How Home Ownership Sped Up My $575,000 Student Loan Repayment

Now that we have moved into our new space, I have a moment to write down a few words on home ownership as a tool to facilitate student loan repayment. If you haven’t been following along on my journey thus far, first, welcome to my little pocket on the internet!

My name is Sam and I graduated dental school at 26 years old with $575,000 of student debt. You can listen to my story in this interview. It was a crippling number and instead of waiting 25 years for loan forgiveness (which would put me at slightly over 50 years old), I decided to pay it back as fast as I can. I experimented with non-traditional ways of living, which included small space living, finding a roommate to live with my married husband and I, scrounging for hand-me-downs, living a minimalist life, and delving into side-hustles. However, one of the more traditional decisions we made was to buy a home. And it paid us back tremendously!

Why We Decided to Buy a Home

We live in Southern California, which is a fairly expensive place to call home. When we first rented a space, it was costing us $2,800 a month to live in a 1500 square foot live/work loft. Even after we negotiated with the landlord to lower the lease to $2,600 a month, we still felt like it was a big chunk to throw into someone else’s pocket. We decided it would be better to funnel that money into equity of our own. That way, we would be paying the same amount of money to put a roof over our head, but still be growing our wealth.

After a year of renting, we knew the next move would be to buy a home. I advise any young person to get their foot into real estate as soon as they can. Even if it is the tiniest home. If you can afford to pay the mortgage, put that renter’s money back into your own pocket.

How We Bought Our First Home with $575,000 of Student Debt

The first thing we did was negotiate with our current landlord a lower monthly fee. The second thing we did was get a roommate, to further reduce the monthly rent. The extra money we saved went directly into a savings account. I recommend a Marcus High Yield Savings Account to hold short-term savings. Meanwhile, we implemented the strategies of frugality (here is a list of Frugal life hacks) to save even more. We shopped for a good deal on a mortgage loan and within six months, we were signing documents for a live/work loft of our own. This was early on in my loan repayment journey, before I delved into side hustles. I probably could have sped up the process by earning more income with side hustles (here is my list of side-hustles).

How to Find a Deal on a Home

We chose a live/work loft that was similar to the one we were currently living in. It had 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 stories, a 2 car garage and 1500 square feet of space. It was built in 2004. As a live/work loft, the property was commercially zoned, and the downstairs faced the heart of downtown. The exact same loft in the community we were renting from was going for $650,000. We found one that was in a more central location, listed at $499,000. In California, that is a steal.

My first tip is to be patient. Look for a long time and don’t jump on the very first opportunity. To be honest, I scoured the listing for 6 months while we were saving money. 6 months is a very long time if you already have the funds, but the best deals come to those who wait.

My second tip is to keep the search well-focused. I limited my search to live/work lofts because of the lifestyle we wanted. I knew I wanted two bedrooms because we wanted to keep our roommate (which we ended up having for 3 years). Having a roommate was great because it helped us pay for our mortgage. At the same time, we knew we wanted a minimalist space. A small space meant we could spend less to own a home. If I wasn’t this focused on what I wanted, I could have easily gotten carried away with buying a bigger, more expensive home. I made sure that the home fit our needs, and nothing more.

My third tip is to not let emotions get the better of you. Buy with your head, not your heart. Society sells us the idea of a dream home. But a dream home won’t make you free from student loans. A dream home will end up being a money pit. And dreams change. I mean, we sold our live/work loft and moved to a ranch community, and it has only been three years. I just remind myself, having a dream house is not my goal. It is a means to reach an end. You can read more about my thoughts on why property ownership is not about finding your dream home here.

How Much It Cost to Buy Our Home

You may be wondering how much it cost to get one’s foot in the real-estate-door. That depends on a whole bunch of factors, such as where you live, or what you are willing to live in. Our first home cost us $499,000. We put down 5%, which was $25,000. Added to that would be closing costs which was an additional $10,000. Total, we needed $36,000 to close the deal on our home.

We chose an online lending company that gave us better deals than a well-known bank could. I would definitely do some shopping around! At first, we thought the Doctor Loan would be the best move. But after doing the math (which you should always do!), we found that the Doctor Loan had a higher interest rate than a conventional loan, which made the monthly payments pretty high. It ended up being cheaper to do a conventional loan with 5% down (which is available for first-time home buyers) plus the added PMI. Moral of the story: do price comparisons.

How Much It Cost to Own a Home

Our monthly mortgage was about $3,000 a month. We had HOA fees that cost $222 per month. Utilities cost about $175 per month. We had a roommate that we charged $700 a month to have her own bedroom and full bathroom. Our total portion per month without utilities was $2,522, which is cheaper than when we were renting under a negotiated price. After two years, we refinanced and brought the monthly mortgage down to $2,500. After another five months, I refinanced a second time and got the monthly mortgage payment down to $1,900! I did the back-to-back refinancing because we were losing our roommate. It was all about bringing that monthly number down as much as possible. However, we ended up pivoting when the market took a turn for the better.

