5 People Who Paid Off Their Student Loans Really, Really Fast: How They Did It

Jen Williamson Updated on October 12, 2018

Think you’ll be carrying the student loan monkey on your back forever? Maybe—but it’s not inevitable. Here are stories of five people who went to extreme measures to pay off huge student loan debt in lightning-fast time.


The high-powered attorney who lived with her parents

Amount of debt: $180,000

How long it took to pay back: Eight years

Nicole Medham graduated law school in 2010 with a staggering $180,000 in student debt. At first, she landed a public interest job with a low salary—and lived with her parents out of necessity. But when she switched to a higher-paying job with a law firm a few years later, she kept on living with her parents. 

“I always tell my friends, if you can live at home, if you don’ have a bad family situation, do that,” Medham said in a recent Time article. She saved a bundle on rent while living with her parents, and put most of her savings toward her loans. 

She also allocated a considerable amount toward savings. Enough so that, when she went through a period of unemployment a few years later, she had enough to keep making minimum payments on her loans. That kept her out of a costly forbearance.

She used the Avalanche Method, targeting her highest-interest loan most aggressively. One of her loans had an 8.5% interest rate, and she paid that one off first—then targeted the next-most expensive.

The takeaway: “Even if it’s $50 or $100 extra you’re putting toward your debt each month, it makes a huge difference.”

The recruiter who hustled and saved

Amount of debt: $22,000

How long it took to pay back: Six months

In 2013, Elysse Curry graduated with a business degree and $70,000 in debt. Her father paid off $40,000, leaving her with $30,000. She landed a job with a recruiting company, where she cold-called candidates all day on a $40,000 salary, plus commissions. The baseline salary was enough to keep her afloat—so it was easy to coast.

But three years into that job, Curry had only paid back $8,000 in debt—and she knew something had to change. She felt trapped by her debt and low salary, and far from her dream of traveling the world. She decided the debt had to go—and she’d do whatever she had to in order to make that happen. 

Her plan was threefold:

  1. Get serious about earning commissions.
  2. Find a side hustle.
  3. Change her life to free up as much income as possible.

She immediately cut her extraneous expenses: dinners out, weekend trips, and manicures. She also threw herself into her work—and started seeing results. But it wasn’t enough, so she moonlighted as a liquor promoter.

To cut costs, Curry took on several roommates, imposed a stringent budget, and reduced her 401(k) contribution. Between this, the side-hustle, and her success at work, she was saving and earning enough to put a whopping $3,666 per month toward her student loans.

The takeaway: “Discipline is much more valuable than motivation. I was motivated to pay off my debt, but disciplined behavior was the driver that enabled me to do so in a six-month period.”

See also: 3 Novel Ways to Start a Side Hustle

Imagine Life Without a Student Loan Payment... Start Saving Now!

The grad student who lived in his van

Amount of debt: $32,000

How long it took to pay back: Approx. 3 years

Ken Ilgunas graduated in 2006 with degrees in history and English, and $32,000 in debt. The plan was to find work as a journalist, but he applied to 25 newspapers—and didn’t get a single interview.  Eventually he decided to go back to school for a graduate degree—but this time, he refused to go into debt.

Ilgunas bought an Econoline van from Craigslist, and moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University. For two and a half years, he lived and cooked in his van while attending graduate school, paying off his existing debt and staying debt-free.

The takeaway: “It was a practical measure, for sure, but it was also an adventure.”

The graduate who worked full-time while in school

Amount of debt: $60,000

Time it took to pay back: Two years

Eric Rosenberg graduated Colorado University with a finance degree and very little in debt, thanks to a Boy Scout scholarship. He applied to grad school soon after—and this time he didn’t have a scholarship. 

Rosenberg’s tuition cost about $90,000 in total. He worked full-time while attending school full-time, working himself to exhaustion to pay as much as possible while he was in school. He kept his costs low, spending as little as possible. Even so, he graduated with four student loans totaling $60,000 in debt.

Once he graduated, he tackled the rest of his student loans using the Snowball Method. This involves aggressively paying off the smallest loan first—and then targeting your next-biggest loan.

While he was doing that, he kept living like a college student. No eating out, relying on public transport, and relying on a Netflix subscription for most of his entertainment.

The takeaway: “I am not special, I just [kept] focused, saved where I could, worked really hard, and made paying off my debt a priority. You can do it too.”

