Finance: The Third Year of Paying Down $575,000 in Student Loans, An Update

Every May, I post an update on how we are doing with our path to financial independence, which largely depends on our student loan repayment plan. If you haven’t already heard the story,  I graduated at the age of 26 years old (turned 27 a few weeks after graduation) with more than half a million dollars in debt. A weight that was too heavy to bear, I decided to shun the common notion of waiting 25-30 years for loan forgiveness and instead to get rid of the debt as fast as I can.

Three years of aggressively tackling my loans is coming to an end, and what a journey it has been! You can read about my first two years here and here. As every year before, I will summarize what we have accomplished financially since last May, and how we plan to move forward and snowball our way down to being $0 in debt.

A Summary of Accomplishments for Year 3

This past year, there have been numerous accomplishments that I am very proud to share. It has been a year of experimentation and discovery for us both. But also, a year of triumphs over a few financial hurdles. Here is what we’ve done.

  • I opened a bakery and managed my own small business with one employee for an entire year. One of my life goals was to pursue my hobbies and possibly make them into mini-side-hustles. Other jobs that I had last year on top of dentistry was this blog space and dog-sitting via ROVER. After a year of baking for local restaurants, coffee shops, and markets, I closed my bakery two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took place.
  • My husband wanted to switch careers. He has been interested in coding for some time and he decided to take a coding boot camp in order to be able to do systems analytics for large data sets. We enrolled him in a program which started January 2020 and paid for the schooling in FULL (it cost $8k) without reducing the amount we put towards student loans. We took the money from our “emergency fund” and built it back up over the course of 3 months. In February of 2020, when the company he was working at was doing lay offs, he requested to be considered for it due to a nice severance package for two months which ended on April 7, 2020.
  • COVID-19 epidemic happened which ended up helping us financially. My husband, whose severance ended in April, then applied for EDD and instead of getting very little money during this period of professional transition, he gets paid $4200 a month from the government.
  • As a dentist during COVID-19, I was in a precarious position. I split my time between two dental offices and was working 6 days a week prior to March 15. However, the government decided that dental treatment should be limited strictly to emergencies, thus causing one of my offices to shut down for the time-being. Luckily, the other office located 3 blocks from my house stayed open and I was able to work 3-4 days a week due to a particular patient pool. A 3-mile radius around our office houses over 330,000 residents who are mostly within a lower social-economic status. They usually do not have time to worry about preventative dental care and go to the dental office only when something hurts. Thus, emergencies ran amok. Additionally, 80% of the patients I see have Medical. Therefore, Medical covered all root canals and extractions at 100%, and everyone who came in with a medical emergency pretty much had a free pass at getting the treatment started on that day. Since most other dental offices were closed, patients from 30 miles away were driving to see us, too. If it were any other dental office, I would have been sitting at home like all my other colleagues but due to sheer luck, this actually kept us afloat.
  • COVID-19 helped us even further by reducing the interest rate on student loans to 0% until the end of September. This is a dream for all graduates paying off student debt, especially if they are paying it off aggressively. With the uncertainty that came in March, we paused student loan repayment and kept all our incomes liquid. However, now that we realize that the stipend from EDD for Mike and my work situation puts us at a stable financial position, we have enough set aside for student loans to bring us in the $300,000s ($375k to be exact)! Which is CRAZY! That means that in three years, we were able to go from $575k to $375k at a 6.8% interest rate. So now, we are tossing and turning the option of partially withholding some of that loan repayment money and putting it into buying a second property that we can use as a rental unit – thus increasing passive income. We are still up in the air about whether to experiment with real estate or focus on paying down loans. Perhaps we get both?
  • This past weekend, we finished off my husband’s car payment, a loan that lasted five years. My husband has owned three cars and three motorcycles. Five years ago, he was convinced by the dealer that he should take out a car loan to improve his credit. His other motor vehicles were always bought in full and in cash. The dealer recommended a car loan to improve his chances of being able to get a house mortgage in the future. Since Mike has no history of accruing debt, opening his first credit card AFTER graduating from college, he technically had “bad credit”. Mike signed up for a car loan and while I agree it improved his credit tremendously, I also get weak in the knees thinking about all the money we lost on interest. It’s a screwy system. But now it’s all over, which adds that monthly $585 car payment towards liquid assets which we can put into our loans or a rental unit.
  • Speaking of mortgages, we are finishing up our home refinance, which if successful would reduce our monthly payments by $500 a month. Add this to the savings from the finished car payments, and that’s an extra $1k to put towards snowballing our path to FI.
  • Lastly, we made a few adjustments including switching our car insurance and our homeowner’s insurance to a different company so that we can shave off an extra $100 per month. Now that Mike is at home working on his course, we have saved money on dining out since someone is always home making meals. Also, without the bakery, I have less stress and can focus on improving our finances and other aspects of our personal life.

How to Continue Snowballing

There are many ways in which we are snowballing the loan repayment so that we gain momentum and speed as time progresses. An example of this is the car being fully paid off, which then adds an additional monthly $585 towards our repayment plan. We had created many ideas along the way on how to make our repayment system better. Here are a few ways.

  • The Repaye program pays 50% of interest for the first three years of the program. By switching to REPAYE within the first year of repayment, we have saved thousands of dollars on interest. The final year of REPAYE is this coming year. We hope to reach mid to low $300k by the time it ends.
  • After the 50% perk of REPAYE ends, we hope to be at a low enough dollar amount to refinance the entire student debt. If we can refinance at 3% instead of the 6.8%, that would speed up our progress tremendously. Also, as the principal amount decreases, more of our repayments go towards the principal itself.
  • We are debating about purchasing a second property as a rental unit. If we do, we are searching for one that would at least cover the mortgage and it would be swell if we could find one that can actually rake in a bit more than the mortgage per month. This builds equity under our name and sets us up for passive income in the future in case we pursue early retirement. As we get closer to the end of the student loans, we always have the option of selling it (assuming it accrues value) towards the end of repayment to get a chunk of liquid assets and put it into the loans. Of course, the latter option is less financially savvy.
  • Currently, with me working and Mike unemployed, we can still afford our monthly $6.5k student loan payment and our living expenses. My hope is that Mike will get a job after the coding program that he enjoys and we can funnel 100% of the additional income into loans.
  • Currently, we are renting the bottom floor of our loft to my brother’s girlfriend for a very cheap rate to help her out. My brother is currently in Arizona starting his second year of dental school in the Fall. There has been discussion about them moving in together in a year or so. Of course, we would love for her to stay with us forever and ever but if she does choose to move to Arizona, we can definitely rent the bottom space closer to market value. Since our live-work-loft is commercially zoned and faces a downtown area, we can rent the bottom space to either a business or a resident. Our options are widened by the fact that it can act as an office space or a storefront.