How Much Value The Home Accrued

To our lovely surprise, 2020 and 2021 ended up being pivotal years for us home owners. 2021 alone saw a 20% increase in home value in Southern California. To put it into perspective, in March of 2020, the value of our home was around $510,000. By October 2021, we were able to sell our home at $660,000. We had bought our loft in September of 2018. In three years, the value of our home increased by $160,000!

Why We Sold Our Home and Bought A Second One

We decided to sell our live/work loft and realize the earnings while the market was hot. So as not to miss out on the possibility of continual market increase, we purchased a townhome with half of the revenue from the first loft, and are funneling the other half of the revenue into student loans come February. Our townhome is newer (2018) and is five minutes from my job which nixes my commute. It is also in a much nicer community, down the street from my parent’s house, and within 5 miles of where I grew up. Since we lost our roommate, we bought a townhome that is smaller, but still has 2 bedroom, 2 and a half baths, 2 stories and a 2 car garage. We are using the second bedroom as Mike’s office now that he is WFH.

With the revenue we received, we were able to put 10% down into a $670,000 home. That’s right! We traded our first home for one with the same value. Both homes increased the same amount over the last two years. We gave up 200 square feet of space for a nicer neighborhood and no commute. And with 10% down, we placed more initial equity in this home ($67,000) than our initial home ($25,000). This is without us having to save money or anything. This is just half of what we earned from our daily living expense of putting a roof over our head. For this reason alone, I would definitely recommend buying a home.

How Home Ownership Sped Up My $575,000 Student Loan Repayment

Back to the original title of this post: How did home ownership help with my loans? It gave us an extra $75,000 to funnel into my student loans come February. (The discrepancy between the $160k earned and the amount used for the home and loans is attributed to the closing costs of the sale and the purchase of a home.) This additional $75k towards student loans reduces my student loan repayment timeline by one whole year! And to think, this money would have just gone into some other person’s pocket if we continued to rent.

The Moral of the Story

My advice for young people who are broke but want to own a home is to do what it takes to save the money. Buy the smallest home possible for yourself to start. Consider the possibility of having a roommate for the first few years. Stay determined to live frugally, and reap the benefits a few years down the road. Good things come to those who are patient and wait.

Photo by MinuteKEY on Unsplash

Afterthoughts on: “10 Steps for Financial Success for New Grads”

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

This past week, I had the pleasure of hopping on an InstaLive session with Dr. Unorthodoc once again. In this week’s Live, we talked about my recent post: 10 Steps for Financial Success for New Grads. She even threw in two bonus recommendations, which you can surely review on her Instagram @dr.unorthodoc. In typical fashion, I’ve spent the last few days conjuring up a few afterthoughts that I wanted to share in this post.

Regarding Financial Success:

Financial success” can mean different things to different people. The vision could include accumulated wealth, fancy things, or financial freedom. For me, it is certainly the latter. A quote that I recently read sums up my idea of success:

“A nice car and a big house are the old status symbols. The ultimate flex is freedom. Time freedom, location freedom, and financial freedom.”

Obviously what was success to my parents’ generation is not financial success to me. The same goes for a peer of mine who might hold different values, be in a different situation, or have a different upbringing. There is no judgement in that fact. It is simply an observation. When I talk about my own journey, I don’t want to exclude people and make them feel like the information is irrelevant to them. I want them to tailor my experiences to their own needs and versions of financial success. Because of this, not every tactic we discuss will apply to everyone and certainly the order in which you do things may change. We went into some of those details in the InstaLive so feel free to check it out!

Regarding Where to Spend Your First Paycheck:

Some of my classmates spent their first paycheck investing in the stock market or contributing to their 401k’s. Some saved up for their first home’s down-payment or upgraded their cars. I used my first paycheck to pay for a financial planner. (The two recommendations we mentioned in the podcast were Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner and Andrew Paulson from White Coat Investor.)

This is a prime example of how we can use our money to get closer to our ideas of financial success (wealth, stuff, and freedom). For me, I wanted to be free from debt or anything that would prevent me from living as I please in a day-to-day basis.

Regarding Financial Literacy:

What this also shows is differing levels of financial literacy. I think that’s what makes my financial journey so relatable is the fact that I started at the bottom with zero financial literacy. Meaning, I have been through every possible stage of wealth accumulation so many people can relate to the different phases of my financial journey.

I have classmates who have more money awareness than I did at graduation. Heck, I had friends who had more money period! One of my closest friends spent his mornings in dental school investing in the stock market. I was not even exposed to that world at that point in my life. I also did not have access to generational wealth being a zero generation immigrant.

