I read a lot of personal finance blogs, and always smile when I read other's debt-repayment success stories. Paying off debt is such a rewarding thing to do! In addition to providing a sense of accomplishment, it also has an amazing power to instill good habits and have a slingshot effect on your savings. Here's how having a large amount of debt impacted my own situation.
Out of college, I had over $150k in student loans. I had gone to an expensive private university on a scholarship, and my parents had agreed to help with the rest of the cost. The first year went great - but engineering was hard! I also realized I loved a lot of other things in school, and took my eye off the GPA ball. Long story short, I lost my scholarship in my junior year. Coincidentally, my parents experienced some changes in their lives, and could no longer help with the costs. I had two options: take out student loans, or transfer to a less expensive school. I opted for the loans, not realizing how much money was truly at stake.
Fast forward to graduation, and I had about 15 different loans. Some were big - for tuition - but some were small. I only then realized how expensive on-campus housing was, or how much those summer classes cost. I was heartbroken when I realized the payments would be about $1,800/month after the initial grace period. I was humbled.
The first year of adulthood was wild. I was literally broke and slept on couches for a few months, then borrowed money from my grandmother to pay for the security deposit and first month's rent of an inexpensive apartment with my best friend - who also borrowed money from his parents. Once we were settled in, we moved into a room together and rented out the second bedroom for a year. I also got a sales job and excelled. Without that job, I don't know how I would have made it.
I was able to pay off about $30k of my highest-interest loans in a few years. I set up my retirement accounts and learned about compound interest - which led me to believe it would be better to invest as much as I could, rather than pay off some of my lower-interest debt. So that's what I did.
I began making minimum payments on the low-interest debt around 2009, when I also went to graduate school. I took out another $50k in ~3% loans to cover 2 years of business school, reasoning that what I had at the time (about $50k) would be better off left to grow in the market. Glad I did, because that turned out to be the 2009 low point, and the market went up for more than a decade after that.
So come 2011, I had about $120k in undergrad loans and $50k in business school loans. I paid off about $30k. I also had almost $100k in my investment and retirement accounts, which were growing. At this point I was investing about the same amounts as I paid toward debt. Combined, over half my income.
Part 2 coming soon.