My Debt Free Story: How Bonita Paid Off $80,000 Student Loans in 24 Months
My debt free story is a series where we interview millennials who have successfully paid off any major debt (i.e student loans, credit cards or any other consumer debt), saved, or overcome any financial hurdles. The aim is to inspire, encourage and motivate you to take hold of your personal finance because “financial fitness is not a pipe dream or a state of mind. It is a reality if you’re willing to pursue it and embrace it.”- Will Robinson
Can you give us a little background about you?
My name is Bonita Isiadinso. I’m the middle of 3 girls from a Nigerian immigrant home. I lived with my family in Virginia while attending community college for 2 years after graduating High school at 15. I moved on to James Madison University where I studied accounting and graduated in 2010.
I took the CPA exam (lots of studying) and got licensed shortly after my undergraduate degree.
When did you begin taking student loans?
My mum is a nurse and based on FAFSA metrics, she earned too much so I wasn’t able to get “free” money.
I started taking loans during my community college days. No one told my mum and I about saving for college so there was nothing like a 529 plan or any savings tucked away somewhere for me or my sisters.
In total, I took out about $10,000 for the 2 years I was there.
When I started James Madison University, I borrowed more monies. Truthfully, I borrowed for everything; rent, books, food, and other living expenses. I was able to get part-time work (16-20 hours) earning $10 per hour solely for pocket money.
By the end of your undergraduate degree, how much had you borrowed in total?
I came to terms with my student loans right after graduation. I borrowed an additional $70,000 while at James Madison. It was during the six months grace period I logged into my student loan account and couldn’t believe the loan had ballooned up to $80,000 due to interest.
My mum didn’t have good credit so even though she cosigned my loans, the interest rate was between 8% -9%. I graduated with an accounting degree during the economic recession in May of 2010 so job hunting wasn’t easy.
I continued working earning $10 an hour while going on interviews. I became depressed because I couldn’t get a job and my grace period was running out in November. Thankfully, through the help of a friend, I was able to get a job with a start date of January 2011
What was your strategy for paying off your student loans and becoming debt free?
For a while, I paid interest only on my loan. Even though I now had a job earning $45,000. At the time, it was important to build up my savings first. I was paying $500 monthly instead of the $850 I was scheduled to pay.
I got a new job in D.C that paid me more but I continued paying the interest only because of the high cost of living in D. C. But the debt would keep me up at night.
Eventually, I had to be honest with myself; it was either move back home to Richmond or anywhere else with a lower cost of living. I decided to move back home.
Even though it wasn’t what I wanted, it was the best option. I got a job at another accounting firm through the help of a friend but the move back meant reduced pay.
Next, I created a budget and put all my loans (private and government) on a spreadsheet with tentative dates; yeah, I’m an Excel kinda girl.
When I got paid, I would take a little bit for savings and the rest (approximately $3,000) would go straight to my student loans.
In addition, all my bonuses and tax refunds went to my loans.
After moving back home, how long did it take you to pay off your loans?
I started my job at end of July 2014 and received my first paycheck in August. My last student loan payment was June, 2016; a month shy of two years
How did you keep yourself motivated enough to accomplish your goals especially at a time when you did feel like sticking to your plan?
My biggest motivation was watching my payments make a dent in my student loan balance.
The closer I got to paying it off, the more motivated I became. Luckily, my weakness isn’t shopping; it’s travel. It’s about the only thing I splurge on.
Fortunately, I was able to travel for work that helped me save somehow.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pay off their student loans?
At the end of the day, everyone has to decide how much they are willing to suffer.
I had just gotten promoted in D.C, made great friends, and got along well with my co-workers.
There was also the fear that I might be committing career suicide by moving back to Richmond- I mean, D.C is a hot market and everything was going great for me but the fear of my student loan debt outweighed any fun I could have.
Even though it seems like everything aligned for me, there were still some conscious decisions I had to make.
Our journeys are different; for some, your conscious decision could be living with a roommate. But ultimately, you have to decide.
Congratulations Bonita, we wish you much success in your financial journey!