How We Paid Off $80,000+ Of Student Loan Debt In Under 3 Years

You’d normally be reading yet another student loan debt update, but today is different. We’re finally student loan debt free after paying off over $80,000 of my wife’s student loans! We are very excited that student loan payments are a thing of the past and it only took less than three years after my wife graduated to make that dream a reality.

Now it’s time for us to share with you how we made it happen so you too can rid yourself of your student loans or other debt forever.

We Made A Plan

Even before my wife graduated from Nursing school with her four year BSN degree, we realized she’d have a ton of debt when she graduated. The debt was unfortunate, but at that point there was nothing we could do about it other than figure out a way to pay off the massive burden. So we decided to sit down and make a plan.

We made a list of all of my wife’s student loans and decided to pay off the highest interest rate student loan first. It was a monster at over $20,000 and on top of that, it had an insanely high variable interest rate to go along with it. After that loan was gone we’d continue to attack her loans one at a time depending on what made sense at the time.

Next, after my wife received her first post graduation paycheck, we sat down a took a hard look at how much we’d start paying toward the loans. We decided that we’d set aside money for a frugal monthly budget that covers the basics and we’d set aside $50 a paycheck for my wife to spend on whatever she wanted. Every other penny we could get our hands on would go toward paying off her student loans as fast as possible.

Back then, we weren’t married yet so we still had separate finances. Instead of actually using the extra money I had toward paying off her loans, I put my extra money into a savings account so that when we eventually got married I could pay a giant chunk off her debt off all at once. Of course, things never go according to plan…

We Adjusted The Plan As Our Situation Changed

Along the 3 year journey, we had our fair share of distractions and speed bumps. Tori had a foot surgery that resulted in short term disability for a few weeks. Then, the surgery failed and she had to have yet another surgery and was out of work on short term disability for even longer! Luckily we had both an emergency fund and short term disability insurance to get us through those rough times. We had to put our extra aggressive debt pay off plan on hold until she returned to work.

There were also distractions. When my wife got a job in a town an hour and a half away from my job, we decided to buy a townhouse in the new town on a whim for her to live in. The mortgage was cheaper than a car payment and I ended up getting a job in the new town, so things worked out in the end. Unfortunately, that drained us of around $20,000 of cash I could have used to knock the loans down once we got married. It was the right decision in the long-run, but at the time we were bummed to delay the student loan debt pay off.

If that wasn’t a bad enough distraction, once we were engaged we decided to move into town and buy a larger forever home. This also allowed us to become landlords by renting out the townhouse. That meant coming up with another 20% down payment. This time the consequences would be much larger. If didn’t buy our forever home, we could have paid Tori’s student loans  off in full (after we got married) with the money we ended up using for the down payment. We didn’t make this decision without a ton of analysis, but it was the right decision due to low interest rates and low home prices.

We never could have paid our loans off as fast as we did with all of the distractions and speed bumps from above just from earning a basic paycheck. So what did we do?

We Earned Extra Income

There was no way we could pay off my wife’s loans and accomplish the other feats we have in the past three years on just our paychecks alone. We weren’t going to settle for mediocrity when it came to paying off the student loans, so we decided to do something to try to earn some extra money. It paid off more than I ever thought it could.

We went through our stuff and sold whatever we didn’t need. That didn’t bring in a ton of money, but it was a start down the right path. On top of that, my wife picked up overtime shifts at her employer whenever she could. It was a nice boost to her paychecks and we threw all of that extra money against the loans as fast as we could.

The real money ended up coming in from a source I didn’t expect to make money from. However, once I realized I could make money from it, I started working even harder on the income source. What was it? This blog. Money Manifesto and its predecessor (Money Life and More) have played a huge role in earning extra income to pay off my wife’s student loan debt and purchase our properties. Without it, we likely wouldn’t have bought the home we’re living in today OR my wife’s student loan debt wouldn’t yet be paid off.

Even with everything that I mentioned above about how we worked hard to pay off the student loan debt, it never would have happened unless…

We Paid A Ton Of Money Towards Debt Every Month

This is the key and, while it seems obvious on the surface, it takes a lot of determination to make it happen. We paid a ton of money towards debt every month. In the beginning, minimum payments were over $700 a month and we still sent extra money in. During the rough times we only made the minimum payments, but during some of our best debt pay off months we paid off over $10,000 in one month.

We’ve come a long way over the last three years since my wife has graduated. Her student loan debt was a large part of that journey. We paid off over $80,000 in principal and countless thousands (probably $10,000+) in interest payments. We aren’t happy about the fact that we had to pay that debt off, but it served it’s purpose and my wife is an amazing Registered Nurse now. The student loan debt is now behind us and we can move on to bigger and better things in our lives and our finances.

You Can Pay Off Your Debt Too!

I didn’t write this post today to rub in the fact that we’re out of debt. I hope it inspired you in your debt journey. Paying off massive amounts of debt is 100% possible if you put your mind to it and make things happen. If we just sat back, defeated, made the minimum payments on my wife’s debt and made no extra income, we’d still have $700 in student loan debt payments today and every month for at least the next 7-17 years. I’m so glad that isn’t the case.

If you’re in debt and have no clue where to start in your debt pay off journey, then I’ve got a great solution for you. I’ve started a series on where to start when you don’t know how to pay off your debt. Check it out! I hope it helps you.

As always, if you have any questions that you think I can help you with, shoot me an email or fill out my contact me form.

Thank you all for your support throughout this journey.

Have you paid off a massive amount of debt or are you trying to pay off debt right now? I’d love to hear about your story in the comments below!

P.S. Since this article has gone live we have made great strides in our financial lives. Here are a few updates on what we have accomplished since paying off the debt.

