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Lately, we've been noticing a new trend in student-debt journalism, a turn towards articles touting how one enterprising post-grad paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans in just a year or so. If they can do it, the logic goes, anyone can. That's a pleasing claim for law students with loans, most of whom graduate with over $140,000 in debt.
So, how do these quick loan repayers do it? Here's the secret: these loan payment strategies probably aren't going to work for you, or anyone else.
Strategy One: Get Rich
Let's start with a relatively small loan burden -- small from a J.D.'s perspective, that is. Our first success story is of "Julie," (one name, like Prince) who paid off $89,000 in loans in less than two years. Julie started with $25,000 in debt from her undergrad, then doubled it by buying a new car. Then she got herself a husband and his $36,000 in debt became hers too.
But Julie didn't let the debt slow her down. Instead, she used the "snowball method," paying off smaller debts first and working her way up to the bigger loans. She also tightened her belt by skipping a bachelorette party and a trip home for Christmas, making sure she could devote more money to loan repayment.
Oh, and she got a tech job paying $200,000 a year.
After just 18 months, Julie was finally able to live debt free. All it took was some strategizing, some saving, and an income that puts her among the nation's highest earners.
Strategy Two: Get a Lot of Free Help
For those who can't find a $200,000 gig, there are still alternatives. Take the case of Ebony Horton, who paid off $220,000 dollars in three years. Horton racked up $132,000 in student loans while she earned an undergraduate degree and an MBA. After her studies ended, was earning just $38,000 working an entry-level position in Washington, D.C., and her loans were in forbearance. After two years, they'd ballooned to well over $200k.
Horton didn't give up. She started studying Suze Orman, left expensive DC, and began to tackle her debt -- all while still earning about $40,000 a year.
How'd she do it?
With some significant help from others. When Horton left D.C., she moved back to her hometown of Joliet, Illinois. Horton's mom gave her a job at her nonprofit and followed it up with a condo as a wedding gift. Horton and her husband lived with her grandparents while they rented out the condo. They started buying up other properties and renting them out as well.
With Horton's small nonprofit salary, her husband's contributions, and a steady stream of rental income, the two were able to handover nearly $10,000 a month to Horton's loans.
"If I can do it, anybody can," Horton says.
How to Actually Pay Off Your Loans
Alright, these stories are entirely ridiculous. BigLaw associates may find themselves in a situation such as Julie's, earning big bucks which they can devote to their loans. That sliver of the legal world is set. And some low-paid lawyers may find help like Horton's: family that's willing to pony up, or a spouse that can contribute to payments. Pursuing a low-cost lifestyle in the Midwest isn't a bad idea either.
But if you're drowning in debt and the free condo or six-figure salary has yet to appear, you might want to look into income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness. Income-based repayment and pay as you earn plans cap your monthly payments to 15-10 percent of your discretionary income. If you haven't paid off your loans after 20-25 years, your remaining balance will be forgiven.
For many, such plans are a slightly more realistic approach to escaping massive student loan debt.