When we first started our student loan repayment journey, we thought it’d be great to pay it back in less than 10 years. The first plan we made put us at 9.8 years. We made such good headway the first year but it wasn’t until Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner tipped us off on switching our repayment plans in order to save more money that our trajectory put as at paying back the debt in 7 years. With COVID-19’s help, I did the calculations at the current rate, I can repay it in 3.5 more years. But assuming Mike gets a job soon after his coding camp ends in June, I think we can actually finish this in only 2.5 more years.

And to think that people almost convinced us not to do it. They said life would be very difficult for us personally and financially. Yet we are the only couple we know who are calling the shots at work, creating our own schedules, switching professions if we wanted to, pursuing hobbies as options to replace work, traveling the world freely, and living a relatively stress-free life. Choosing the harder path, the road less traveled, really set us up for a different life.

Which is to say that sometimes, it pays off to follow your gut. Reach for your dreams. Look at more than just numbers. Surround yourself with like-minded people, cut out societal expectations, go rogue and run like vagabonds toward the nearest exit signs. Be afraid and do it anyway. Live life to the fullest, you’ll have no regrets.

Here’s to Year #4! Cheers!

Tips for New Grads with Large Student Debt

  • Get a consultation with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. I know it costs money and it feels difficult to pay more money when your goals are to save and pay back debt. But you don’t know what you don’t know and Travis is well-versed in student loan repayment options. Even when we were already aggressively tackling our student debt and working with an amazing financial planner whose wife was a dentist herself, Travis still taught us a few things we didn’t know. He saved us about $10,000 by simply placing us in a different repayment plan!
  • Run the numbers. This may be hard without someone’s help, but you’ve really got to run every possible repayment scenario to see which one saves you the most money. Of course, in the end, you may choose the one that affords you the lifestyle you want. In our case, we chose the one that does both. By choosing to aggressively pay back debt, we are saving more than $100,000 than if we just waited for forgiveness 25-30 years later. We also are freeing ourselves us 15-25 years sooner than our peers, which is a huge psychological benefit. Notice that I said we chose the one that saves us the most money. Travis will argue that we didn’t choose the one that would make us the most money. Which is true considering you can invest over 25 years of working. But I guarantee you we chose what was right for us.
  • Figure out your priorities in life. The best thing our financial planner did when we started talking about our finances was to spend a few sessions in the beginning asking us the hard questions to try to figure out what exactly we wanted. It was like marriage counseling for money. The top few items we had were to spend time with family, travel the world, and have the freedom to pursue our interests and hobbies. Freedom and independence dominated the conversation, and it was because of this that we decided aggressive repayment was the way to go.
  • Master a budget. You have to start somewhere. Mastering the budget is where you have to start. You can always increase your income, but if you never learn to curb your spending then there is no point. I made this course FREE on my blog to help as many people out. We use YNAB to manage our budget.
  • Surround yourself with a community of like-minded people. There is that saying that you are as good as the 5 people you surround yourself with. I choose to surround myself with finance resources. My favorite finance podcast is ChooseFI, but there is also Afford Anything and FIRE drill. My favorite book is Your Money or Your Life  by Vicki Robinson but other goodies are The Simple Path to Wealth and Goodbye Things. And then, of course, there are blogs, including Mr. Money Mustache, Mad Fientist, JL Collins, and The Frugalwoods.

Financial Advice to Battle COVID-19

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

I think it has become apparent to all that the up-hill battle which we face against COVID-19 has only just begun and will not go away any time soon. When whispers of a lock-down first spread two weeks ago, I truly believed that it was a wave we were all going to ride out, and normalcy will once again return within a week, maybe two. But the summit still has not been reached, so I believe it is time to talk about planning for the long haul.

I originally published my Mastering a Budget course here for free when I first heard of people halting work in order to protect the majority. That course will continue to remain free, but apart from budgeting, there are a few other financial topics to be discussed. Advice, if you will.

As always, take it or leave it as it pertains to your particular situation. I do not claim to be a financial guru, neither do I believe in one solid path. However, for the general public, these are my thoughts.

