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How to Pay Off $86,554 of Student Loans in Two Years: A True Story

how to pay off student loans in two yearsKatie recently emailed me about her amazing debt repayment story. In two years, she and her husband paid off over $86,500 in student loans! I was so impressed by these numbers, I asked if she would write me a detailed story about her experience. She obliged and sent the detailed account below. So here you have it — How to Pay Off Student Loans in Two Years…a True Story!

How to Pay Off Student Loans in Two Years

During our time in college at Ohio University, my husband (Aaron) and I both wrestled with what we wanted to do with our lives. I wanted to make as much money as possible, so I chose to pursue a business degree.

To our surprise, our lives changed quite a bit during college. By the time our senior year rolled around, we both decided on a vocation that neither of us thought we’d be interested in. We wanted to be full-time missionaries and work with a non-profit Christian missions organization. However, our excitement of finally figuring out how we
wanted to spend our lives after college quickly faded when we realized there was no way we could do this with the massive amount of student debt awaiting us as soon as we received our diplomas.

The Plan to Become Missionaries

Our salaries as missionaries would be provided through fund-raising and donations, and there was no way we could raise the financial support for our cost of living and our high student debt minimum payments.

  • Aaron had about $60,000, and
  • I had about $26,500.
  • Grand total: $86,500 and counting (adding about $225 each month due to interest).

For a college student, it’s a hard thing to finally decide your career and then be told to wait. People as a whole are not very patient, especially college students! We expect that the moment we graduate we’ll get our dream job, and we can’t imagine waiting. The idea that we needed to spend a few YEARS in other jobs paying our debt seemed
like eternity, but there was no other choice.

Taking Action

I got a job at a large financial institution in Columbus doing IT work, and Aaron got a job as an admissions counselor at a small university. We were still just dating right after graduation, and in our first few months, we weren’t able to pay anything to our debt. I previously had AWFUL spending habits and squandered the money I had
made from jobs and internships during school by shopping. I graduated broke, but with a great wardrobe! Aaron on the other hand, he was the saver. He was wise about not spending on things he didn’t absolutely need, which was foreign to me.

We anticipated that we’d need to work these jobs for about 4 years in order to pay off our debt. We starting paying towards our loans in September 2009. Once we got married in December and merged our finances and lived in one apartment, it became easier to figure out a set budget.

Meticulous Planning

While Aaron is the saver, I like math and spreadsheets. I love them a lot. I made a giant spreadsheet detailing how much each loan was gaining in interest each month, I calculated our budget to the penny, and made a debt payment schedule.

Our motivation to get to spend our days doing the work that we felt we’d been called to really spurred us on to pay off our debt as soon as possible. Due to this motivation (and my lack of love for my job), my spending habits made a complete 180. I re-evaluated the things I thought I “had to have” and looked at what I needed. Aaron was really helpful, kind, and patient in helping me learn this.

We established a budget that allowed us to live minimally, still give to our church and missionaries, and put every extra penny to our student loans. We were putting all of my salary and part of Aaron’s toward our debt and then living on the rest. Any extra money that came along went to our debt too: monetary gifts from family, wedding money, work bonuses, tax returns. You name it, as soon as we got it, it went to our debt…we didn’t even act like it was ours.

The Results

It was exciting to look at our debt payment spreadsheet and see the payoff date move closer and see the bar on the bar graph raise as we wiggled our budget around to put more money towards our debt. I personally chose to put money towards the loans that were gaining the most interest monthly; that’s what worked for us. We also used, which really helped me track my spending habits that were previously so out of control.

We paid off our debt on October 8th, 2011 ($86,554.85 to be exact), and we joined staff with the missions organization we desire to work with. We’re now in the process of transitioning out of our business jobs and fund-raising financial support to start work as full-time missionaries. It’s unreal that we’re debt free! It seemed so impossible at first, and we’re both so thankful to God for providing even quicker than we thought possible.

Key things that helped us get out of debt

Want to know the keys for how to pay off student loans in two years? Here’s what really helped us!

1) God

He gets all the credit. He enabled us to have the jobs we did and figure out how to be disciplined to tackle our debt.

2) Cheap apartment

We found the cheapest apartment possible in a safe area at $460/month.

3) Don’t get stuff you don’t need

Maybe this is a silly one, but it was big for us. There are things we want right after college, that we think will make us feel more grown up or like we’ve ‘arrived’ – new

4) Cutting expenses

We cut things we didn’t need. I think smartphones are the coolest things in the world, but I used a dumb phone for the past 2 years instead of getting a smartphone. Also, we cut tv out – dvr was around $100 a month. I could have have my tv shows…or be paying our student debt longer. Also, I stopped shopping for fun. We each budgeted $25 a month for each of us to spend how we like. I had to plan when I wanted to buy something. (ps – the week after we paid off our loans, I bought a smartphone).