The guy who refinanced his loansthree times

 Amount of Debt: $87,000

Time it took to pay back: 2.5 years

Kevin, the finance blogger behind FinancialPanther.com, graduated from law school in 2013. He had eight different loans, with interest rates ranging from 6.8% to 7.9%.

When his six-month grace period expired, he made two $750 payments toward his loans. One didn’t even touch the principal—it went entirely toward interest. The other, to a different loan, paid off only $41.35 in principal—the rest of the $750 went to interest. 

Not to mention, when his student loan interest capitalized after the grace period, it tacked thousands more onto his debt. Clearly Kevin had an interest problem.

He refinanced his loans with SoFi, reducing his rates from 6.8-7.9% to 4.3%. This was a vast improvement, but he didn’t stop there. Just two months later, he refinanced again—this time with CommonBond. The rate he scored this time around was 1.93%. He also refinanced $5,000 in student loans with a third company. 

Kevin was fortunate enough to land a law firm position with a good salary, and that helped him make a serious dent in his loans fairly quickly. But the refinancing saved him tens of thousands over the life of his loans—and helped him pay them back even quicker.

The takeaway: “There’s no secret to paying off student loans beyond spend less than you earn, and use the rest to pay off your loans.”

See how much you could save by refinancing.  

Looking To Conquer Your Student Loan Debt?

Yes! Send Me The Savings Blueprint

About the Author
Jen Williamson

Jen Williamson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She has written for a variety of industries, including software, education, business, and personal finance. Prior to that, she worked at an adult literacy nonprofit in Philadelphia, where she coached nontraditional students in passing the GED test and applying for college. When she isn’t writing or reading—which is rare—she can usually be found planning her next travel adventure, training for a marathon, or sneaking in somewhere she’s not supposed to be. Read more by Jen Williamson

Save Today With These Leading Lenders

#1 - Comet Recommended View More Details

Works with 275+ not-for-profit community lenders for higher approval chances

  • APR: 2.67% - 8.92%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Refinance up to $300K
View More Details
Visit LendKey View Loan Disclosure

LendKey operates student loan programs for over 275 not-for-profit and community lenders across the country. By partnering with these lenders, LendKey is able to give consumers direct access to the best rates available from the most borrower friendly institutions. As the servicer of all loans obtained through its platform, you can rest easy knowing your personal information will be safe and that the best customer service team will be ready to answer your questions from application until your final payment.

LendKey Student Loan Refinance review

  • Lightning fast rate check - 2-minute rate check with no impact on your credit score
  • More lenders, more options - see the best offers from over 275 not-for-profit and community lenders for higher approval chances
  • Life of loan relationship - With LendKey, your personal information will never be sent or passed on to third parties. Their customer service team is with you from the moment you land on their website until you've completely repaid your loan.
  • Unmatched benefits- Community lenders put people over profits and offer unique benefits like cosigner release after 12 on-time payments, interest only repayment options to keep monthly payments low, the largest unemployment protection period in the market, and more.

Get a personalized quote from LendKey now.

#2 View More Details

Offers unemployment protection and career/coaching/networking

  • APR: 2.560% - 8.024%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • Refinance up to 100% of student debt
View More Details
Visit SoFi View Loan Disclosure

SoFi, which stands for “Social Finance,” was created by a group of Stanford business students who found themselves with a mountain of debt after graduation. They set out to change the student loan industry and help borrowers like themselves to get lower interest rates. SoFi has some of the lowest interest rates and, unlike the other lenders we reviewed, it has no maximum amount you can finance. However, Nevada residents can’t currently refinance with SoFi. Minimum loan balances are higher in Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania due to state laws. Additional state restrictions may apply.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Review

  • Low interest rates - For well-qualified borrowers, SoFi offers some of the lowest rates we have found.
  • Strong customer service - It has more than 350 customer service reps available to help applicants through process.
  • Career coaching and networking - Perks include career services representatives who can help you find a job or negotiate a higher salary. SoFi also hosts networking events, happy hours and educational lectures on topics like buying a home in major cities around the country.
  • Unemployment protection - Borrowers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own may apply for Unemployment Protection. If approved, SoFi will suspend their monthly SoFi loan payments and provide job placement assistance during the forbearance period. These benefits are offered in three month increments, and are capped at 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. Note that interest will still accrue while loans are in forbearance.

Find out what interest rate SoFi can offer you here.

#3 View More Details

For every loan they fund, they contribute to the education of a child in need

  • APR: 2.48% - 6.25%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Refinance up to $500K
View More Details
Visit CommonBond View Loan Disclosure

CommonBond was founded in 2011 by three MBA graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who wanted to help their peers escape from high-interest student loan debt. Its original focus was on grad students, but it has since expanded to cover undergrads as well.

