Debt is a fact of life for many women in America — including me. I am a 28-year-old millennial who lives in a New York City suburb with my husband. Over the past three years, we watched a lot of money fly out of our pockets. We got married, bought a house, and completed six-figures' worth of home renovation projects — all while I had student loan debt hanging over my head.
According to Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans, a report by the American Association of University Women, “women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States.” The report points out that more women are enrolled in higher education than men and that women take out larger sums of student loans. And, as a result of the gender pay gap, it takes women more time to pay back these loans. Hence, student debt is a women’s issue.
The good news is you can and will pay off your student loans. I am the prime example. I had $19,000 in student debt when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. Three years later, I took an additional $8,000 loan to aid paying for my master’s degree. I paid off these loans in six years. Here are the four basic principles I followed:
1. Begin Payments Right Away
My loans had a six-month grace period, which means I didn’t have to begin paying them until six months after graduation. To be candid, I decided to “live a little” during those months, buying new clothes for my first “real world” job and socializing with friends. Nonetheless, I started making payments as soon as they were due, and I made sure never to miss a payment.
2. Be Honest With Yourself
When you’re paying off debt, you have to make sacrifices and live a frugal lifestyle. There were several months I couldn’t leisurely spend money. I had to strategize with my husband on how much I could contribute to our bills and savings. I took a modest approach to gift giving on birthdays and holidays. Setting expectations helped me avoid stress and guilt trips.
3. Contribute More Than the Minimum
At first I only paid the minimum amount due each month. While I was living rent-free at my parents’ house (another sacrifice), I realized the opportunity I had to increase my payments. Depending on the month, I paid anywhere from $220 to $1,000. The more you pay, the faster you’ll pay back the loans.
4. Only Pay What You Can Afford
When I opened my first credit card account at age 18, my father taught me only to buy what I could afford at the time the bill is due. This is why I never used a credit card to make a loan payment. A student loan is good debt, while a credit card is bad debt. I was more comfortable making payments with money I had than risking credit card debt. By taking this approach, I paid down one form of debt without developing another.
Kristen Farrell is a professional communicator who previously worked in human resources. She shares career lessons and everyday experiences on her blog: kristen-farrell.com. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running, crafting, or spending time with her husband, Jonathan and cat, Trotsky.