Photo Credit: Devon Horace
When Devon Horace graduated from St. Joseph’s College New York in 2015, he left with his degree of psychology — and more than $37,000 in student loans.
“I felt it was impossible for me to pay this much debt back,” said Horace. “When student loan repayment started, I felt like it happened so fast.”
Despite feeling overwhelmed by all his debt, Horace decided to aim for the impossible and pay off his debt as quickly as possible.
While the standard student loan repayment plan spans 10 years, Horace retired his debt in just 10 months. Here are the strategies he used to pay off his loans in record time:
Learning from the experts
After facing his mountain of debt, Horace knew he needed expert help. So he turned to podcasts, YouTube videos and debt-free online communities to learn from finance gurus and people who’d been in his shoes.
“I listen to a lot of podcasts and listen to a lot of interviews where millionaires express how important it is to get out of debt to accumulate wealth,” said Horace. “Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? So I listened and started to apply the methods that were presented to me.”
Some of his favorite experts and motivational speakers were Dave Ramsey, Mark Cuban, Les Brown and Eric Thomas.
“These were the voices that kept me motivated and focused on the big picture,” said Horace. “I also read a ton of books, but the one that affected me the most was ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’ by George S. Clason. It taught me the very basics that I share today to accumulate wealth.”
Taking inventory of his debts
The first lesson Horace learned was the importance of taking inventory of his debts so he could have a clear picture of exactly how much he owed and to whom.
“I wrote out all my student loans in a notebook,” said Horace. “I listed each loan amount from the largest dollar amount with the highest interest rate to smallest.”
According to Horace, getting this bird’s-eye view of his loans was an easy but crucial step in tackling his student debt.
“The most effective step was writing my loans down, taking inventory,” he said. “Once I wrote out the loans and actually wrapped my mind around the amount, I was able to start thinking of strategic approaches I can take to start paying this debt down.”
Celebrating small victories
Once Horace had his loans written down, he decided to tackle them one at a time. While still paying the minimum amount on all his debts, he made extra payments on one loan until the balance was completely paid down. Then, he’d move on to the next.
“I tackled my debt one loan at a time,” said Horace. “Once you pay off one debt, you become more motivated and determined to pay off the others.”
This approach is known as the debt snowball method, where you tackle the loans with the smallest balances first. You still keep up the minimum payments on all your loans, but you make extra payments to close out the targeted loan faster.
The debt avalanche method is another approach, which involves focusing on the loans with the highest interest rates first. While this method could save you more on interest overall, you might not get the satisfaction of closing out a loan as quickly. You may consider experimenting with both approaches to see which one is more effective and motivating for you.
Making extra income with side gigs
Wanting to pay off his debt ASAP, Horace searched for ways to increase his income. Along with working his full-time job at Nike, he found side gigs to make extra cash.
“[I was] freelancing, selling unwanted items on apps like Letgo, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace, [and] taking the garbage out for the elderly,” said Horace. “I was determined to pay off my debt, and I took on any gig I could find to make extra money.”
If you have time to drive for Lyft, freelance online or work another side hustle, you could use the extra money you earn to pay down your student loan balance.
Keeping expenses low
Along with increasing his income, Horace also tried to keep his spending down. He didn’t have a TV in his apartment, wore the same few outfits, and “ate pasta with tomato sauce for a year straight.”
“I cut my expenses down so much that I could pay all my bills on half of one paycheck,” said Horace. “I went extremely basic because I really wanted to get rid of my debts.”
It’s tempting to spend more once you start making a salary, but keeping living costs low could help you slash your student loan balance.
If you can keep living like a college student a few years longer, you could move up the timeline on your journey toward a debt-free life.
Finding support online
All this hard work and self-control wasn’t easy, so Horace looked for support along the way. His friends weren’t eager to talk about debt, so instead, he found fellow borrowers online.
“The ‘debt-free journey’ community on Instagram was a huge motivator for me,” said Horace. “Following like-minded people all over the world, facing the same issues, was like having a support system cheering you on and providing tips and tools they used themselves.”
He also started recording himself on Instagram and YouTube to show his progress. The feedback he got motivated him further, while also serving as an accountability system.
After building a presence on social media, Horace kept up his momentum by consulting others on paying off debt and improving their financial literacy.
“Hundreds of people ask me questions today on how I was able to pay it off, and it motivates me to know that I am helping solve a crisis in our community,” said Horace.
Don’t wait to pay off your loans
When asked for his advice to new graduates dealing with student loans, Horace encourages borrowers to think long-term.
“Find a coach, read books and come up with a plan to pay off your debt,” he advised. “It doesn’t have to be as fast as I did, nor do you have to sacrifice everything I did, but be willing to sacrifice something for the freedom and financial stability. Think bigger picture.”
For Horace, that big picture involved returning to school for an MBA in Leadership and Management and growing his business relations consulting agency, Horace Consulting. Plus, his debt payoff had another life-changing light at the end of the tunnel.
“When I paid it off, I celebrated by proposing to my now wife,” said Horace.
Whether you use Horace’s approach, or try other tactics for speedy repayment (such as refinancing to a lower interest rate or accessing LRAPs), know that keeping motivated — as Horace was — can help greatly in getting to the finish line.
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