I am not saying this in an accusatory way or anything like that. But, certainly, they were better versed and can invest in things right out of school because they were at a stage in their life where they were already set up for that. Just because I started at the bottom doesn’t mean every has to hire a financial planner. You might already know everything a financial planner has to tell you!

Remember: the path to financial success is mutli-factorial. The level of financial literacy, current phase of wealth accumulation and your personal definition of financial success all play a role towards your path post grad.

Regarding Student Loans

The best advice that I can give is to choose a path that works for you.

Not everyone should aggressively pay student loans back, and I don’t mind going on record saying that! Those whose definition of financial success falls under wealth accumulation or having nice things would be better off with the loan forgiveness program, granted that they invest their money in preparation for the tax bomb at the end of the 20-25 years. Those who yearn for freedom or value frugal living would benefit from paying it off aggressively.

The question new grads need to answer is, “What lifestyle do I want to live?”

Since my values are centered around gaining financial freedom, the reasons why I decided to pay my student loans off aggressively are as follows:

  • I don’t like having debt looming over my shoulder. It causes me stress and holding on to debt has a psychological and emotional toll on me. Even when it comes to a to-do list, I am the type of person that prefers to check off tasks as quickly as possible, in order to alleviate worry. If you asked my husband, my famous saying that would follow me to the grave would be, “Let’s get it over with!”. Regardless of whether the task at hand is enjoyable or not, the part that matters more to me is getting it done. At the end of the day, it gives me more peace to get rid of my debt.
  • I am not the type of person to only do one thing for the rest of my life. Right after graduation, I knew that I wasn’t going to be the type of dentist who would happily work a 9-5 shift Monday through Friday, running a practice until I was 65 years old. I am a creative person and I wanted to have the choice to quit dentistry all together, whenever I want. If anything, the last four years since graduating has been proof that the 25 year loan forgiveness is not for me. I’ve already quit once (here I wrote about How to Gain Enough Financial Independence to Quit Your Job) which happened to be a job that did not bring me joy at a time when I wanted to recreate myself (we can blame that on Saturn’s return.) I’m the type of person who wants to be a baker some days, a writer other days, a pet caregiver on my time off, and a world traveler not tied down by a consistent job. I want to work remotely in my pajamas at home sometimes, and interact with people other times. I want to think up of ideas as much as work with my hands. Because this is the person I am, I decided having no debt gave me more freedom to live wherever, work however, and be whomever. This required a deep understanding of the true me, which is where the real work lies.
  • Lastly, I am a numbers gal and while there is wealth growth potential to doing the loan forgiveness programs, it appealed to me that paying the loans off in ten years time is still cheaper than waiting 20-odd years – cheaper by more than $100,000! Of course that profit margin increases even more if you pay it back quicker than 10 years, which is what I am trying to do!

Regarding Emergency Funds:

I like emergency funds because it gives me that layer of added security and ease of mind. That being said, emergency funds don’t have to be that traditional idea of putting away a monetary amount in a savings account or in a safe under your home. I don’t like that idea anyway because that prevents you from growing your wealth. You should at least invest it as a hedge against inflation. I like to make every single dollar work for me and I love the idea of passive income. There are many ways to have an emergency fund without reducing the chances of wealth accumulation.

  • Open a brokerage account and invest your savings into something. Even a mutual index fund like SPY, VTI, or VTSX will be better than keeping it in a savings account, especially if you don’t know much about stocks. Your brokerage account can be you investing in stocks, but also a source of funds in cases of true emergency.
  • We travel hack a lot so that we never have to spend our hard-earned dollars on our travels. Which means we have multiple credit cards open at the same time that have maximum limits. Since we pay all our credit cards in full every month, we have those funds readily available for emergencies. Between my husband and I, we have over $100k in unused credit card spending (I alone have $83k) and that is a source that we can turn to in case of a true emergency.
  • Depending on your loan situation, you could use pivoting your plans to gain access to more money during tough times. For example, even though I am paying off my loans aggressively, I remained with REPAYE the first three year’s to benefit from the program’s promise to pay half of the interest fees. My minimum monthly payment was $900 per month, but I was paying $6,500 or more per month. When 2020 hit and my husband lost his job for 10 months, we paid only the minimum payments to my loans and used the left-over to cover his income loss. Luckily, the interest rate since the pandemic has been at a miraculous 0%. Regardless, this was a good example of using loan repayment pivoting in cases of emergency.
  • Just like you can gain access to money by selling stocks, you can do the same if you have equity in real estate. We own a commercial/residential property and can sell it if things go south, immediately gaining access to our equity.

