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Light at the end of the tunnel for debt

More than 40 million Americans are currently facing student loan debt in the United States. That debt totals an astounding $1.56 trillion.

Yes, that’s a “T,” as in trillion.

That number is incredible, and it’s also proof that students often don’t understand the burden they will face after college, whether they earn a degree or not. Given these facts and the raw volume of individuals carrying student loan debt , it’s likely that many of you have student loans and can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve been there, but I can tell you that it is possible to pay off that debt, though it’s not necessarily easy.

A couple of months ago, I was able to make the final payment on my loan, officially paying it off for good and getting rid of student loans for both my wife and I. Clicking the “pay” button for the final time might’ve actually felt better than walking across the graduation stage at UAB.

So, how did we do it?

A couple of years ago, we decided to make a real effort to pay off our student loans from largest to smallest.

Last year, we decided to take any Christmas funds we would have normally used on one another and threw them at a loan. We had to ask ourselves whether we’d rather have new clothes, the hot electronic item on the market or to take steps to finally get out from underneath student loan debt.

Every time we received any type of extra funding — tax return money, overtime, or unexpected cash from elsewhere — we put that money toward student loans. Every time we paid off any kind of bill or it was lowered, we took the money we were saving and put it directly toward our student loans.

By the time we were done, we were paying more than double the minimum payment each month on my student loan until it was paid off.

To me, the biggest key was the initial discussion and creating a general budget for the month. How much money, if any, did we have left over on average? Could we add $50 to our payment, would we notice the difference, and how fast could we pay off that payment by paying extra each month?

Doing all of those calculations really helps see the bigger picture. If you’re projected to pay a loan for the next 48 months and can turn it into 36, all of a sudden it feels a little more doable.

To be clear, we didn’t go full Dave Ramsey and eat rice and beans for years until our student loans were paid off. We eat out too much, and our kids have too many toys. However, we did make small cut backs that really did make a big difference.

While salaries play a big part in paying off debt, it’s also likely that everyone has a place where they can cut back. Nobody gets in my career field to get rich, as journalism is one of the lowest paying professional career fields in the country, regardless of where you work or who you work for. Alyssa and I started working on our student loans back when our salaries were nearly even with what we owed in total student loans, thus it wasn’t a fast process at first.

Paying off loans didn’t happen overnight, nor are we financial gurus. We’ve got plenty of other bills to pay and other people can give you much more sound financial advice, and you should seek it.

However, if we can do it, you can do it.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.