Financial Advice to Battle COVID-19

  • Start saving, if possible. For some of you, this is beyond what’s possible. Many people have filed for unemployment insurance with the EDD(which I highly recommend if you have suddenly found yourself temporarily or permanently laid-off), and saving is a ship that has long sailed. I understand that. For those who are still fortunate enough to work, I would highly recommend saving every penny possible. Now is not the time to go on an online shopping spree. These are volatile days, and no one really knows what tomorrow holds. For those who are without work, you still can save the dollars you have. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you should be scouring the internet for sales (there will be many, I would presume). And this advice doesn’t apply to saving just dollars. Start saving pantry items, start saving worn-out clothes, learn to mend your way through. My favorite blogger who writes about working with what you have is Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves. Work with what you have, and save what you can. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Reduce spending. I am a strong advocate for frugality, and if there was ever a time to practice frugal muscles, well, now would be it. I have published a plethora of frugal challenges, as well as an Ever-growing List of Things I Have Given Up In the Name of Frugality (which happens to be my most viewed post!). Reducing spending is easy, once you get used to it. Like I said above, this is not the time to spend your days-off browsing the internet for sales and new clothes. This isn’t even the time to order delivery for fancy dinners at night. I know you already aren’t paying your cleaners (in the name of social distancing), and hopefully you stopped paying for gas and transportation now that you’re working from home. The stay-at-home mandate actually makes it easier to reduce spending if you are wise about it. Cut where you can, and put what you would normally spend into your savings.
  • Stop extra debt payments. This advice is what kills me most to say, but it is actually the smart thing to do if you are without work or find yourself with less income. If you continue to work like normal and earn the same amount as before the pandemic, maybe you can maintain extra debt payments. However, be sure you have enough in your savings first! You never know if tomorrow you will be so lucky to have the same job as today. Perhaps you will be without work, regretting spending what you thought was “extra money” on paying down debt that didn’t need to be paid. As many of you may well know, I derived my nickname “TheDebtist” after graduating with an astounding student debt – $575,000 to be exact – and deciding to pay it down aggressively. I am here to say that even I have decided to pause extra debt payments during this time of uncertainty. Currently, the President has mandated that federal student loans be waived their interest fee for the next sixty days after March 13, 2020. Therefore, deciding not to pay down the debt right now is a good move because I store that money as liquid cash, available for emergencies. We do not lose anything because the interest is waived and therefore the loan amount isn’t growing. When this is all over and the interest resumes, I can pay that lump sum that I haven’t been paying now towards loans and not prolong my trajectory towards freedom. This isn’t to say, “Don’t pay off debt and spend the money instead”, by the way. Overall, to me, stopping extra debt payments make sense. Now, this is different from not paying down credit cards in full every month. Barring severe emergencies or a shortage of funds, I think that credit card payments are not considered “extra” payments. They are actually the reflection of what you already spent. If cash is tight or if there is no interest rate, then I get it. But if possible, do pay off credit cards in full, otherwise you will simply be accruing debt and make life harder for your future self. Other areas where you may be aggressively paying down debt include but are not limited to: home mortgages, auto payments, and medical debt.
  • Use time wisely. I know, I know. I have been saying this past week that this time off is a much needed gift, something the world has been craving for ages. This is the time we need to take for ourselves. However, this does NOT mean “use this time to turn into a vegetable as you watch Netflix on the couch, scroll through Reddit or Instagram, constantly chat with your friends on Zoom or Skype, create dance videos on TikTok (twenty times over until it’s just right)”, et cetera. This time is meant to be used wisely. A time for self-discovery and introspection no doubt, but also, a time for growth. I shared an ability for my readers to access Skillshare for FREE for two months so that they could learn something new. Some of the skills on there can create a new job for you. If you are recently jobless, it would behoove you to discover what skills you have to share with the world. Create a business walking dogs on Rover. Or make money blogging (here’s how). Read plenty of books, some self-help to inspire you to create a new job position, some fiction to inspire creativity itself. Organize your home, thus organizing your mind, priorities, and the self. Take care of the paperwork you’ve been neglecting, or set yourself up for financial or professional success. Update your resume, or look into refinancing your home to get a lower rate. The world is yours for the taking.


  • Don’t touch long term investments. I cannot say this enough. Do NOT, DO NOT touch long term investments such as a 401K. Try all avenues before even thinking about doing this. The effects of touching these long-term investments are grand. It would make imaginary losses a reality. It would hurt any financial goals you’ve worked on building. Please, if you can, do not pull money out of these investments at all!
  • Create a budget. Off course, with the extra time on your hands, you can FINALLY sort out your budget. If you don’t have one, then I suggest making one ASAP. I personally use YNAB to budget (get your first 34 days FREE here), but if you take my free Mastering a Budget course, you will learn multiple other ways to budget without having to sign up for an online budgeting tool.
  • Stay Calm. Lastly, stay calm. Panic will lead you to rash decisions and regrets. Do not sell all your stocks at once. Do not hoard stuff because you are afraid. Do not sell the house or the car. Just. Stay. Calm. Think about the life you want after all of this is over. Then work backwards and think of how to make that happen using what you have today. Get help, if you must. I am here, for anyone who wants to talk.

Don’t know what in the world to do with student loans? Get help! Student Loan Planner is my number one recommendation for student loan help. Although this is an affiliate link, I am honest when I say that I would not recommend ANYTHING that I do not personally love or have not tried. Travis Hornsby saved us thousands of dollars! Scheduling a call today would be a very smart move. The financial frontier is daily changing, and you definitely need someone with the most up-to-date expertise to navigate through these waters.

Student Debt: How to Lower the Interest Rate Without Refinancing Out of The Loan Forgiveness Program

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

Almost a year ago, I wrote about refinancing and leaving IBR for good. We hadn’t refinanced up to that point because we were not sure if we had the frugal muscles and the mental and emotional strength to tackle my student debt, and we knew that refinancing would mean that we could never run back to the Loan Forgiveness Program if we ever hit a rough spot. Once you refinance, you are no longer eligible for the Loan Forgiveness Program. A pro of the Loan Forgiveness Program is the flexibility to revert back to a minimal payment of a small percentage of your income when times are tough. Meanwhile, you also having the choice to pay back the debt aggressively if you are able. If you refinance, well, it’s either you make those whopping payments (which in our case is $6,500 per month) or end up in mad doo-doo if you fail to do so.

After a year of paying back debt aggressively, it was obvious that we were BOTH in it for the long haul! We were ready and capable of getting these loans out of the way. So we said, “SCREW IBR, let’s refinance!” The worst part about IBR is the high interest percent rate of 6.8%, which meant that about half of our monthly payments were going towards interest alone! YUCK. This is the main reason why we wanted out.

We were very serious about the whole thing and even started researching refinance options. The list of lenders that we found included the following:

We got quotes from every lender and were about to pull the trigger, but we didn’t.

Why? By some stroke of luck, we went down the rabbit hole of purchasing our first property and held off on the refinancing of the loans until that was secured. However, once we had settled into our new home, Mr. Debtist’s start-up company went through some tough times and Mr. Debtist’s salary went down by 50%! At the time, this seemed like terrible news, but we were actually lucky in that we hadn’t refinanced yet and life had the opportunity to teach us a lesson: that maybe the flexibility of Loan Forgiveness Program was essential. With a loan this large, the flexibility of the Loan Forgiveness Program makes our journey much more comfortable! Shortly thereafter, I had my third stroke of luck. I spoke with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. If you have not already interviewed with him and you have a lot of student debt, I would just like to say that although his calls are pricey, they are WORTH it! You’ll soon see why!

In this interview, Travis informed me of a way to improve our aggressive loan repayment strategy. I learned that by being in IBR, we were missing out on an opportunity that another loan forgiveness program offered. Which is why it is important to know the differences between IBR, PAYE, and REPAYE! We learned that REPAYE helps our significantly by covering 50% of our interest every month! Just by switching to REPAYE, we were able to save over $7k in 8 months (find out here).