Regarding Investments:

We briefly touched on investments here but I think the InstaLive had better content within the banter that Dr.Unorthodoc and I had. I just want to summarize with the following: Investments are GREAT but require a bit of heeding. Do your research, don’t let emotions carry you away, and use your head.

Regarding the big picture:

I am all about balance – as you can tell from my lifestyle. Paying loans off aggressively does not hinder us from

-maxing out our 401K

-buying a property

-growing our wealth and investing in stocks

-building businesses

Do a bit of everything! It makes life more fun and interesting. I view life as one big social experiment. Novelty is good for the soul and honestly, I know very few people who can do the grind and truly call themselves happy.

I am choosing happy.

XOXO

10 Steps to Financial Success for New Grads

This post is sponsored by SoFi. SoFI recently created a Work Dashboard that you can use to keep track of your goals. This includes a Student Loan Debt Navigator. And if you decide to pay off loans aggressively, SoFI can also refinance your loans (here’s my affiliate link). Please see Step 5 before doing so.

First and foremost, Congrats! You’ve made it out alive (barely, perhaps?). Now that school is out, it’s time to make money in. Whether you’ve started your first job or are just figuring out your next move, it’s important to start thinking about your finances from the get-go and to act intentionally about money. In an effort to get you closer to a life of financial independence (or at least just enough to quit a job you don’t like and have the freedom to pick-and-choose), let’s review 10 steps you can start to take for success. If it all sounds too overwhelming, no worries. Take it one easy step at a time. I recommend breaking them down over a few weekends to ensure steady, solid progress over time.

10 Steps to Financial Success

1. Review Habits

You want to know where you stand with your money. More specifically, you want to know where the money is going. Whether you’re aware of it or not, the way you handle money is centered around the habits you’ve formed over time. The best way to find that out is to create a budget. That is the very first step we took towards our path to financial independence.

I would start by creating a budgeting tool. If you don’t know how to do that, I created a FREEBIE that teaches you how to Create a Budgeting Tool That Works for you and your family here.

Without tracking where your money goes, you cannot ever analyze your habits or learn from your mistakes. You don’t know where to improve. This step is so important to our financial journey that I even wrote an entire course around it: How to Master Your Budget. You can access my course for FREE. After the course, I would highly recommend signing up for a budgeting tool, to streamline the process. It makes it more fun rather than feeling like a chore. The one we use is YNAB (You Need A Budget)! Find out how YNAB helped me pay off $84,000 in student debt within my first year of loan repayment.

2. Build Credit Score

If you’re like me, I had a whole slew of debt when I graduated college. I decided to tackle all of my credit card debt and improve my credit score. Graduating from school is a great time to build habit #1: Pay off all your dues in full each month. After you do that, go ahead and tackle the bigger payments like car loans and student debt. By making monthly payments on time, you’ll build your credit score in no time. Don’t forget that a poor credit score can make your life harder in the future, so avoid it at all costs. In fact, it could cost you more money too, since a low score typically lands you a higher interest rate on future loans!

If you have trouble paying off your credit card debts, you can always try The Credit Pros. They will help identify the most damaging and most helpful credit items, as well as provide advice and educational tools.

3. Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

High-interest debt increases the amount of money you lose paying off the interest. I had a lot of credit card debt when I graduated dental school because I pretty much had no money and was living off of my dreams and thin air. I tackled credit card debt first because the interest rate on those was 16-24%! YIKES. Get that high-interest debt off your plate, so that you can focus on paying off your student loans (if you have any).

4. Pick a Strategy for Your Student Debt

I am being honest when I say that it doesn’t matter what strategy you pick for paying down student debt – as long as you have one and you stick with it! I personally needed to pay off my student debt as aggressively as possible, but if your lifestyle better matches with the loan repayment and forgiveness programs, then go ahead and do it! It is important to be well-versed in the different repayment options, so do the research and choose wisely.

5. Talk to a Professional

If you have any doubts at all, I would highly recommend speaking with a professional. That’s what I did! I spent my entire first paycheck paying for a financial advisor. They aren’t cheap, but their return is ten-fold! I have two I would recommend. Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner saved us thousands of dollars by picking the correct plan. Andrew Paulson, from White Coat Investor, is another option. Once you’ve decided which path to take, determine if refinancing is something you should do. SoFi is a company that does student loan refinancing but there are plenty others out there, too. Shop around – I’ve listed a few in this previous post!

6. Max the Match and Other Contributions

The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. There are plenty of options out there, but whether you choose a 401K or an IRA, if you have a company match benefit, make sure to maximize it! That is free money that not everyone has the privilege to have. I certainly don’t, but we definitely max out my husband’s match from his company.