Of all the companies we reviewed, CommonBond has some of the best customer service. The company prides itself on being easy to reach by email, phone, or live chat. It offers networking events, expert panels, insider newsletters, and even has a program help borrowers who lose their jobs to find new ones. CommonBond also makes you feel good about choosing to refinance with them by donating money to an education nonprofit for each loan they write.

CommonBond Student Loan Refinance review

  • Unemployment protections - If you lose your job or decide to go back to school, you can delay your payments for up to 24 months.
  • Social promise - For every loan they fund, they also contribute to the education of a child in need.
  • Hybrid loan option - Offerings include a 10-year hybrid loan with fixed interest for the first five years, and variable interest for the final five.
  • Referral bonus - For every friend you refer who refinances their loans with CommonBond, you’ll earn a $200 cash bonus.
  • Qualification - Borrowers must have graduated at least 2 years prior if they want to apply without a co-signer. And borrowers in 6 states – Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, and Vermont – cannot currently refinance through CommonBond.

Get a personalized review of your refinancing options with CommonBond today.

#4 View More Details

Earnest empowers people with the financial captial they need to live better lives.

  • APR: 2.55% - 7.89%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • Refinance up to $500K
View More Details
Visit Earnest View Loan Disclosure

Using technology, data, and design to build affordable products, Earnest's lending products are built for a new generation seeking to reach life's milestones. The company understands every applicant's unique financial story to offer the lowest possible rates and radically flexible loan options for living life.

  • Commitment-free 2 minute rate check
  • Client Happiness can be reached via in app messaging, email, and phone 
  • No fees for origination, prepayment, or loan disbursement
  • Flexible terms let you pick your exact monthly payment or switch between fixed and variable rates
  • Skip a payment and make it up later
  • Online dashboard is designed to make it easy to apply for and manage your loan

Click here to apply with Earnest and to see how much you can save.

#5 View More Details

Operates in all 50 states; 2nd largest student loan refinancing lender

  • APR: 3.23% - 7.02%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • No refinancing amount maximum
View More Details
Visit Laurel Road View Loan Disclosure

Laurel Road is a national online lender with customers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Many of our non-bank competitors are not able to lend in all 50 states.Laurel Road has grown to be the second largest player in the student loan refinancing space in large part because of our reputation as the go-to low rate provider.

Laurel Road Student Loan Refinance Review

  • National reach - Online lender that is available in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
  • No fees & the lowest rates in the space - Laurel Road is the most transparent about the rates they provide customers, and offer the lowest rates where it counts. Our customers will save more than $20,000 over the life of their loans on average. 
  • Customer service reputation - Laurel Road's customer service representatives are no rookies. With 19 years of experience on average, Laurel Road’s Customer Service team delivers an experience that is best in the industry. They work to build meaningful, life-long relationships with our valued customers to improve their overall financial wellness.
  • The stability & security of a bank - They are a division of Darien Rowayton Bank, a stable and secure FDIC-insured bank, regulated by the FDIC and the Connecticut Department of Banking.

Get your personalized, pre-approved rates in less than 5 minutes.

#6 View More Details

Special offers for medical resident and fellow refinance products

  • APR: 3.10% - 7.84%
  • Minimum credit score: 670 w/cosigner
  • Refinance up to $350K
View More Details
Visit Splash View Loan Disclosure

Splash Financial is a leader in student loan refinancing with new rates as low as 3.25% fixed APR which can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loans. No application or origination fees and no prepayment penalties. Splash Financial is in all 50 states and is intensely focused on customer service. Splash Financial is also one of the few companies that offers a great medical resident and fellow refinance product. You can check your rate with Splash in just minutes.

  • Low interest rates – especially for graduate students
  • No application or origination fees. No prepayment penalties.
  • Co-signer release program - you can apply for a cosigner release form your loan after 12 months of on-time payments
  • Specialty product for doctors in training with low monthly payment

Click here to see more of Splash's offerings and to see how you can save money.

Save on Your Student Loans
Article Topics

Looking To Conquer Your Student Loan Debt?

Yes! Send Me The Savings Blueprint

More Articles in Refinance
The Best Companies To Refinance Your Student Loans Save Money Now
Additional Resources

"I reduced my student loan payment by $152 per month, by refinancing thru Comet"

Save Money Now