5) Set a goal

We had a very tangible goal and had an end date in sight. This helped motivate us and keep us focused.

6) Giving

For our faith, giving is an important part. Most likely, in the future, we’ll never be making the kind of money we were the past few years. We wanted to be good stewards with the money we’d been given and use it for others as well. It’s funny that normal human understanding would lead one to think that giving to others is not a good thing to pay off your debt. But God’s understanding says trust Me and still give, and watch how I provide even still.

7) A team of people rooting for you!

We had a team of close friends who cheered us on and frequently asked us how it was going and how much we’d paid. It was encouraging to celebrate with others.

8) Every little bit counts

When we got extra money, even $50, we’d put it to our debt. We could see it move up that pay-off date even sooner…so we loved getting to put in extra money.

How to Pay Off Student Loans in Two Years…You Can Do It Too!

All in all, it was a tough to put our desires on hold for a few years, but now we get to move forward with what we want to do debt-free. We’re both so thankful for the experience – we grew up financially. Originally we planned on living on this budget just temporarily…but now, we don’t feel like we go “without” at all. We’re used to it and
will continue to live the same way and try to be as wise as possible with any extra money.

Wondering how to pay off student loans in two years? It’s absolutely possible. Just get started!!

Get Out of Debt Money

AUTHOR Derek Sall

Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.


  1. Congratulations on paying off such a big debt. Heard a wonderful story from some missionaries last night about living in the jungle in Burma and interacting with the indigenous people. Inspiring.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for highlight the importance of sharing what we’re given!! I graduated this year with my fair share of student loans. It’s so scary to return even just that 10% back to the Lord, but I know my needs will be met as long as I treat the rest of the income with self-control and wisdom! Congratulations!

    • I’m glad it was encouraging Hilary! It is so neat to watch what God can do when we trust Him with how He leads us in our finances.

  3. Wow, that’s an amazing story — good for you! Hope you enjoy your new career as much as you anticipate.

  4. Congratulations! What an inspiring story. It just goes to show if you put your mind to it and become determined, it is possible.

  5. Congrats! Nice work! That must feel like a huge accomplishment! It’s amazing how well you can do when you start to realize the things that you don’t need.

  6. Wow what an inspiring story. I think it is even more amazing that you and your husband found each other and that you both decided a completely different path then when you started.

    How did that happen?

    • Hi Evan- thanks for your response! Our lives did change a lot while we were in college. Honestly, if you would like me to share, it is mostly to do with our faith.
      Aaron came into college not sure about what he wanted to study; he tried a lot of majors! He also got involved in a college Christian ministry on campus. During this time, God really gave him a desire to spend his time investing in people in an eternal way. As for me, I came into college struggling with an addiction to alcohol and an eating disorder; I’d gone through different types of treatment but couldn’t kick it. However, I started to become more interested in the person of Jesus, and learning more about the truths and promises of God dramatically changed how I saw others and myself…and in turn the addictions I was struggling with. God brought healing to those struggles, and I was so surprised that He was powerful enough to heal those things, that I was willing to do anything with my future. I knew that I wanted to spend my time telling others about the hope I had experienced. Hopefully that helps explain the dramatic change of plans for us during college.
      Aaron and I had been friends through most of college and started dating a few months before graduation. We’ll be working with college students as missionaries in the US for the first year or two, then plan on moving overseas long-term.

  7. So inspiring to see you doing what it takes to get rid of the debt faster so you can pursue your calling in the missionary field. Congrats!

    • Thank you very much Matt!

  8. You two deserve to be very proud of yourselves. You did in just a couple short years what many spend a lifetime failing to do.

  9. Congratulation! Great job paying off that debt.

  10. Holy awesome story, Batman! I love the “dumb phone” idea. There are days I’d love to see my “smart” phone at the bottom of a lake. Your story nudged it one step closer to the water.

  11. I employ a lot of your cost cutting expenses already as I’m IN school to avoid going in to deeper loan debt- I can attest, they work! I know when I graduate tactics like this will help me pay off my loans faster and get my moving forward.

    I have a smart phone myself- but I also spend $320 a month on rent and use the phone for both work and play so I think it’s worth it for me. What I don’t spend money on though is entertainment (I use a library!) and a car (got rid of it to save cash for a bit).

    Congrats on the amazing progress!

    • Shannyn that’s great that you are starting while you’re in school; I wished that I had done that many times after graduation. Way to cut down on costs with good rent, no car, and the library!

