My $94,000 of student loan debt felt hopeless until I made 4 impactful changes
  • I owe $94,482 in student loans. My monthly payments are $637.
  • I felt hopeless, but steps like talking about it with other people helped me change my mindset.
  • I also used an app that transfers spare change from my bank account into my student loan account.
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I owe $94,482 in student loan debt. My private student loan monthly payments alone are $637, and I have no idea how I’ll handle the return of monthly federal loan payments.

I used to feel hopeless and ashamed around my debt, especially because, aside from the money I took out under my own name, my mom took out additional Parent PLUS loans in her name. Once I started sharing my story more openly, I realized I’m not the only one dealing with this same issue.

No matter how many slices of avocado toast I skip, or how many times I cancel my


Netflix

subscription, I still feel like I can’t keep up with monthly payments. I check daily for updates on student loan forgiveness, but it doesn’t seem like widescale student loan forgiveness is coming any time soon.

To try to change my mindset on tackling my student loan debt, I tried to focus on implementing simple changes that made a huge difference.

1. I started talking to more people about my debt

I started bringing up the topic while I was out to lunch or coffee with my friends. I started talking to my mom about how I felt around our student loans more. I even say the exact numbers out loud, even though it feels uncomfortable at first.

Every time I talk about my debt, I expect people to shame me and give me unsolicited advice. Instead, I’m met with a lot of kindness from people who can relate to my story.

Talking about my debt more openly makes me feel like I don’t have to tackle this problem in secret, and that I can always ask for help when I need it.

2. I hired a financial planner

I started working with financial planner Cait Howerton, MBA, AFC, CFP, who specializes in LGBTQ wealth, at Facet Wealth. She helped me come up with a debt repayment game plan that works with my lifestyle.

My student loans used to keep me up at night. I heard a story once about a man who lived in a van for a year just to pay off his student loans quickly. I’m happy for him, but I have zero desire to live in a van.

Thankfully, Howerton kept me grounded. Instead of Googling vans on Craigslist, Howerton asked me which small changes I can make in my everyday life to save $75 per month to funnel into student loan repayment. She suggested getting one less appetizer or drink while I’m eating out with friends, or taking a few things out of my grocery cart while shopping.

3. I started putting my spare change into my student loans

I downloaded a free app called Chipper that allows you to deposit spare change each day directly into your student loan accounts.

Chipper also lets you see all of your student loans in one place, which makes it so much easier to see what kind of impact you’re making over time as you make payments. Chipper also makes it easy to understand which repayment and forgiveness plans are available for you. I can honestly say I’ve never opened a student loan platform and thought, “Oh, this seems easy,” so using Chipper was a brand new experience.

To me, it feels like the app was created with the intention of supporting people for the long student loan repayment game instead of finding some kind of cheat code to make them disappear. That mindset is really refreshing when I hear so many stories about people stressing themselves out to pay down their debts.

I know that putting a few cents into my student loans isn’t going to magically make them disappear, but it does give me massive peace of mind to feel like I’m taking small steps toward being debt-free.

4. I notified my student loan provider of my legal name change

As a transgender person, I have to navigate so many bureaucratic hurdles that cisgender people don’t have to go through. It’s really time-consuming and frustrating, but I keep going because I need to.

My financial planner encouraged me to begin changing my legal name on my old accounts. I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, because it really does make it so much easier to even look at the account now that it has my correct name on it.

When it comes to my student loans, I’m learning to focus on small things that might make my experience better instead of trying to solve the whole problem all at once. Changing my mindset around my student loans reminds me that my debt doesn’t define me. I can still live a full and happy life even if I have student loans.

Leo Aquino (they/he) is a Spending & Saving Reporter. Before joining the Insider team, they covered relationships, sexual wellness, beauty, fashion and more, always uplifting stories of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. You can reach Leo at laquino@insider.com.
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