How One Young Entrepreneur Paid Off $40,000 in Student Debt By Age 24


More than 70% of graduates finish college with debt, at an average level of almost $30,000 per student. The national student debt level has reached $1.2 trillion and a staggering 7 million borrowers have already defaulted on their loans. With so many adults seeing their debt situation as helpless, it was refreshing to come across a young borrower who managed to pay off her hefty $40,000 student debt burden in just a few years.

A $40,000 debt load put Michelle Schroeder in the top 10% of borrowers. Even with a loan burden substantially higher than most young graduates, she was able to return her debt by the time she was just 24 years old. "It was hard but it paid off in the end," says Schroeder. "It's the best feeling ever. I don't have to submit a $1,000 payment every month for something I don't see." (See also: How to Balance Saving for Retirement, Emergency Fund, and Retiring Debt)

Schroeder concedes that her journey wasn't easy, but that anyone can do it, if they really want to. To reach her goal and pay off her debt, Schroeder took three simple steps. Read on to discover how you can follow in her tracks.

1. A Financial Assessment

When Schroeder reviewed her personal balance sheet, she didn't like what she saw. "I didn't want to be one of those people with $40,000 in student loan debt when their kids are going to college," she said. "I just wanted to be done with it. I made a crazy action plan to have it paid off within the year." Schroeder admits it can be scary to add up 10 different student loans and realize how much they total. Even so, she knew she'd have to face up to her reality before she could create a game plan and start to pay her burden off.

According to Schroeder, this is a step anyone can take, and yet many don't. "A lot of people are afraid to look at the total or they're just not interested in doing the work to pay it off right now." Even so, it's not a difficult task, once you bulldoze past the psychological barriers. (See also: Your Money Worries Are Holding You Back — Here's What to Do)

2. A Decrease in Spending

Schroeder's first line of attack was to figure out where she could scale back. She cut her gym membership, dropped her cable TV package, and scaled down her food budget. She also took on mystery shopping work, which would often fund dinners, snacks, and other perks. She received an annual bonus that she used to fund her emergency savings account and further reduce her debt. All together, she was bringing home $5,000 per month in salary and was cutting costs wherever she could.

Anyone can develop their own cost cutting strategies by identifying areas of excess consumption. To target where to reduce spending, check out an online tracking service like Mint or Quicken. (See also: 73 Easy Ways to Save Money Today)

3. An Increase in Income

Schroeder was already doing more to decrease her debt burden than many borrowers but even so, she wanted to speed up her debt repayment pace. To make a real dent in her burden, she started looking into ways to boost her income.

She got creative and took on a boarder, which brought in an extra $300 — $400 per month. She next started a side business, first as a virtual assistant, later as a staff writer, and finally as a blogger and website consultant at Making Sense of Cents. "I wasn't making much money for the first one to two years," she says of her online business. "Plus, I sacrificed a lot like hanging out with my friends and watching TV. Instead, I focused on growing my business."

Between her day job and side gigs, Schroeder worked 100 hours per week for three years straight. Her small side income grew and she eventually was paying $5,000 per month toward her student loan debt. In the final month, she wiped out her emergency savings account to pay the $10,000 remaining student loan balance.

According to Schroeder, anyone can build a side income, regardless of skill set. Her suggestions include a part-time job in a retail store, walking dogs, babysitting, or starting a business. (See also: You CAN Earn More Money — Here's How)

Last year, once her loans were repaid in full, Schroeder left her day job. She now lives off of what was once a side income, and works from home. When asked why more people don't take a fast-track approach to paying off their debt, Schroeder chalked it up to societal expectations. "It's not normal to pay student loans off fast," she says. "People consider it good debt and they're fine with it because everyone else has them."

"Most people can pay their loans off within a couple of years if they try really hard," she says. For her, the upfront work was worth it. "Life's not as stressful, now that I don't have student loans," she says.

Are you burdened by a mountain of debt? How do you plan to eliminate it?

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Guest's picture

$5,000/month in income out of college? Dang, not bad...

Guest's picture

This article is false. The numbers don't add up. If Schroader was paying $5000 a month toward debt alone, then her net income would have well exceeded $60,000 a year. NET INCOME. That's crazy. You would have to gross over $100k to net that much cash. And that doesn't include income used towards day to day living. Absolutely ridiculous.

Guest's picture

I love how all of these articles involve people that make twice the income of what the typical American makes in 1 month. Really inspiring.