Since REPAYE covers 50% of  the interest, it is as if we refinanced to get a better interest rate. The interest that we have still yet to cover with our payments come out to be about 3.4% of the loans. I like to think of this as a way to get a lower interest rate while still keeping the flexibility of loan forgiveness. Even though Mr. Debtist’s job situation has  stabilized, we still never know what life may throw our way. Being able to fall back on those small payments give us a lot of peace of mind. Meanwhile, we are able to funnel even more money towards paying down principal!  It’s the best of both worlds.

I think that Travis saved us from making a decision that could put us in a bind during tough times, and he also helped facilitate our loan repayment journey. This is why I think it is so important to talk to someone who can really guide you find the most optimal path for your loan repayment journey, especially when you are talking about student loans this big. If you’ve been thinking about talking to someone but are not sure if it will even help, I bet you Travis is your guy. Schedule your consult with Student Loan Planner if you are feeling lost or simply looking for loan repayment alternatives.

In short, my advice is this. If your student debt is less than two times your salary, then maybe refinancing is a doable option. It won’t be easy, but it would be doable. However, tread with care. If your debt is more than two times your salary, highly consider sticking with Loan Forgiveness, even if you have plans to attack it aggressively. Only because life is a mess and would take any chance it has to throw you a curve ball. Ultimately, I truly believe that everyone can find a path that is in line with their lifestyle and life goals.

When we started, we were told that paying down our loans in ten years with our salaries was impossible. But deep down, I knew that we could do it and that it would be the best path for us. So we set a plan to pay it down in 9 years. Before we talked to Travis, I was hoping to escalate the plan even more and pay it back in less than 9 years. After we made the change to REPAYE, I now have hopes to get rid of it all in 7 years or less. We are implementing a number of side hustles and budgeting tactics that are speeding up progress! I can’t wait to see how much more we could do. Thanks for being here, supporting our journey, and following along. 

 

The Importance of Fun Money in Financial Sustainability

We all know that I talk a lot about sustainability, harboring borderline ad nauseam (debatable). Most oft, it refers to an environmental topic, but once in a blue moon, it will refer to something finance related. This is because tackling a student loan of $550K+ has taught me a thing or two about how to set yourself up for success with paying down debt, one of which is that the looming debt seems to most an insurmountable task that very easily deters a person from pursuing a tackling of said giant. And if you were as crazed as I about financial freedom and you did pursue freedom from debt, I would postulate bet my money on the fact that we are looking at a journey long-term. In other words, opportunities abound for insecurities to start kicking in, and there are many forks in the road that either lead you back to where you started from (in our case, on a 25 year loan forgiveness plan) or to a dead end. So we must talk sustainability if we are to expect a level of success. More importantly, we must talk sustainability if we are ever going to c r u s h this game (which we are!)

Related Posts:

Finding Financial Sustainability

Saving every dollar towards achieving a goal can be a grueling task. Most inquiries from outsiders center around how we survive the suffering. Surely, we must be starving ourselves of LIFE in an effort to be free?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Firstly, if you think that’s the case, then you don’t know us at all. I think both of us are averse towards doing anything we don’t feel is right. Read also as anything we don’t want to do. And while that seems bratty at best, it’s actually the perfect recipe towards a happy life.

Secondly, I agree. Anyone who is bogged down by the stresses of meeting payment requirements may have difficulty enjoying “the finer things”, but who gets to define “the finer things”? Only you. So while society spends their hard-earned bucks on Rolexes and Teslas, your idea of a finer thing could be a cup of coffee, a morning of solace, a day outdoors, yeah?

And lastly, even when it comes to purchasing stuff, we have the ability to, but with mindfulness. We don’t have a tendency to purchase things right when we see them anyway, and scoff at that on-demand-pull that gets most people to do some regretful spending. What we do have is a category in our budgeting tool (this link will take you to my course on how to set up your own budgeting tool). We have to thank our CFP (who is no longer doing CFP work but who have been invaluable in sending us on our way to a healthy, financially fit life – see The Value of Having a CFP) for teaching us about the importance of having a category for spending on OURSELVES.

Yes! I am talking about a category dedicated towards FUN money.

Sustainability comes from a variety of inspirations and motivations. Just when the going gets rough, one can find the push they need in a community, in the re-evaluation of perspective, in a reminder of the reason WHY we started in the first place. Sustainability can also be found in a bribe – a reward persay … but a calculated reward. This is what fun money is.

How to Set Aside Fun Money

Fun money is literally a category in our budgeting tool. It sits under the “Wants” grouping, and gets allocated a monthly amount. Nothing large by any means. We are talking $50 a month. If we want something more than $50, then we have to save for a few months.

We have our own separate categories for fun money, and we can spend our fun money however we want. Fun money is spent towards things we want but we both don’t benefit from. So, for example, if I want to buy a book about bread, then that will come out of my fun money fund. Or if he wants to buy a video game to play with his guy friends, then that will come out of his fun money account.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the fun money bucket. Because the amount is so small per month (less than 1% of our entire income), there is no guilt associated with it. Because we each have our own category, there is no blame when one spends their fun money. And because we already planned for the spending ahead of time, there is no buyer’s remorse. In fact, the opposite is true. It starts the habit of serious consideration prior to purchasing, because you realize how long it took to build up your fun money fund, and makes you assess whether there are better methods of spending. In fact, I think fun money is a great way to teach kids about appropriate spending habits, especially if the percentage set aside towards fun money is small compared to what they actually receive from birthdays, holidays, and rewarded chore duties.

How Fun Money Helps With Sustainability

So you can buy a few items. Whoop-dee-doo. How does that help with paying down a massive student debt?!