  12. Great job paying off the debt! Isn’t it amazing how much you can save if you don’t bog yourself down with expensive housing

  13. It is incredible what an impact cheap housing can make! When Aaron moved into the apartment before we were married, I thought to myself, ‘I really don’t think I’ll live here.’ I wanted our first apartment to be how I pictured it to be. However, I adjusted my expectations and grew to love the apartment we’re in!

  14. Wow, that’s really impressive. Even switching to a less lucrative path you still did everything perfectly.

    The fact you were so successful so quickly portends well for your missionary work – the attention to detail can only help. Good luck!

  15. Nice advice! especially about the cheap living options. I’m struggling to pay down my debt because my living costs are so high! Regina rent is high!

  16. God is good!! Congratulations on your debt elimination and much success in the mission field.

    • Yes He is! Thanks Lisa:)

  17. Good for you! If it was me, I would probably still be in debt for the next 2 years!

  18. Congratulations and very well done. This is serious amount to pay off. More importantly, your story will (hopefully) motivate so many people.

  19. That’s so impressive and inspirational. I think more people need to hear stories like this so they can see it’s possible to pay off large amounts of debt in a short period of time with diligence. Thanks for sharing your story!

  20. Awesome! I love hearing from people who have paid off debt. Motivation makes a huge difference — what a great 180 for you guys.

  21. WOW! That is totally amazing! I had maybe 1/8th of your debt after I graduated from college but I hated the fact that I had debt. I also put every penny into my debt, didn’t get cable and sold something that I didn’t need such as old DVDs, books, etc and put all the money toward the debt.

    • That’s a great idea to think of extra ways to put money towards your debt. I think there are a lot of creative ways to try to find additional income that can contribute toward it.

  22. Congratulations!! That is amazing. I think it’s so inspirational when people can pay off such a big debt burden, and I hope that your story inspires others to do the same!!

    • Thank you so much Paula! I hope it is encouraging to others trying to dig themselves out of debt. It is completely possible.

  23. This is an inspiring story… I am happy to read that you surpassed the huge debt. Hope your story will help to motivate people experiencing debt. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story.

    • Thank you Martha! I hope it serves to encourage others and spur them on to tackle their own debt or any other obstacle.

  24. This is an inspiring story on how hard work and determination trumps all.

    • Yep. Work hard and have a main focus, and it’s pretty easy to achieve greatness! By the sounds of your site, I would guess you’d say the same thing! 🙂

    • Nope – we got married about 6 months after we graduated college and have been married for just over 2 years now.

  25. On a debt management plan we renegotiate your monthly unsecured debt payments down to a level you can afford

  26. Thank you so much for your story. 🙂

    I just graduated from bible college and have about $40,000 or so in loans to pay back. I have been so discouraged and frustrated that I haven’t been able to enjoy finally graduating and the holidays. 🙂 I have dreamed of being a missionary since I was a little girl and now a decade later I feel like the “reality check” of adulthood leaves those dreams bleak in light of the responsibilities I face now.

    I haven’t even been able to really consider what I would like to do or where I would go, what organizations should I check out, etc. I’ve been so consumed with how to pay off the loans, but still do something that I feel helps and serves others. It can be very frustrating searching for a job that will pay off the loans quickly that doesn’t require further education, wont reject a BA in Biblical studies and only pay minimum wages.

    I know God calls us to always trust Him, to focus on His promises and love Him despite what the future may or may not hold. And I am definitely learning to trust Him in providing for me and giving me a purpose and direction for my future. It was His timing that I stumble on your article in the middle of a desperate search for jobs or answers at 11 at night. You trusted God and He definitely blessed you in your decisions. 🙂 Your story is an encouragement that God can do the same through my life as well. 🙂 Thanks.

  27. Renee – I am so sorry it took me a month to respond to your post; I apologize!

    I am so glad that our story is an encouragement to you and hope God uses it to give you some practical tips and encourage you! We are totally ordinary people who took steps of faith and did small things one at a time. You can do it too, for sure!

    I hope your job search is going well. I know for me, upon graduating, it definitely didn’t look how I imagined it. I thought I would get to do what God called me to right away; but just because I had to wait a bit, didn’t mean that that he didn’t call me to it. It just looked a little different than I expected; and actually, it was better. Hang in there! You can do it:)

    Thank you for your post!

  28. Now this is a really great inspiring story. One that tells you about the possibilities of being able to pay loans when you are serious in making a plan to repay it.

    Thanks for the share.

    • It IS a great story isn’t it! Glad you liked it!

  29. Hi,
    I am currently a campus minister. I was wondering if you work for IV? If so I’d love to chat. I became a missionary right out of college and I would love some insight especially if you work for the same organization I do. I’m currently discerning whether I should leave staff to pay my enormous student loan debt. I wish I would have done what you guys did.

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