‘Ding dong, my loans are dead.’ I was DONE. I made a decision. I’d become debt-free by 30.’: 28-year-old woman remarkably pays off $102K in student loans, ‘I finally killed them’

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“It is with immense pleasure that I announce the death of my student loans. On August 2, 2019, after 6 years, I finally killed them. It was a slow death but was worth every bit of the fight.

Mike Arrison Photography

Let me tell you about my journey: It began in 2013, when I graduated with a total of 75K in student loans. I moved to New York, but I made sure to pay more than the minimums, which totaled to $1K a month. It was like another rent. I took jobs not based on what I really wanted but what could help me survive.

Courtesy Mandy Velez

I did this for five years straight. Even after a lay-off during this journey I hustled like hell and never missed a payment. It was more than most people can do, and I, a single, childless, able-bodied woman consider myself lucky. But still, I carried this burden alone. I never asked for or received help. No one ever paid my bills.

Courtesy Mandy Velez

Then last fall, something in me broke. Maybe it was feeling like my life was on hold, but I just remember thinking I was DONE. I didn’t want to owe anyone anything more. I wanted to start saving for my future. A house. Kids. A life. So, I made a decision—I’d become debt-free by 30. I’m proud to say I accomplished my goal 2 years early. 

Mike Arrison Photography

In fact, I killed that last 32K in EIGHT months.

Mike Arrison Photography

I cut my budget and lived off of less than a third of my monthly salary. (Turns out, packing lunches and not taking Ubers can save you a ton.) I worked my ass off at work and asked for raises and got them. I worked multiple jobs at once, my day job and then side hustles. I walked dogs until my feet literally bled. In the cold. In the rain. In the heat. Nothing was beneath me. I babysat. I cat sat. I stayed up for 24 hours straight to make a few hundred bucks as a TV extra on shows they filmed overnight. (I got to be on SVU so I’m OK with that one.) I cut my food budget down to merely salad, eggs, chicken and rice sans the food Zach and my family would feed me. 

I said ‘no’—my God I said no—to making memories with my family and friends and prayed there would be other opportunities in the future. I gutted half my savings toward the end because if it all went to hell, I would have rather paid myself back than Navient. I used the ‘snowball’ method to pay them off faster and avoid more insane interest rates, which is how my loan total came to 102K—27k more than what I actually borrowed.

Was it easy? No. Worth it? I’m smiling in a cemetery. 102K lifted from my back. You tell me.

Mike Arrison Photography

Lots of people will see my story and say, see, if she could do it, so can you. But I don’t think that. Not everyone can do this. Maybe due to lack of jobs, ability or other compounding responsibilities, because truth be told, it’s a rigged game. Only those who play know it. But here’s the thing, people’s futures should never be a game. I celebrate my freedom, but I don’t feel we student borrowers deserve the hardship that comes with these loans: high interest rates, sketchy providers, yearly tuition hikes, the list goes on.

My hope is that my story inspires people to say ‘no more’ the best way they can. Maybe it’s by finally getting sick and tired and paying their debt off if they’re able. If you can do it, I support you. Maybe it’s by voting for policy that makes the system much fairer. Any little bit of action helps. 

Mike Arrison Photography

All I know is, this nightmare, this crisis, needs to end. Being open about my debt, and the hoops I had to jump through to get rid of it, is how I’m trying to help.

But after six long years, it’s time to celebrate. I have my life back. I changed my life. I changed my future family’s life. I ended the cycle of literally ‘paying’ simply for wanting a better future. For being a ‘have not.’ Well not anymore. It’s all mine now. I’m free.”

Courtesy Mandy Velez

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mandy Velez, 28, of New York. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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