When Amanda Courtney applied for college, like many Americans, she made the decision to take out student loans.
But that was nearly two decades ago. At the time, she hadn’t been taught the ins and outs of loans or budgeting, something that would lead to her accruing more and more debt over the years both from student loans and credit cards.
“There was no way for me to go to college without taking out student loans, so I knew as I was applying for colleges that I was going to have to take out loans,” Amanda said. “I was kind of like, well, everyone takes out student loans, right? It’s fine.”
While pursuing her degree, Amanda ended up transferring to two different colleges. At one point, she moved back home so she could attend a community college and hopefully lower her student debt. But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit just as she graduated, Amanda was left struggling to find work.
“I didn’t understand the economics of it and the commitment of it,” she said. “I think I just had this false sense of security that I’m working and I’m going to get a degree and then I’m going to have a job that can pay off the debt so it won’t be a big problem.”
It wasn’t until she began dating her now-husband that she began to get a better understanding of how to handle her finances. Together, they created a game-plan for paying off her $72,000 debt, no matter how long it would take.
She started off by creating a budget that she could actually stick with. For her, that meant making room for doing things that bring her joy like giving friends gifts and going on vacations.
“I was honest with myself, and I made a plan, but I made a realistic plan,” Amanda said. “You have to allow yourself to go to that lunch celebration with friends. You have to allow yourself to buy yourself a new top every now and again. If I want to go somewhere, I look at do I have enough in that travel account to go. If I don’t, then I don’t get to go.”
After a few years of paying off her debt, Amanda was able to consolidate her loans into one payment through SoFi, making it easier track and pay off her loans. This alone was “so freeing.”
But following a budget and consolidating loans weren’t enough. In order to reach the finish line, she also had to work on her mindset. As much as she wanted to be debt free ASAP, taking things one day at a time helped keep her from feeling overwhelmed by how much money she still owed.
One way she did this was by celebrating every time she met a smaller goal along the way, like paying off her first, and smallest, loan.
“And when I paid off that first credit card, I remember, it felt so good,” Amanda said. “It started to feel like, oh, I can do this I can make headway. Just with every little benchmark, it felt so great and so exciting.”
Eight years have passed since Amanda set out to become debt free. It took hard work and dedication but, in September 2021, she was finally able to make her dream a reality!
With Americans owing nearly $1.8 trillion in student loans, Amanda was far from alone in her struggle to pay off her debt. That’s why she’s hoping that her story will help others like her.
“Anyone can do it,” she said, “and it is so, so worth it.”
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