The psychology of working essentially for free and putting all your hard-earned dollars towards a debt that allowed you to work in the first place is difficult to describe. The taxation on the mind, as well as the emotional roller coaster that one experiences, cannot be stressed. Some days, you wonder what it is exactly that you’ve done. You start to question whether it was all worth it. Eventually, you’ll come around. But the hoops you have to go through to continue on this journey … it’s comical how emo the whole thing is. Like I said, the insecurities roll in like a fog. You don’t realize their coming, but they sneak up on you. It is during these times that you may need a little boost of confidence. Moral support does the trick, but there are days when I feel like no one else TRULY understands. Because how could they? We all travel different paths, and no two are exactly alike. An activity helps as well, but only momentarily, as it steals the mind and takes it elsewhere. The insecurity doesn’t fade, however, and soon you are left where you started. Unless the activity spans a long period of time, all you can do is wait.

However, the human mind responds very well to a reward system. In fact, it responds so well, that many people are obsessed with rewarding themselves, so much so that they suffer from excess consumption. No need to go down that rabbit hole now (AGAIN). Reward systems are involved in positive reinforcement, or in bribing people to do what one wants them to do. So really, I guess I’m bribing myself. Or at least, I am psychologically tricking the mind into resetting to a more positive thinking space.

The human mind doesn’t respond to starvation. Nothing lives after that. But the reward system, the mind understands. Fun money allows me to give myself calculated rewards. Things that I have already budgeted for, the purchasing of which is controlled. I don’t need much, as we already know, but occasionally, I need a push. I need breathing room. I need a break. And then, I can keep going.

Fun money makes this work sustainable. Less scary, somehow. More manageable. It makes me less of an anomaly, and more human. Hopefully, it makes me more relatable, and shows people that this isn’t me performing some heroic. It’s something that’s achievable for others too. I hope it gets them to start on their own journeys, knowing that sustainability is possible, and that fun money doesn’t make you less dedicated, nor does it make you less successful. If anything, I will dare to say that it’ll feed your fire, and make you succeed where others only dare dream.

Pictured: My most recent purchase, supporting Two Days Off, an ethical clothing line by Gina Stovall based in Los Angeles, CA.

Finance: The Second Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

I can’t believe how fast time flies! The second year of paying down my student debt has passed, and I didn’t even notice. After the first year, I posted an update that outlined a review of our journey. It seemed to help some, so I decided to do the same for the second year. This year there were some ups and downs (a lot more downs than we thought would happen), but I am so pleased to announce that we are on track to finish paying off our debt in under 10 years. In fact, if we continue on this same trajectory that we’ve been on, we are actually estimated to finish 6.9 years from now, for a total of 8.9 years!! And I have high hopes to bring that number even lower. Read on to find out how we got here, and where we plan to go.

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To recap, we started off our journey with $574,034.50 of student debt (including the interest that had accrued)! All of which was mine. To date, we have paid a total of $145,128.48 towards my student debt over the last two years, bringing the principal amount down to $481,368.06.

To understand the progress, do recall that after year one, only $28,000 went towards paying down the principle. The rest of the $84,000 that we had paid towards the loan went towards the interest only. This means that only 33% went towards paying down the principle amount of the loan.

In year two, you start to see improvement. Of the $61,000 we paid to the loans, $29,000 went towards paying down the principle. That’s 47.5% of our payments going towards actually making the loan smaller!

Off course, you will see right away that we paid way less towards the loans in year two ($61,000) versus year one ($84,000). If we had paid the same amount or higher, we would have had an even higher percentage going towards the principle balance. So I guess this is a great time to recap what slowed us down this year.

THE SET-BACKS

  • In September of 2018, we decided to buy property. Property ownership was something we felt was right for us to do. We bought a live/work space that we hope to utilize in the future for some sort of business. Meanwhile, we are co-housing, or as financial independents might say, house-hacking, our way towards paying down the mortgage. Buying the property did entail two things to happen: We used some of our emergency fund to place a down payment on the home. Because of that, we are now re-building the emergency fund back up to what it was, which decreased our ability to pay back loans. Currently, we are setting aside $1k a month to rebuild the emergency fund and are on track to being back to normal in March of 2020. Also, it raised our total payments towards our housing a teeny bit, since now we pay for things like HOA fees and home insurance.
  • In October of 2018, we were delivered some shocking news. Mr. Debtist’s company experienced a laying off of 80% of the people working there, and even though Mike was one of the “lucky” few to stay, his pay got decreased by more than 50%! It was something we were not really prepared for, so on top of wanting to re-build the emergency fund, we also had to deal with a huge blow to our income. Since we were living off of one income, the change in salary really affected our ability to pay down the loans. But we made it work! That’s part of the joys of being on Loan Forgiveness Program even though we were paying it back aggressively. They still only required the minimum payments. Off course, we continued to pay more than the minimum. We were able to keep up with the interest that accrued and to slowly bring the loans down.

THE POSITIVES

Now that those two negatives are laid out, here are some positive things that happened!

  • A conversation with Travis from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link) is saving us THOUSANDS of dollars. He brought to our attention that we could optimize the loan repayment by switching from IBR to REPAYE. How does this help? Under REPAYE, the government subsidizes the interest at 100% for the first three years for an subsidized loan, and at 50% for unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans that have been present for longer than three years. Which means every month, we are given a free $850 to go towards our loans and help us out! This is fantastic because now that Mr. Debtist has a new job and we are back to our previous income, we also are getting help to pay back the debt. Whereas last year we were paying $6,500 per month towards the loans, we are now sending $7,300 towards the debt with the help of REPAYE’s stipend. And while we were dealing with the smaller income stream for four months, we were still getting that helpful $850 to add to the few thousands that we were contributing to the loan. If you want some loan advice, I really think Travis is your guy, and you can schedule a call with him to discuss your particular situation.
  • Additionally, the side hustle game has been ramping up since 2019 started! Now that we have our budgeting in order, it was time to start increasing our income. I was already writing on this blog and doing some dog-sitting on Rover, but I just recently started as a bread baker, and soon thereafter opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery. In January, I made only $14 in side-hustles, which made sense since we were off traveling in Australia and New Zealand for the first half of January. In February, I made $450, and in March, I made $750. For April, I am on track to make an extra $1,500 in side hustles! Read more about why I am an advocate of side hustles, here.

