Student loans: How to fight back! A collaboration with -Arrest Your Debt-

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Today I have a special guest joining us from one of my favorite personal finance blogs: Ryan from Arrest Your Debt! Thanks for joining me today, Ryan, as we try to brainstorm some ways to tackle the student loan monster.

**My (Johnzelle’s) words will be in black, the questions I ask in red, and Ryan’s responses in blue**

Student debt repayment feels like an unending uphill battle. I have had many twenty-something peers who choose to ignore the fact that they have outstanding student loan balances. I even had a supervisor once that deliberately didn’t pay her student loan payments. I’ve learned to look at interest as a penalty for using someone else’s money, which is why I’ve vowed to become debt-free and stay that way.

When I checked my student loan balance back in December, I realized that my loans are accruing ~$10 in interest each day! The income-driven minimum payments don’t even cover the amount of interest that accrues monthly. If I only made the minimum payment for the next 28 years until I age out of the loans and they’re “forgiven” (Read: I get to pay income tax on the remaining balance), I’d end up paying for my education twice!

Before we dig in, let’s think of some of the reasons that striving to be debt free is so important. Ryan, care to list out some of those benefits?

Thank you for this opportunity Johnzelle, and yes I would absolutely like to share the benefits of being debt free!  Before I became debt free, I constantly stressed about money.  Credit card bills never seemed to go away and these statements were guaranteed to show up every month. The only reliable thing in my life was the fact that I was going to have a car payment, credit card bills and a house payment due every month.  If I lost my job, those bills would still be there.  That looming debt haunted me.

I am now debt free because I convinced myself it is possible to actually be debt free!  Living with debt should not be normal – even though it is accepted as a social norm.  The freedom that comes with knowing I don’t have bills hanging over my head is priceless. With this new found peace, I am doing everything I can to share this peace with others and to help them change their “normal.”  Some of the best reasons to be debt free:

  • Little to no financial stress
  • More time with family and friends – not working side hustles to cover bills
  • Able to invest for retirement so you can actually stop working someday
  • Go on more vacations
  • More opportunities to give to charity/volunteer
  • Change your family tree to teach your children that debt is not normal
  • Grow wealth and give back/pay for children’s, grand children’s college – with cash!

Great reasons to ditch the debt, Ryan!

Since I’m married, my wife and I are trying to get as close to living on one income as possible. We’ve cut out the extras such as paid music subscriptions, Hulu, and home internet. Sure it’s a bit of an inconvenience; however, cable is included with our rent and we have internet access at our apartment’s clubhouse.

Ryan, what are some cost-cutting ideas you’d like to share with our readers?

I am all about cutting costs within reason.  I personally do not subscribe to spending hours a day couponing or making my own soap but I certainly don’t judge people who do. Some people go to the extreme and refuse to spend money.  I take the approach that I could die tomorrow, so I still want to enjoy today. With that being said, I am still very frugal.  I spend my money only on things that add value to my life.  I do a monthly budget to ensure I’m not wasting my money.

Areas I personally have cut back and found huge savings include:

  • Cutting cable – I saved over $70 a month by cutting out cable, and I don’t miss it one bit!
  • Get rid of the car payment. Many families spend $700- $1,000 a month on vehicle payments.  I love nice vehicles and used to spend money customizing them.  I am out of that phase and no longer value material things such as this.  I now drive a 2007 Nissan Sentra with 186k miles. It’s a beater, but it gets me from A to B and saves me a ton of money!
  • Click List! For us, our biggest issues have been with our grocery budget. By far, our grocery budget is the hardest thing to stick to because my family loves food. To control our overspending, we use Fry’s Click List.  This is similar to the Walmart Curbside Pickup and other online ordering.  We shop from home and put our order in online. From there we can see exactly what we are spending on groceries rather than walking around the store with a calculator.  Even with the $5 fee, we save money from last-minute purchases when we are hungry.
  • Hand me downs – My kids rarely get “new” clothes. I have a 10, 9, and 5 year old and the prices of new kids clothes are ridiculous!  Not to mention that they are growing so fast, they can only wear the same clothes for a couple of months.  My younger son gets all his older brother’s clothes and my daughter usually gets clothes from our friends who have an older girl.  I’ll let other people buy the name brand clothes, and then let my kids wear them as hand me downs 😉 (P.S. my kids don’t look like they’re homeless either).

In addition to cost-cutting efforts, I also have found that careful budgeting has been the key to attacking debt. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I also have learned that contentment and gratitude are essential for living not just within your means but below your means. Learn to enjoy what you have and use it to its fullest potential.

Ryan, can you put one of your best budgeting posts in the additional resources section at the end of the post?

Sure thing! I added two. One about budgeting and one about eliminating debt.

There are different approaches to getting out of debt. Initially, I tried Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method. While I made some impressive progress with the initial momentum, I was actually wasting money by not tackling the high-interest items first (i.e., $140,000+ in student loan debt). Ryan’s post about the debt avalanche method inspired me to pay down debt differently by focusing on the highest interest debt first.

Ryan, go ahead and throw the link to that article in the resources as well.

