How a Student Loans Nerd Paid Off Her Debt

Alana Benson

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week is another episode of our series “How the Nerds Do It,” where we talk with Nerds about how they personally tackled the issues they write about every day. In this episode we talk with student loan nerd Anna Helhoski about how she managed to pay off her student loans.

Check out this episode on any of these platforms:

Our take

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When Anna Helhoski was heading to college she was a lot like many other young students: She was thinking about her classes, her dream schools and living in New York City. And much like many other young students, she wasn’t thinking too much about the realities of paying for college. But after graduating, she realized the interest on her loans was starting to pile up.

It took Anna less than 10 years to repay $40,000 in federal student loans and interest. Anna was savvy about handling her loans — she called her servicer soon after graduation and was able to take on a graduated repayment plan, which gradually increases your payment amount over 10 years. This lowered her payment in the short term while she was working an entry-level journalism job. Anna was seven years into her payments when she realized her graduate loan payment was about to increase to an unaffordable amount, so she enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan that gave her a much lower payment. Eventually, Anna fully paid off her loans.

Even though Anna writes about student loans every day, there are a few things she wishes she had done differently looking back, such as weighing the cost of a public school versus that of a private school, and thinking about her major in terms of its future earnings potential.

Our tips

  • Weigh the cost of public school versus private school. Public school is generally cheaper, but you might get scholarships and aid that can make private school less expensive than you think.
  • Think about your major and the jobs it could prepare you for. Evaluate the cost of your degree in terms of potential earnings.
  • Understand your repayment options and how much you owe. If you can stick to the standard plan, do it. But if you can’t, then it’s helpful to know your other options.

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

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