Why the Future Is Bright

So now, we are not only back on track with making $6,500 payments, but we are actually on track to be finished one year early! How did we do that? By being AGGRESSIVE. The minimum payment for a 10 year repayment plan was $6,063 a month. We set our sights on $6,500 a month. Even with the lapse during those few difficult months while Mr. Debtist struggled with his work situation, we were still able to be at a point where we have only 6.9 years to go! How exciting is that?! And what’s even more exciting is that I predict this will all snowball even more! I turn 30 years old this year, and wouldn’t it be great if this would all be cleared by the time I turn 35? That’s right! I have my sights set on getting rid of this in 5 more years. Here’s what we have planned.

  • Since we are now switched to REPAYE, we are making $7,300 contributions towards the loans, instead of the $6,500 that we were previously doing under IBR. That will vastly improve the trajectory of our path.
  • In March of 2020, we predict to have saved enough for our emergency fund, leaving an extra $1k to be funneled into the loans. That would increase our contributions next year to $8,300/month.
  • Also in Spring of 2020, Mr. Debtist is scheduled to finish his car loan payments. While I was in dental school, Mr. Debtist got a car loan and we currently pay $585 towards it every month. Freeing up $585 will increase our loan contribution to $8,885/month.
  • The side-hustling is just getting started. I hope to continue with many of these hobby-turned-hustles, and we will see how that impacts our payments.
  • Lastly, we decided not to refinance our loan at this time because of the risk of not being able to meet the minimum payments in case we have another fiasco like the job situation. However, when the loan is small enough (say under $300,000), we may still consider refinancing the loan. It’ll be less of a risk at that point, since the monthly payments will be way more doable. If we DO refinance as we get closer towards paying the loans off, then we will be able to attack the loans at an exponentially improving clip.

Please note that we are paying back student loans aggressively, but we are also doing it responsibly. We are living within our means, investing in our 401ks respectively, and are diversifying by entering real estate last year. I make myself less susceptible to fluctuating job conditions by having my own dental S corporation, opening my own bakery, working as a dog-sitter, working as a baker for another company, and doing some writing on the side. We are also a dual-income household, which greatly affects the possibility of this success.

If you are feeling lost in your student loan repayment journey, or you simply want to know your options, I would start with talking to a consultant at Student Loan Planner. This path is not for everyone, but it also may be more doable than they want us to believe. For those who just want to get budgeting down, why not start with my free course on creating a budgeting tool?

Property Ownership: Understanding and Improving Credit Scores

It would be nice to buy a home entirely with cash. The transaction would be simple, and there’s only one dotted line to sign. Unfortunately, for many in California, this just isn’t feasible … at least, not any time soon. We debated waiting to buy a home until we can pay for it in cash (mostly because of the fact that I get sweaty palms every time I think about loans) but the trade-off was too great. Waiting to buy a home for cash would have taken us more than fifteen years, since we had to focus on paying down $500,000 student loans as well, which is equivalent in price to our most recent home purchase. That would be fifteen years of paying for monthly rent, which could be equivalent to fifteen years of paying down the mortgage. I ended up wiping the sweaty palms on my jeans, taking a deep breath, and choosing the latter. Meaning, I had to take on a new loan, at the exact same price as my student debt. *Deep breathIf it wasn’t for my husband, I am not sure I could cope with the thought. Reassuring hugs and “we-got-this” fist bumps go a long way.

While I can ignore the nervous sweat and the anxious breathing, there is one thing a buyer applying for a mortgage cannot ignore: their credit score. Credit scores can be supplied by different companies, the most commonly used being FICO, which stands for Fair Isaac Corporation. Each score is calculated by an elusive mathematical equation that evaluates many types of information with the patterns in hundreds of thousands of past credit reports. Simply put, they are trying to evaluate the risk that comes with loaning you money.

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Things to note: 

There are several categories that the FICO score considers, including your payment history, the amount you currently owe, the length of your credit history, any new credits you acquired, the types of credit in use, and the number of credit queries. Here are a few things to note, and then we will go in dept into each category.

  • A FICO score requires that at least one account has been open for six months of more, and at least one account has been updated in the last six months.
  • Although a score can quickly be lowered, it takes time to improve your score. If you are planning to buy a home, and your score is lower than 750, I would recommend starting to improve your credit score NOW. There is no quick fix to improving credit. In fact, quick-fix attempts may backfire. The best thing you can do is to manage your credit responsibly over a long period of time.
  • A score considers all categories mentioned above, not just one.
  • Everyone’s score is calculated a little differently. One category may have more emphasis when determining my score whereas another category may weigh more heavily in calculating someone else’s. It’s impossible to say how important each category is, because it differs from person to person, depending on the overall picture. Therefore, it is important to work on each of the categories. With that being said, the general rule for a majority of people is that the categories are listed in the order of importance, with the payment history usually being the most important and the number of new queries being least important.

With that, let’s get right into it!

Payment History

A good payment history shows the lenders that you will be reliable in paying back the loan. Your score will take into account:

  • Payment history on many types of accounts, including credit cards, installment loans, and finance-company accounts.
  • Public record and collection items, including bankruptcies, suits, wage attachments, liens, and judgements. Bankruptcies stay on your credit report for 7-10 years. A foreclosure, short sale, or deed in lieu of a foreclosure lower your score by about the same amount. These are considered serious delinquencies, so don’t expect to get a new mortgage loan with favorable terms for 5-7 years.
  • Details on late payments: Your score considers how late payments were, how much was owed, how recently they occurred and how many there are. For example, a 60 day late payment is not as damaging as a 90 day late payment. However, a 60 day late payment made one month ago affects your score more than a 90 day late payment made five years ago.
  • How many accounts show no late payments, which will help increase your credit score.

How to improve your score:

  • Pay your bills on time.
  • If you’ve missed payment, get current and stay current.
  • If you are having a difficult time making ends meet, get help. May I suggest a financial planner?

The Amount You Owe

Using credit accounts does not mean that you’ll be a bad borrower. However, using many credit accounts and owing a great deal in each one indicates to the lender that a person may be overextended and is more likely to make some payments late or not at all. Your score will take into account:

  •  The amount owed on all accounts and on different types of accounts.  The total balance on your last statement is generally the amount that is shown on the report. The score will also consider what types of accounts are being used.
  • How many accounts have balances. A large number can indicate overextension.
  • How much of the total credit line is revolving credit, meaning carrying a debt balance month to month. Those who are closer to maxing out on many credit cards may hold greater risk.
  • How much of the installment loan accounts is still owed compared with the original amount. Car payments are a great example. Even if you’ve been paying the monthly dues on a $10k car loan, if the majority has been going to interest, then you may still owe 80% of the car loan when you apply for a mortgage. Paying down installment loans at a quicker rate obviously looks good.