7. Save up

I am certain future you will have wants and wishes. There are many things out there you probably plan to buy, some of which are quite big purchases. If you wish to buy a graduate degree, a car, a home, or anything else of that nature, you’ve got to learn how to save up. Remember those habits you formed at the beginning of the journey? Well now it’s time to benefit from them. For me, I don’t mess around with my savings, especially if it’s a short-term goal. I am quite conservative in that way. I stash my savings in a high yield savings account like Marcus, where I can gain interest on my savings at a higher rate than a traditional savings account, without risking losing money (as opposed to investing my savings in a brokerage account). Find out how a Marcus High Yield Savings Account can help you reach your short term goals. If you’d like to sign up, my referral link here will give you a 0.2% APY increase on the current rate.

8. Invest With Your Head – Not With Your Heart

I consider investing an advanced finance skill. However, I can’t argue with the fact that the sooner you start, the better you become. Like any other skill, it takes practice. However, if you haven’t learned how to control your spending, get rid of debt, maximize your retirement opportunities and save money for your future goals, then there’s a chance you’ll lose the investing game – and bad! Perfect Steps 1-7 first, and then remember this advice: Invest with your head, not with your heart.

9. Find Your Tribe

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, the same goes for being managing money. You need people in your corner who won’t tempt you to spend your hard-earned dollars. People who will understand if you would rather order pizza than go out. Friends who won’t ditch you because you said no to a few happy hours. You want someone in your corner cheerleading you on your way to financial independence. Your tribe is very important. It can be the making of your success, or the downfall. I don;t want to be elitist, but even your friend group should be an intentional choice.

10. Set A Date

All of this should be given an end date. Make a plan, then set it in a calendar. Life can get in the way – so make sure to revisit your plans, goals, credit score, and debts once every six months. Look at that date you’ve created for yourself when you lose your way. Soon enough, you will be financially free!

I don’t know about you, but navigating the post-grad world can be tough! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the advice out there, or worse, completely lost and with no one to turn to. I hope this guide has helped to at least start the journey. Other related posts that you may find helpful:

Preparing for the Resumption of Student Loan Payments

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

I don’t pretend to know what anyone’s financial situation is like. I know that our stories are different, and depending on where we lie on our path, the story changes with time. I have already written about what one should be doing with their federal student loans at this time, but the advice is not finite. I find that the best mode of action, historically, has been to share with others what I myself am personally doing with my student loans, and letting others walk away with what they’d like to keep for themselves. So here it is. A little update on me, preparing for the resumption of student loan repayment once the 0% interest resumes at the latter part of 2021.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN UP TO

For the past year, I have been holding onto my usually aggressive student loan repayment sums for multiple reasons. Firstly, the uncertainty of the economic and social situation due to the pandemic. Mike spent 10 out of the 12 months last year not working. I honed in on only working part-time at one of my offices so as not to spread disease among different population groups. Family members lost jobs and we didn’t know who would need our support. Siblings moved back into parent’s homes, parents themselves moved, and a majority of our immediate families went without work or school for most of 2020. So I paid my minimum payment (in order to avoid forbearance just in case it affected the terms of the loan in the long-run) and took the rest of the income and invested it into a High Yield Savings Account.

Meanwhile, to compensate for Mike not working, I maxed out my 401K for the first time ever, and dabbled into a brokerage account. But for the most part, we enjoyed the relaxed vibe of staying at home and doing nothing for the most part of 2020. I wasn’t as tight on finances as I should have been. I have financial independence to thank for that – and you can read how pursuing financial independence has actually benefitted us during times of COVID.

Regardless, I am starting to feel that the end of an era is near. With the available vaccinations increasing in Southern California, I am anticipating the reopening of most of our economy, which will also signal the end of the student loan forbearance (currently scheduled for September 2020). So, like any Spring bird preparing for what’s ahead, I am gathering my resources like figments of a bird’s nest, and preparing for the return of my aggressive student loan repayments.

THE GAME PLAN

Because my loan was huge ($575,000), we initially stayed with a student loan forgiveness program instead of refinancing back in 2017, in case something unexpected came our way (oh, sayyy COIVD?). However, now that the loan amount is dwindling, we are starting to see the light. The OG plan was always to refinance once the loan reached under $300,000. Why this number? I have found that this number is the threshhold for many student loan refinancers. Many of them won’t even consider a refinance if the loan amount is more than $300,000. It is also the threshold that transitions one from a high interest rate (ours is 6.8%!!) to a lower interest rate (around 3%).

