Five graduates that paid off student loans quickly

The story of a recent grad burdened by student loan is common, but these five focused on making more than the minimum payment and were able to pay off large chunks of their student loans quickly. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Millennials enjoy a cafe operating out of Miller's Point, a retrofitted factory in the Remington-Charles Village neighborhood, on January 13, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Since Lindsay Broome graduated from Nashville’s Belmont University in 2008, she’s learned one thing in particular about the real world.

“Life keeps throwing the bills at you,” says Broome, 29. “You’ve got to hurry up and get them out of the way.”

It starts with student loans. Most give you a six-month grace period after you graduate, but when it’s over, you’ll be on the hook for payments. If you have a steady income and a good credit score, student loan refinancing can help you lower your interest rates and pay off loans more quickly. And if you need to reduce your payments, look into income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

But for some grads, conquering debt is just a matter of rolling up their sleeves. These five, who paid down their loans fast, have one thing in common: They made more than the minimum payment toward their loans each month.

Let their ideas and strategies motivate you to get rid of your loans too.

Tanner Roman, 26, audio engineer

Tanner Roman, also a Belmont grad, finished school in 2012 with $80,000 in student loans. Even more discouraging, he accumulated $2,000 in additional interest charges during his grace period. But this motivated him.

“If you get angry at your debt, the only way to get around it is to throw more money at it,” he says.

While he worked full time at Sony Publishing in Nashville, he supplemented his income with freelance audio engineering jobs.

“A full-time job is the starting place for income,” he says. “Any time I wasn’t doing the day job, I was out recording people or doing concerts or producing videos.”

Roman’s night gigs were so successful that he now freelances exclusively. He pays at least $2,000 per month toward his loans, more than the minimum $500 required payment. So far, he’s paid off $70,000 in less than two years.

Natasha Flores, 26, senior research analyst

Natasha Flores graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011 with $25,000 in student loans. She now works for a commercial real estate firm in Washington, D.C., and decided to pay down her loans fast so she could start business school debt free.

In order to speed up the repayment process, Flores rents out her apartment on Airbnb while she stays with friends or family, which earns her $400 to $2,000 a month before taxes.

“You really earn more per diem than if you were to get a second job as a waiter or hostess or bartender,” she says.

Flores wants other grads to know that they can look beyond standard ways of earning income. “Just because everyone has a 9 to 5 and pays off their loans through conventional means like a paycheck — know that there are other opportunities,” she says.

Eric Garvey, 29, leadership consultant

Minneapolis-based Eric Garvey, 29, had $128,000 in student loans and credit card balances by the time he finished his master’s degree in organizational psychology at Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2010.

Garvey was surprised by his balance when it came due. “I got letters in the mail warning me, but it didn’t hit me until I started getting the actual bills.”

Garvey got ruthless with his budget, canceling his gym membership and cable subscription and cutting down on shopping. He uses the budgeting app Mint to track his spending and blogs about his progress at His aggressive monthly payments over the past two years have brought his debt down to about $71,000.

“Use the fact that you are used to living on a college budget to your advantage,” he says. “Don’t go out and start spending more money just because you now have a job.”

Lindsay Broome, 29, accounting consultant

You’ll save more money if you pay off your highest-interest loans before those with lower rates. But Lindsay Broome and her husband, who live in Nashville with their two young kids, chose to attack their smallest loans first. They paid off all $50,000 of their combined student loan debt between 2009 and 2014.

“Even if it doesn’t always make mathematical sense, it really is the most motivational thing to me to be able to check it off,” Broome says. She used many of the same strategies as Garvey, including tracking her budget with Mint and reducing her spending on dinners out. She put her extra cash toward one loan at a time until they were gone.

Broome’s methods included visual aids. She and her husband represented each loan as a bar graph that they could color in each time they made a payment. Then they crossed each loan off as it disappeared.

“I had 10 different loans and every time we paid them off, you’d just mark through that box,” she says.

Zak Hill-Whilton, 27, research specialist

Federal student loans have benefits private loans don’t, such as an income-based repayment option and lower interest rates. But Zak Hill-Whilton, 27, took out almost $100,000 in primarily private loans to attend Drew University in New Jersey.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “And I was under the impression that everyone else was doing the exact same thing.”

Hill-Whilton graduated in 2010, and now works part time at a restaurant on top of his full-time job as a research specialist at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He’s put all his extra money toward loans for five years, and he’s cut his balance in half.

But he also learned that it was important to set aside money for himself. You’ll be less likely to burn out if you don’t use all your energy to budget and manage your debt, he says.

“It had gotten to the point where I would log in to just look at my debt multiple times a day, and that increased my anxiety so much,” Hill-Whilton says. “Being able to find a happy and healthy balance is also really important in this process.”

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

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