How to improve your score:

  • Keep balances low on all credit cards.
  • Pay off debt as close to 100% as you can.
  • Don’t close unused credit cards as a short-term strategy to raise your score. It won’t work, and it may even lower your score! Long established accounts show that you have a long history, which is good in the eyes of a lender.
  • Don’t open new credit card accounts that you don’t need. I am talking to you travel hackers out there. Put it on pause.

The Length of Credit History

In general, a longer credit history looks good to lenders. I remember when Mike was trying to apply for a car loan. He had no credit history, and had difficulty getting it. It blows my mind that being financially responsible and not having credit history is considered a bad thing by lenders. What a backwards world we live in. Unfortunately, when it comes to borrowing money, a credit history is considered a good thing. Your score will take a look at:

  • How long credit accounts have been established  – the longer “the better”. Also, the more diverse types of credits you’ve been managing, the more responsible you seem.
  • How long it’s been since you used certain revolving credit. For example, an inactive credit-card is given less weight in your credit score than active ones.

How to improve your score:

  • Don’t open a lot of new credit cards. Remember that new accounts will lower your credit score, even if it is temporarily.

New Credit You’ve Acquired

Any credit less than a year old is considered “new”. The score will consider:

  • How many accounts you have. It will especially look at how many of those accounts are new.
  • How long it has been since the most recent account was opened. 
  • How many requests have been submitted for credits. Typically, inquiries remain on your credit report for two years, although FICO only considers inquiries from the last year.
  • The length of time since lenders made credit report inquiries. FICO will ignore inquiries that are more than a year old.
  • Whether your recent credit history is good following past payment problems. Off course, your score will be improved after getting current and staying current.

How to improve your score:

  • When you search for multiple loans, do them all within a certain time period. 

Types of Credit in Use

Usually, this category does not bear much weight in the score, however, it can if there is not much other information on which to base a score. This score looks at:

  • The different types of credit accounts you have. They look to see if you have a mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans. Off course, this does not mean you should go out and get one of each!

How to improve your score.

  • You can open new credit cards but ONLY AS NEEDED. You don’t need one of every type. Plus you have to remember to manage them responsibly. Meaning, pay each credit card in full at the end of the month. Note that closing credit accounts does not erase them from your report.

Number of Credit Inquiries

Credit inquiries are defined as the requests that a lender makes for your credit score or report each time you try to apply for a new credit line. FICO takes this number into account. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Inquiries do not have a large effect on your score. Typically, this lowers the score by less than five points. That being said, there is a larger impact if you have a short credit history or if you have few accounts. Also, people with six inquiries or more on their credit reports are 8 times more likely to declare bankruptcy, something worth considering.
  • Many inquiries are not counted at all. The following are not counted, although they may appear on your credit report: orders made by you from a credit reporting agency, lender requests for your score in order to make you a pre-approved credit offer, and requests from employers.
  • The score looks for rate shopping. This is why I mentioned before that shopping around for a mortgage or an autoloan should be done at the same time. Multiple potential lenders may pull your credit report, even though you are only looking for one loan. The score counts multiple inquiries in a 45-day period as one single inquiry. Also, the score ignores all inquiries made in the 30 days prior to the scoring.

So there you have it! Trying to understand your credit score can be overwhelming. Score determination is muddled by the fact that each individual’s scores bear different weights for different categories. The most important thing to remember is that you want to prove that you have little risk for defaulting on a loan. So pay back debt, stay current, be responsible, and do this over the course of a long time period. And the best day to start is today.

Good luck!

Dear College Kid: Graduate from Undergrad in Three Years and Save $$$

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Are you in an undergraduate program trying to plan what classes to take? Or better yet, are you a high-schooler, looking far ahead into your future, trying to figure ways to save? Here’s some advice:

Try to graduate in three years or less, and save $$$!

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The first step: Stop the Negativity!

You may be saying to yourself some of the following negative self-talk, but I want to address them now and talk you out of that nonsense. Nip it in the bud, so to speak.

Avoid the following negative thoughts:

  • “Graduating in three years requires a special program, which my school does not have.” Not true at all! I myself graduated from a four year undergraduate college, in a three year span of time. All you need to do is hit your particular program’s requirements, and that’s it! Just make sure to plan ahead.
  • “Only Einsteins and nerds finish early because you need to be very smart in order to graduate in three years or less.”  You need to be very organized to finish early, not necessarily smart. It may require a bit more effort, but it does not mean that some people are born with the ability to do this and others are not. Everyone should at least try. If you don’t end up finishing in three years, you should be just as proud to finish in three years and one quarter. Every little bit that you shave off of your schooling counts!
  • “Graduating early means I won’t have my FULL college experience! I will miss out on some of the fun my friends are having.” Actually, quite the opposite! Finishing school in three years freed up that last year when all my other friends were still in school. It gave me the chance to work three jobs, and I had a more flexible schedule than my friends who were still in college! While they had to plan for tests and study for exams, I was able to move my work schedules around to make time for lunch dates, or hang out nights. If anything, I was able to experience MORE than they did!
  • “What difference does an extra year make? Shouldn’t I just take classes that I am interested in or that I enjoy FOR FUN while I’m at it? What’s another couple of thousands of dollars?” If I could kick my young self for having this kind of mentality, I would. Back then, I did not understand the value of compounding interest. I did not have a sense of the value of time. I did not realize that something so small now, can make such a big difference later. The money you save from finishing undergrad early can be invested into something that will give you a higher return over time, rather than be taken out as a loan that will be charged interest over time. Instead of losing money, you could be earning money. Time is on your side, and investing early is the way to go!

Ways To Graduate Early

There were many things that I did to allow me to graduate one year early. If I had a do-over, I would do even MORE, to try to shave off a little bit more time. Here are some tips!