Now that all my extra resources are being devoted to paying off my student loans, I am finally getting to where I’m chipping away at the principal balance. Most other forms of debt (car loans, personal loans, credit cards) will allow you to make “principal only” payments. Principal only payments are a great method for getting out of debt fast because it reduces what the lender can charge you interest on. Unfortunately, federal law requires student loans to have interest paid first before you can get at the principal balance. For someone attempting to get out of debt quickly, this fact is a bit discouraging. I have paid the interest on my smaller loan but have over $8k in interest on my other loan before I can get at the principal…

Ryan, what do you suggest for people dealing with a ton of student loan debt? Any tips, tricks, strategies?

First and foremost, you need to realize that you actually can get out of debt. Those student loans may look extremely intimidating but it possible to pay them off.  As a financial coach, the hardest part to pay off debt is to change the mentality of the person in debt.  So many of us have succumbed to the idea that we will always have student loan debt.  This is a lie we continue to tell ourselves!

Once you believe in the possibility of being debt free, you need a budget – plain and simple.  From that point on, after you have a budget and emergency savings, you need to start attacking that debt with everything you have.  You will be amazed how quickly your debt goes down when you become intentional about paying it off.  One word of advice is to make sure all your extra payments go towards principle rather than towards the interest.  As Johnzelle mentioned, this depends on the structure of your loan.

Also, depending on your interest rate and loan agreements, it may make sense to refinance depending on your goals and time horizons.

I agree, Ryan! It’s all starts with your attitude about debt. Other than budgeting and working, I’ve found some other ways to pinch pennies, which then gives me more to put towards debt. I use cashback/ rebate apps (link in resources section) and then use those points/cashback to purchase luxuries such as movie tickets (at the discount showing, of course). Through practicing minimalism, I’ve also found that selling things that I no longer need to be a great way to put more towards my debt-free goals. Working a part-time side hustle is another great way to increase your income and therefore contribute more to debt repayment.

Ryan, I understand that through your job working in law enforcement, you had a unique opportunity to avoid student loan debt. Tell us about that.

Thanks for bringing this up Johnzelle.  I actually never incurred student loan debt and I am extremely lucky for this.  When I graduated from high school, I enrolled in a community college and got all my prerequisites out of the way.  This saved me a ton of money rather than enrolling in a university from the start. I was able to cash flow the community college classes and obtained my Associates Degree.  After this, I scouted out job opportunities and applied for my current department.  One of the benefits of my department is they have an education benefit.  When I joined the police department, I received $6,500 a year towards school reimbursement.  I staggered my classes out so I did not take more than could be reimbursed.  I was fortunate enough to get my Bachelors and Masters degree paid for through this system.

You are correct that there is also student loan forgiveness available to some of us in public service, to include teachers.  These are the requirements for the federal public service loan forgiveness requirements:

  1. Available to borrowers who are employed full time in an eligible federal, state, or local public service job or 501c3 who make 120 eligible on-time payments.
  2. Must complete the employment certification form
  3. Enroll in an income-driven federal student loan repayment plan
  4. Consolidate federal student loans because only direct student loans qualify for public service loan forgiveness

With all these requirements, according to Forbes, 99% of student loan forgiveness program applicants are rejected for various reasons. I included a link to this article in the resources. 

Due to the uncertainties of the student loan forgiveness program and the unknown (i.e., if the program will even be around in 10 years), I would personally not rely on the program and try to pay the loans off as soon as possible.  If you waited for 10 years and the loan didn’t meet certain criteria or the program was no longer around, you would have accrued an insane amount of interest in those 10 years.  It just isn’t worth it to wait in my opinion.

I’m definitely envious that you were able to get your degrees on the job, Ryan! Readers, if you have the chance to get loan forgiveness in your line of work, I’d say to go for it. In my profession of mental health, the only way to get public service loan forgiveness is to work as a clinician in community service boards, nonprofits, or in rural/underserved areas. I have a dream to work in private practice (currently setting up my business now), so taking one of the qualifying jobs didn’t align with my career goals. With that being said, I highly encourage people to look into loan forgiveness opportunities; but like Ryan said, you’re taking a risk putting all your faith into something that might not be there in the future. Pay off as much as you can now.

Ryan, thanks again so much for joining me today. Is there anything else you’d like to leave our readers with?

Refuse to believe that living in debt is normal.  It’s not and it adds so much unneeded stress to our lives. Our personal finances are the one thing we can actually take control of in our life. Use this process to get out of debt:

  1. Build A Budget
  2. Save $1,500 – $2,000 for emergencies
  3. Attack Your Debt
  4. Save Up 6 Months Of Living Expenses in Cash
  5. Put 18% Of Your Income Towards Retirement
  6. Save/Invest For Future Specific Plans (i.e. kids college)
  7. Pay Off Your Mortgage
  8. Invest For Further Success!

Thanks for reading!

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Other resources:

You can find Ryan on the following platforms:


Each post features a music video that is usually random and seldom relates to the aforementioned topic. I love music and share it as a form of expression. Enjoy!

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