to pay off $71,000 in two years by drastically reducing my expenses and working long hours to make extra money.”

Making his last payment was a transformative experience for him.

“My first thought was my paycheck is no longer just a pass through,” he said. “My money is actually my money. I can save, invest, and focus on building a better future for me and my family. Now I know what being debt-free feels like, and it feels great.”