  • Take as many AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Bachelaureate) courses in high school as you can. I did the work in high – school. I took 11 AP courses in high-school. The great thing about these is that some colleges accept certain AP classes as credit towards general education college courses! I entered my first year of college as a “sophomore” and had first choice in which courses I wanted to take, which made it even easier to plan ahead!
  • Plan your course of action. When I entered college, I was given a list of classes that I was required to take in order to graduate early. I kept that list throughout my whole college career and when it came time to choose classes, I would simply go through the list and find classes that I wanted to take but were also required. It wasn’t until my final trimester (we were on the trimester system) that I took a class that was not a requirement, for fun. Why did I do that? Because it gave me the units I needed to be considered a full-time student, which had a flat rate and which actually made the tuition cheaper than if I paid per unit to be a part-time student. Go figure!
  • Take as many units as you can handle. The minimum units you need to be considered a full time student was 12 units. You can likely graduate in four years taking 12-15 units a trimester. But I had other plans. I was taking 16-20 units a trimester, and one particular trimester, I believe I took 22 units. The exception was my final trimester, where I took only 12 units, the minimum to be a full -time student.
  • Stay focused. You are here for SCHOOL. The biggest excuse I heard recited to not take more than 12 units at a time was that early twenty-somethings want to enjoy life. They don’t want to be focused on JUST school work. They want to have time to go to parties, hang out with their friends, make new experiences. But you are at college for school. Focusing on that doesn’t mean you won’t get those new experiences, or have a good time.
  • Don’t listen to the naysayers. When I told others that I was going to finish college early, there was a lot of pushback. In the early stages, I had a lot of people telling me it would be difficult to do, that I would stress myself out too much and hate college all-together. When that didn’t happen, they said that I was missing out. As it got closer towards the end of my college career, I started having people trying to convince me to stay. “Just take classes for fun!” To which I replied, “I’d rather live life, for fun.” Don’t listen to the naysayers who think you can’t do it. Don’t listen to people trying to convince you you’re missing out. And definitely don’t listen to those who try to convince you to stay even longer, and spend more money or take additional loans. The person you should be living life for is yourself, and your future self will thank you.

If you need further convincing, maybe math will do the trick.

Tuition Costs Saved by Graduating in 3 Years: $8,000

Additional Money Earned by Working 3 Jobs in the Final Year: $18,000

The Difference: $26,000, which I funneled into student loans and credit card debt. 

Hope this helps kick ya in the rear and get you faster towards getting out!

Sincerely,

TheDebtist

 

 

Finances: Why We Are Refinancing and Leaving IBR Behind, For Good!

Before we head off to Portland, OR, we wanted to share with you guys some very exciting news! We are finally pulling the plug on student loan forgiveness, completely! We are in the process of refinancing our student loans, and leaving IBR behind, for good!

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Why haven’t we refinanced sooner, you ask? Well, there is a clause in the student loan forgiveness program IBR that states that once we refinance our loans, we will no longer be eligible for the student loan forgiveness program in the future. Meaning, if something happened, like one of us lost our jobs, we would still need to continue to make the $6,500/month payment from now until forever (or at least until we are free from the loans). If we stuck with IBR and one of us lost our jobs, we could revert back to paying the minimum payment under IBR (which is calculated as a small percentage of your income), until we could dig ourselves out of the rut. You can see why refinancing can be a tricky thing. A life event that changes our financial situation could immediately cause us to get in trouble with the IRS if we cannot maintain that $6,500/month payment. In other words, we were giant wussy pants and scared of what could happen. We were not quite ready to leave the safety of IBR when we decided to pay down our loans a year ago.

However, under the IBR program, my student loan with Great Lakes is charged an interest of a whopping 6.7%! By refinancing, we could lower that down to about 5.5%. It doesn’t seem like much, but on a loan this huge, it makes a big difference. To give readers an idea, for a 10 year refinance at 5.5%, our monthly payment would decrease from $6,500 to $5,300! Or, put another way, if we continued the course of paying $6,500/month, then we will be done with our loans in 7.5 years! I don’t know about you, but both perspectives are extremely exciting and extremely enticing.

I have spoken about us paying down $84,000 towards my student debt of $550k+ in the past year. Initially, we didn’t know at the start of our journey whether we would be able to make the large monthly payments. We wanted to try it out, but were afraid that we would not be able to support the lifestyle we want and still have enough for the loan amount. What we found was that we were able to alter our lifestyle in order to make our payments, and our lives have much improved from it. After one year, we are extremely confident that this is the path we want to take, and that we can do this! We are no longer afraid of the what-ifs and are ready to take a leap of faith (in ourselves) and just turn our backs on student loan forgiveness for good!

So what happens if some life event occurs that dramatically impacts our finances? We haven’t forgotten about the possibility of one of us losing a job, or a natural disaster happening, or a family emergency occurring, although cross our fingers, legs, toes and arms that none of these ever come to fruition. But we HAVE thought through a series of possibilities that could help us in such scenarios.

  1. Have an emergency fund. Over the past year, we have built up an emergency fund that could support us for 2.5 months if one of us loses a job, or for a little under 2 months if both of us lost our jobs. We will continue to add to this emergency fund and over time, it should be a very big safety net for us (or it could help us pay down loans faster towards the end!)
  2. Make use of the lower monthly payments. There are TWO ways we could make use of the lower monthly payments. The first is to pay the $5,300 per month minimum payment, and stash the difference ($1,200) in the emergency fund every month. Although a viable plan, that isn’t the path we are going to take. The other is to continue paying $6,500 a month since we can support that payment, and plan to be done in over 7 years. Because we would be paying extra $$ a month, we would be paid ahead. Meaning, if something were to happen, we would have accounted for future payments already, and would likely have a buffer of time before we are back to our originally determined schedule.
  3. Rely on the loan’s forbearance policy. Loan companies want to get paid. If someone really cannot make payments, then the loan’s forbearance policy will temporarily allow non-payment for a set number of months. The interest will still accrue, but it is a back-up!

Luckily for us, our jobs are very flexible and we don’t really see ourselves without work for long periods of time, but you never know what the future may hold, and sometimes life gets out of control. So, yes, it IS still wildly scary for us to be doing this! Too risky for some. But I believe in our abilities and focus and determination. And we want to inspire other people to feel like they could be freed too.

How about you? Feel like this is too crazy a venture, or would you be willing to try too?