Luckily, under the REPAYE plan, the interest rate was half-subsidized by REPAYE, which meant we were able to stay in the student loan forgiveness program while paying interest fees around what we would have paid if we had refinanced. This is why it is important to understand your loan repayment options, which you can definitely learn more about here. This subsidy ends after three years, and we reached that mark during COVID (November 2020). Luckily, due to the 0% interest rate in effect right now as part of the COVID relief program, we have not jumped into the 6.8% interest rate bracket. However, our goal is to be under $300k by the time the 0% ends and refinance to an interest rate that is hopefully lower than 3%. I do not recommend refinancing your loan before the deferment period ends, but I do recommend preparing for it by planning to pay off the largest chunk you possibly can and then refinancing to a better rate to make the going easier for you in the future. Think of it as a snowball method.

OUR PREPARATION

We are doing a few things to prepare for Fall. None of these things are out of the ordinary for us. They are actions that I’ve been advocating for years. Although I must say that we’ve loosened the reigns a bit recently. Our frugal muscles have become droopy, and it’s time to exercise. Here is what I plan to do in the upcoming months.

  • Tightening up the Master Budget. Since we eliminated a majority of our spending due to the lock-down, I have found that over the past year, I have loosened significantly the reigns on spending buckets that would usually have tightly closed lids. The savings we received from cancelling subscriptions, gym memberships, and most importantly, international travel trips has given me a lot of leeway with home and lifestyle improvements. Now, it is time to tighten the purse strings once more. Don’t let any stone go unturned. You can create monthly frugal challenges to make the saving more fun. Here’s a few of mine.
  • Resume Side Hustles. In order to protect my family and my patients, I had decided to stop my dog-sitting and my bakery last March. I also decided that it would be best to only work at one dental office at a time. But now that things are opening up again, I have started to resume my side hustles. I have returned to the bakery where I once worked as an early morning baker and have started the position of Wholesale Director in March. I love being back with the Rye Goods crew, and truly enjoy my alternative work life. I also have continued to write for this blog, as well as guest write for Bogobrush. If you wish to grow your income, too, check out my ever growing list of ways to earn extra money here.
  • Research Refinance Options. If, like us, you plan to finagle your way down to the smallest loan amount possible with the hopes to refinance for the lowest rate possible in order to snowball your way to student debt freedom, then I highly suggest starting the research on refinance options today. There will be different companies vying for your attention. It would be best if, when the time comes, you are well-versed enough to be able to refinance in a jiff. The worst possible scenario is choosing a refinance company that won’t give you the best deal, or waiting so long that you will be stuck paying the high interest fees when loan repayments resume. A few things to note. Do not apply to them if they pull your credit. You want to maintain your good credit score for when the actual time comes. Also, the smaller your debt, the better your rate. So save, save, save! Lastly, make sure you have budgeted out enough emergency funds to cover your monthly payments after exiting from your student loan forgiveness program in case of job loss or an emergency. Preparation is key before pulling the trigger. Here are a few refinance options that I’ve been recommending to colleagues.
  • Speak to a Professional. Still don’t know what to do? Speak to Travis and his team at Student Loan Planner. They are knowledgable and give great advice. I highly recommend their services for those who do not know what to do with their loans. I send all of my closest friends and family members to him because I trust his team and know that they are up to date with the finest details regarding student loans. For those looking for an alternative option, there’s also Andrew Paulson, from Student Loan Advice backed by White Coat Investor. I haven’t yet tried his services but I am always trying to keep an eye out for good options! Once you’ve decided which path to take, determine if refinancing is something you should do.

I feel like a warrior getting dressed for battle. It has been a long year of nothingness. I must admit that it was lovely and nice, but I am ready to get on my horse and face the challenges of loan repayment once again. Instead of our usual yearly update (because there is nothing to update you on), I hope that this post suffices. I will write a lengthy one as September draws near, as well as after our planned refinance.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

What To Do With Federal Student Loans Right Now

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

So it has almost been a year since the news first broke out that the US government will be placing all federal student loan repayments on pause with 0% interest. I thought it was only going to last three months, to be honest. But after three (four?) extensions, I thought I should post an update on what you should be doing with your student loans. I hope you’ve been doing these things all along, but if not, that’s okay. We can pivot. Like this post, it’s better to be late than never.

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Hit other debts, hard. It’s no secret that I cannot stomach debt. Part of that is psychological, resulting from trauma regarding debt, but in general, I liken debt to a virus, leeching away at your resources while growing in size. The first thing I did after graduation, even before tackling my student loans, was tackle credit card debt. Most credit cards charge a hefty interest fee. The longer you have credit card debt, the more money you lose. I would also try to pay down any debt you have for your car. Those two are great places to start.

If you have trouble paying off your credit card debts, you can always try The Credit Pros. They will help identify the most damaging and most helpful credit items, as well as provide advice and educational tools.

Continue making student loan minimum payments, if you can. I don’t like all this forbearance talk. I didn’t even like the student loan forgiveness program. I think that giving yourself lee-way with paying back debt when you have the ability to pay it makes your financial muscles weak. Even if you want to save money during this unprecedented time for “what-ifs”, I would recommend at least paying the minimum payment. Think of it as a finance work-out routine. It keeps you strong and on top of your game.