Update 1: What We Accomplished After Paying Off $80,000 of Student Loan Debt (May 2014)

Update 2 : We Completely Funded Our Investment Emergency Fund (November 2014)

P.P.S. If you want weekly updates about what has been happening on Money Manifesto, be sure to sign up for our newsletter here.

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Congrats, on the milestone, Lance! Earning extra money was key for us on our journey out of credit card debt. Before we started our debt management program, I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I would take on extra work outside my career as a software engineer. But you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

  2. Congrats for being debt free Lance! You’ve made a very good plan, I totally agree with this that paying off massive amounts of debt is 100% possible if you put your mind to it and make things happen. By making a plan and try to make it happen would definitely lead you to have a good result.

  3. That is so awesome, Lance. I bet you don’t miss those payments at all =)

  4. Anne @ Unique Gifter says:

    Yay!! Congratulations! That is quite an accomplishment and it must feel so good to be done. I’m sure you’ll notice it next month when you have a ton of cash sitting around 🙂 I look forward to hearing about your next goals.

  5. Congrats on paying it off Lance! That’s a HUGE amount to pay off in such short of a time period. When I paid off my debt, earning extra income on the side was a vital part of knocking it out, not to mention having a plan for that money. Great work sir!

  6. Congratulations! Now you get to sit down and decide what to do with all the extra money you’ll have available. Or perhaps your wife can cut back on her hours somewhat. What a nice place to be in!

  7. Holy cow! That must feel amazing. Hopefully, I’ll be getting there soon enough. Congratulations!

  8. Huge congrats to you guys! I know exactly what you’re going through with my student debt. can’t wait to hear what yout next plans are!

  9. Wow that is really impressive. We are on the road to student loan payment as well. I hope in the next two years or less to be DONE!

  10. Awesome! It’s always inspiring to read of others’ debt-free journeys. We are in the middle of paying off about $130,000 in student loans. We are eager to pay them off ASAP, so we are living super frugally and putting everything else toward debt. For us, earning extra is what’s really going to make the difference, so we’re trying to get creative there!

  11. Sooo thrilled for you!!!!!! There’s no better story than two hard working people who managed their money well and knocked it out the park!!

  12. Congrats!! That is incredible. I am in a similar situation and hope to be writing a post like this in a few years. 81k in student loans! I’ve paid off 38k and have 43k to go. I’m hustling and trying to make my blog a side income. It’s so inspiring to read stories like this to keep going. You guys have done an amazing job, especially given some of the setbacks and life occurrences.

  13. This is amazing! What a journey, too! I am hoping that soon I will be in the same boat as you – having paid off massive amounts of debt. Congratulations and good luck with your future finances!

  14. That’s an amazing debt pay off story. I strongly believe extra income is really the only way to get ahead. You can only cut back so much, but anyone can make more money. We’re all good at something and putting that to work toward your bottom line is so important. I think paying off a huge debt in a short amount of time really makes you feel anything is possible. I’m sure the next few years will be exciting as well as you can really build wealth without the debt repayments.

  15. I just want to say congratulations. That’s quite a feat.

  16. I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog post! I am currently on the path to paying off student loan debt. Although I don’t have nearly as much as you did, I am finally in a position to pay $700 a month to get rid of them once and for all!

  17. One important part of your plan involves the fact that even before graduating, your wife (then girlfriend) knew she could factor in your income and your willingness to combine finances and debt responsibility with her. For those with no partner or no partner willing to pay their loans off for them, it doesn’t work quite that easily, especially if you’re in low-paying fields like teaching and nursing. But yeah- congrats to you guys!

    • Thanks Marc. We definitely didn’t combine our finances until we were married and unfortunately she didn’t realize that when she was taking out her loans. We just got lucky 🙂

  18. takebacktheland says:

    Great that you paid off your debt so quickly but most don’t have $10,000 in a month they can put towards it. I pay over the minimum ($400 is minimum I pay $700) for my credit card and I deferred my student loan because they want $800 a month; I can’t even afford to give them $100 a month if I wanted. Your story just makes me feel even more helpless. With a baby due in a week, it’s about to get a lot worse.

    • Sorry to hear things are tough for you right now. It definitely wasn’t easy, but it can be done. Even if it takes a longer amount of time, working to pay off the debt is something to strive for. Congrats and good luck with your new child! Hopefully once things settle down you can earn some more money to help pay off they debt faster.

  19. Congratulations! It actually inspires. You did it as two people how would you done it as one?

    • Thanks, Daniel. Glad we could inspire. If we were just one person it would have been a lot harder. I probably would have kept roommates to split bills, including rent and utilities with. I probably would be working overtime, a second job, or a major side hustle to earn extra money to accelerate the debt pay off. Luckily, if you’re single, you don’t have the same responsibilities a family would require, so you have more options to be aggressive. Hope that helps!

  20. I realize I’m a couple of years late to the party, but just wanted to say I LOVE THIS. Thanks for sharing! We are paying off 550K (you read that right) in student loan debt and blogging about it. Definitely helps to read success stories. Lots of brilliant ideas.

    • Never too late to read awesome stories, if I’m allowed to say that. Wow, $550k is a TON of student loan debt, but my guess is you’re going to have something amazing to show for it! Good luck with your payoff and let me know if you need someone to bounce ideas off of!

  21. Truly amazing story my friend! I managed to fall into debt when I went off to college. The burden I felt for the years after that was something out of a nightmare. Debt free is the only way to live.

  22. Hi Lance,

    A huge accomplishment for you and your wife – reading this post reminded me how important it is to have a TEAMMATE for a partner. In my first marriage there was no team work and it unravelled to the point of divorce and bankruptcy. With my second wife Betty we work as a team and that makes ALL the difference.

    The correlation between debt and a good or bad relationship always amazes me.

    I’ll be sure to tweet this one!


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