My Debt Free Story: How Iheanyi Paid Off His $32,000 Student Loan Debt
My Debt free story is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview millennials who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e. student loans, car loans, credit cards.
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 tell us a bit about you?
My name is Iheanyi Ekechukwu, I’m a 26-year-old South Carolina native living in Brooklyn, New York. I currently work as a Senior Software Engineer at GitHub working on GitHub Actions.
When I’m not working, you can find me either playing video games or programming some side projects.
What and when was your “sick and tired” of debt moment?
I’m not necessarily sure I had an “I’m sick and tired of debt” moment, to be honest. I have almost always disliked the idea of debt from the jump.
I knew even from before I graduated university that I wanted to pay off my student loans as fast as possible after graduating from college in 2014.
How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?
I went to the University of Notre Dame for undergrad and graduated in December of 2014. I was fortunate to qualify for the need-based financial aid, so Notre Dame was quite helpful with making school affordable to attend.
From what financial aid didn’t cover, I was left to cover on my own through student loans. I don’t regret acquiring the debt at all, primarily because I came out of Notre Dame with two bachelor’s degrees (B.S. in Computer Science, B.A. in Graphic Design).
I jokingly say that I got a two for one special, so it was definitely worth the debt.
How much debt did you pay off in total? How much money in interest and time did you save in total?
If I recall correctly, I know the principal amount was about $32,000 or so. I’m really not sure how much exactly in interest I saved from paying it off.
But if I take the average of the interest and the remaining time of the repayment plan (around 7 years), I probably saved a few thousand dollars in interest.
How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?
So, from the beginning of my career to the year that I paid off my student loans, I had different incomes at different points in my life.
My salary at my last job was $130,000 a year and I also was teaching at a local college in Manhattan for an additional $8,000 (both pre-tax).
At my first job in Texas, I was making $83,000 per year and when I first moved to New York City, my salary was $110,000 per year. I kept my contributions around the same until I got my raise to $130,000 year at my previous job.
Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to become debt free?
There were a few things I did to become debt free. I made the conscious decision to pay more than the minimum monthly. At first, it was an extra $50/month. But towards the end of it, I was paying something like $150/month more each month on my loans.
Doing this from the start made it easy to stick with it, I wouldn’t miss that money later.
Also, I lived by myself when I lived in Texas for a year. But after moving to New York City, I made the decision to get a roommate rather than trying to live by myself so I can save money.
When I lived in Texas, my rent was $1200 a month, but after moving to Brooklyn with a roommate, my rent decreased to $950/month. Through this, I had increased my income (barely after the tax changes) while significantly reducing my spending.
Additionally, through my job I got a lot of other benefits that helped me save money (free lunch every day, monthly MetroCard paid for by the company, free breakfast and dinner if you get in early enough or stay late enough), which also helped me save money on things such as food and transportation.
Lastly, when I got bonuses from work (holiday bonuses or referral bonuses). Rather than spending them on something material, I’d just use it for paying off my student loans rather than on something else.
Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to become debt free?
Not really, my family members were pretty supportive of me paying off my student loans as quickly as possible; same with my friends.
Although, one of my older friends told me that since my interest rate is so low (average was around 4% or so), I should just pay the minimum and invest/save the rest. In hindsight, that probably would’ve been a better move but hey, at least I’m debt-free (especially the way the market is looking right now).
Were any resources such as blogs, books, podcasts particularly helpful to you in staying on track? Or where did you find your inspiration to stay on track through your journey?
A book I read my junior year of college that had me thinking about personal finance was I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. His blog is a great resource, but the book was the main thing that taught me about automating my finances and setting myself up for financial success.
What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt free now?
To be honest, student loan debt is the only debt I’ve ever really had. Even though I use credit cards for pretty much every single purchase, I ALWAYS pay them off in full each month so I never carry a balance or accrue interest.
If you could go back in time and advise your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give him?
Ha, that’s a funny question. I’d tell my 18-year-old self not to laugh or make fun of the friend that suggested that I buy Bitcoin (it was a popular topic in the gaming forums I used to be on).
I would be in retirement if I had listened to that friend back in the day. Other than that, I’d probably tell him to just focus on learning more about programming and start on side projects sooner rather than later.
What advice would you give anyone who has debt and seeking encouragement?
Make a plan and stick with it for paying off the debt. Make a timeline and budget, and see if there are things you can cut out if necessary. Also, try to automate as much of the process as possible.
Once you automate things such as the extra payments, it becomes second nature and you don’t have to constantly think about it. Trust me, it’s all worth it in the end.
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
The easiest way is actually to hit me up through my Twitter account, which is @kwuchu. I actually am quicker at responding to Twitter DMs than I am at responding to emails.
Congratulations, Iheanyi. We wish you much success on your financial journey.
If you need to get your college or graduate degree without any student loan debt, check out our directory for a list of companies that offer tuition reimbursement.