Grow your emergency fund. After making minimum payments, feel free to put your extra money in an emergency fund, for now. You want to prioritize emergency savings during this time over aggressive loan payments. With federal loans at 0% interest rates, federal student loans have stopped growing, which gives your money the opportunity to grow. Keep savings in a HYSA like Marcus. My affiliate link will give you an additional 0.20% APY for the first three months. While we wait for student loan repayment to resume, we can increase the amount to put towards it by letting our money grow on the side.

Start saving for retirement. 2020 gave us the breathing room to finally max out our 401-Ks for the first time! Each individual can contribute $19,500 towards their 401-Ks and if you are fortunate, your company will match a portion of that. Additionally, if you have the room, I would also recommend maxing out a ROTH-IRA and contribute to an HSA. These are our personal preferences, but whatever retirement account you have access to or choose to invest in, look at this time as a blessing for retirement planning. We have never had this opportunity to max out our retirement funds, but it’s a habit we will likely hold on to for the future years to come.

Do not refinance. If you have a federal loan, take advantage of the 0% interest rate that it offers. You can invest in stocks, maximize retirement accounts or simply let it grow in a HYSA. Refinancing will increase your interest rate and preclude you from taking advantage of forbearance, which would be useful in times of dire emergency, such as getting ill, let’s say.

Consult with a professional. If all of this seems too much or you feel that the advice does not apply to your particular student loan situation, I would highly recommend talking to a professional. Travis Hornsby at Student Loan Planner has saved us thousands of dollars. Their consultations are well worth the price and you will get more in return than what the consultation costs, which in my opinion is a win! I recommend only Travis and his team, because he knows more than anyone else about this stuff. Schedule your call here and let him know I sent ya using this affiliate link. (For those looking for an alternative option, there’s also Andrew Paulson, from Student Loan Advice backed by White Coat Investor. I haven’t yet tried his services but I am always trying to keep an eye out for good alternatives!)

Lastly, when all seems lost, know that I am in your corner. You can always reach out to me, too.

Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

The Real Reason Doctors Can’t Pay Down Their Student Debt

I was sitting at work once (and many times after), talking to colleagues of mine who were all in their early thirties – fairly young by doctor standards. We were talking about student loans (what else?) and how steep the price has become to get an education (in this case dental, but it applies to education in general). We were going through our numbers and they were going through their excuses as to why it was impossible in their situation to pay down debt. Of course, me being me, I gently stated the obvious which was that the real reason doctors “can’t” pay down their student debt was because they thought they deserve more than everyone else.

This statement may hurt many doctors’ feelings, but actually, it’s true.

For example. I had one person complaining about drowning in student debt. He blamed it on the kids and the fact that he is a single income household. Fine. But he also just bought a brand new Tesla SUV. He gets a nanny to watch his kids so that it’s easier on his stay-at-home wife. He gets help (did he say $100k a year??) from his in-laws that is budgeted for the kids. His dining out bill is $800 a month. But he can’t afford his student debt.

Another person also bought a brand new car after graduation, enrolled his 6-month old in Montessori private school, took wild vacations (without travel hacking!), and bought a grand house for their family of three.

Yet another person owns two medical-grade massage chairs in his home, bought his girlfriend a Tesla, and drops $10k on trips around the world.

What if I told you that this story is repeated many times over? I have spoken with my fair share of indebted graduates, especially after releasing my own personal story with ChooseFI.

They all wish to banish their student debt. They also don’t wish to do the work.

Here’s the thing I see most often with doctors. They work very diligently to get through school. They do anything to get to their dream career, including taking out a huge sum of moolah (hell, I did too).  They sacrifice the best of their young years. They put off buying a home, earning money, and settling down. Then graduation hits and they think, “I’ve made it.” For a brief second, they breathe a sigh of relief thinking it’s all going to be worth it.

So they buy a new car to celebrate. Then they buy a home or a practice. They go out every weekend for food. Sometimes they dine out a few times a week! They want to live in affluent communities. They want to go on vacation. They throw themselves a dream wedding. They buy nice clothes and expensive Figs scrubs. But more than all this are the little purchases. They want the daily coffee, the trinkets from the $5 section in Target, the happy hour events, the spin class – you know, the harmless stuff.

They become obsessed with the high-life and quite quickly, they refuse to give it up. 

And if you think I’m being extreme, I’m not.

Because when I graduated, I wanted all these things, too!

The most excruciating part about facing my student debt, the part that nearly killed me, was realizing that after every sacrifice and sleepless night, after giving up the best of my youth, after working three jobs during school, after wracking my brain on ways to extend $40 for another week, after being a model student, the good daughter, the most loyal employee, the most valuable I could be to the community – the work was still not done.

