Leslie Fischer, 38, didn’t expect to accumulate nearly six figures in student debt, but after graduating with a BA in Education from Creighton University in 2002 and an MAT from National Louis University in 2005, her debt load nearly added up to $100,000. That realization caused significant stress for Fischer since she knew her work as a teacher wouldn’t involve a big salary to help her easily pay it off.
“I was distressed about my student debt when I saw its ratio to my salary as a teacher, as well as the interest I was paying on it every year,” she said.
Despite how daunted she initially felt about repaying her significant loans, Fischer, who works for online high school St. Therese Digital Academy, didn’t give up. Her husband Sebastian, an accountant, helped her with her repayment, and while they made a lot of sacrifices, Fischer also benefited from student loan forgiveness. Two years later, they were happily debt-free.
Here are her top tips for repaying your student debt:
Focus on Your Debt
Fischer credits her ability to repay her huge amount of debt with the fact that she was hyper-focused on getting rid of it.
“I did not want to pay a few hundred dollars a month for the rest of my life to pay down my debt,” she said. “I wanted to live my life debt-free so I could make decisions about my career and parenthood based on what is best for me and my family—not based on having to make my monthly payments.”
With the help of her husband, she was able to direct all their extra money toward her loans—which was what enabled her to repay her debt in just two years.
“I was fortunate that when I graduated I was already married and my husband had a full-time job. We lived solely on his income and every cent I earned went to paying off my student loans.”
Some people might spend extra money to live in a nicer part of town or for the convenience of having a two-car household. But those luxuries add up. Cutting them out of their budget made a huge difference for the Fischers.
“We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had only one car between us,” Leslie said. “Since I lived in a big city, I could take public transit to work. Sometimes I would even be riding the city bus to school with my students.”
The Fischers also cut back on things like eating out and shopping for new clothes.
Look into Student Loan Forgiveness
There are a wide variety of professions where you might be eligible for federal or state student loan forgiveness programs. Some of these programs forgive a portion of your federal student loans for every year of work you do in a qualifying job. Some programs are available to doctors, dentists, or veterinarians willing to work in rural or underserved areas.
Other programs are available to teachers or those working in public service. Such programs can be lifesavers for borrowers who have a significant amount of student debt and are struggling to pay it back. That was the case for Fischer.
“I took advantage of one program where I could get student loan forgiveness since I was teaching a high-needs subject area,” she remarked. “I got $5,000 of my Stafford loans forgiven by being a foreign language teacher.”
While she admits that $5,000 dollars was not a lot of money in relation to her total student loan debt, every little bit helped. She suggests others should look into whether they would qualify for student loan forgiveness as they might be eligible to have even more of their student loans forgiven.
Refinance Your Private Student Loans, But Not Your Federal Loans
Refinancing her student loans was one thing that helped Leslie pay off her student debt, but she recommended refinancing only your private student loans since you’ll lose access to things like forbearance and deferment, income-driven repayment programs, and student loan forgiveness programs when you refinance federal student loans.
“If you refinance your federal loans, they lose their legal status as federal loans and are no longer subject to forgiveness programs,” she said. “I consolidated all my loans to a lower interest rate, but not the federal loans. They may have been at a higher interest rate, but forgiven loans are basically free money.”
Being Debt-Free is a Huge Accomplishment
Despite the fact that paying off around $100,000 in student loans in just two years involved a lot of sacrifice for Leslie and her husband, she believes it was worthwhile. She felt relieved when she realized she didn’t have to make her monthly payments anymore, and that she could decide what to do with that money every month.
“It took me two years of teaching full-time to pay off my loans completely. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and freedom after I paid off my student loans.”