And when I tell new grads coming to me for advice on making loans disappear that they have to use their beat-up high-school ride, possibly move-in with their parents or take on a roommate, cook dinner every night, manage a budget every week, wear their same scrubs from dental school for five more years, and try their darndest to travel for FREE – well, their faces fall and I can see the disappointment plain as day scrawled on their furrowed brows.

Only thing is, I can’t tell if the disappointment lies in the fact that they have to continue living like a college kid for ten more years or if the disappointment lies in me – because I wasn’t the magic genie they wanted that would grant them their wish.

I can tell you how to repay your loans. You just might not like it.

99% of graduates with more than $350k of debt choose to stay with loan forgiveness. Probably because it hurts the human psyche too much to know that everything you’ve done thus far is not enough.

Becoming a doctor does not end the day you graduate. Not for me. It ends the day everything you need to become a doctor is behind you. Loans included.

Not everyone thinks this way, though. Many people truly believe that the hardship stops the day you get the degree. Ahhh, time to sit back and enjoy the benefits of all our hard work. But how can that be when you don’t even know what a hard-earned dollar looks like?! What makes you better than the rest of ’em?

I know I’m making enemies here but I must pose the question. If not I, who will?

I don’t blame the docs. They were merely children when they signed their lives away for a chance at the American Dream. I blame our upbringing for creating the expectation that a doctor’s life is a rich and easy one. I blame the institutions that are set in place that allow universities to charge this much money to get educated. I also blame lending companies who are handing out loans this large. Child robbery, that’s what I call it.

I implore to all the existing doctors that make it seem like being a doctor is easy. How will we ever change the trajectory if we keep implying to young ‘uns that pursuing this career path will mean they won’t have to work hard for the rest of their life. How will they realize and make an informed decision when the time comes?

I know the real truth.

That behind the facade of wealth is an increasingly long list of medical professionals patiently waiting 25 years for loan forgiveness to hit. Behind every confident thrust of the credit card is an avoidance technique that makes life a bit easier to live. Behind all our heroics and saving lives lies a coward afraid to face our social responsibility to pay back debt that we chose to take out. And behind every accomplishment lies a lifestyle creep that is avalanching too fast out of our reach, propelling doctors further forward towards an unsustainable way of living.

The real reason doctors “can’t” pay back student debt is because they won’t.

They choose not to work hard anymore. It isn’t burn-out, although that stuff is real too. It’s the social expectation that a doctor’s life is breezy. The mindset to pay back debt just isn’t there. Many cannot accept that graduation is not the end-game. They think they already won.

There will be excuses. I don’t buy any of it.

There will come a day when I will finish my loan repayment journey, and people will think it’s a miracle. They’ll think I was one of the lucky ones, rather than a penny-pinching maniac. Perhaps the stars aligned and the pandemic gave me this “unique” ability to pay back loans faster because I was not being charged interest for six months. My parents must have helped me out. An investment strategy probably worked out for me but not them. I can’t wait to see the excuses they make. But none of that will be true.

My current car is a high-school ride that I’ve had for 13 years. The passenger’s rear-view mirror doesn’t match, because when someone broke it (probably to re-sell it), I didn’t want to pay an extra $60 to get one that was white when the stock color was black. Mike even helped me put it on the car myself because I didn’t want to pay a service fee at the auto shop. My neighbor came out of his garage this past week and looked at me funny when he saw me physically hand-washing my car. He said, “That’s … nice…” and walked away slowly.

I sometimes have to wipe graffiti off my windows, because I chose to live in a lower income neighborhood so that I could buy a business storefront AND a dwelling at a very low price. Last Friday night, it was getting ratchet at the club next door since they moved the party outdoors due to COVID restrictions. I’ve had to run away from my own home before when the riots first started and they fired fireworks at the cops.

I spent a third of last year working midnight shifts. I still wear my USC scrubs that I was forced to buy upon entering dental school in 2012. I run with the Nike’s that my husband bought me as a gift when I was attending dental school so that I could “be cool”. They used to be orange but now they’re mostly black. I sell my de-cluttered stuff on Poshmark. I research heavily in order to travel the world for FREE. I come home from work to work. I still actively budget every week. I aim to spend only $200 a month in groceries for the two of us and $150 a month in dining out. I created a lifestyle where my job is three blocks away, to reduce the gas I have to buy. TO REDUCE THE GAS I HAVE TO BUY. I spent my last birthday repainting our bathroom. We spent Mike’s birthday picking up birthday freebies. Heck, even our cat was free.

Do you know the real reason THIS doctor can pay off student debt?

Hard work and a willingness to.

It’s not rocket science.

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