MONEY College

20 Private Colleges With the Highest Student Loan Debt

In this photo provided by the University of Hartford, former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre gestures after receiving an honoroary degree during commencement ceremonies at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn., Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Shana Sureck—AP

A new report shows which schools leave students with the worst debt upon graduation.

Tuition at private colleges is often much more expensive than at public institutions, and debt levels among private- and public-school graduates have a similar gap: Of the 20 private and 20 public schools that produce graduates with high debt loads, the average debt loads differ by more than $8,000, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt.

The report, commissioned by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), looks at student loan debt among bachelor’s degree earners in the class of 2013, and it shows the average debt for a 2013 graduate is $28,400, and 69% of students graduated with some debt. Schools report debt data on a voluntary basis, and most for-profit institutions didn’t submit information, so while the list of schools with high-debt graduates isn’t comprehensive, it gives a good idea of the education debt recent graduates struggle with.

Among the 20 public colleges whose 2013 graduates had high levels of student loan debt (which we covered recently), the average loan balance upon graduation was $36,388. The high-debt private schools produced grads with an average of $44,819 in education debt. Here’s a list of the private schools with the most indebted graduates.

20. Adrian College

Adrian, Mich.

Average debt among 2013 graduates: $41,763

19. College of Our Lady of the Elms

Chicopee, Mass.

Average debt: $41,813

18. Lawrence Technological University

Southfield, Mich.

Average debt: $42,044

17. Pacific Union College

Angwin, Calif.

Average debt: $42,153

16. Saint Anselm College

Manchester, N.H.

Average debt: $42,196

15. Wheelock College

Boston, Mass.

Average debt: $42,313

14. Curry College

Milton, Mass.

Average debt: $42,356

13. Utica College

Utica, N.Y.

Average debt: $42,528

12. Alvernia University

Reading, Pa.

Average debt: $42,552

11. Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas

Average debt: $42,585

10. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Terre Haute, Ind.

Average debt: $42,967

9. The College of Saint Scholastica

Duluth, Minn.

Average debt: $43,113

8. Becker College

Worcester, Mass.

Average debt: $43,238

7. Rockford University

Rockford, Ill.

Average debt: $44,459

6. Quinnipiac University

Hamden, Conn.

Average debt: $44,552

5. LeTourneau University

Longview, Texas

Average debt: $44,584

4. Ringling College of Art and Design

Sarasota, Fla.

Average debt: $45,274

3. University of Hartford

Hartford, Conn.

Average debt: $45,778

2. Anna Maria College

Paxton, Mass.

Average debt: $48,750

1. University of the Sciences

Philadelphia, Pa.

Average debt: $71,370

Pennsylvania colleges had a strong showing on the public school list, as well as having two private colleges on this one, but Massachusetts leads the pack when it comes to a high concentration of indebted private school graduates. The exceptionally high debt load of University of the Sciences graduates could be tied to the fact that it produces pharmacists and other health professionals, who generally earn high incomes.

The list isn’t perfect: Not only does it exclude schools that didn’t report student debt to college guide Peterson’s, the source of the data used in the report, it also doesn’t include parent loans, debt of students who don’t graduate, debt of transfer students incurred at other institutions, and debt of graduate or professional school students. The reasons for high debt levels among certain schools’ graduates vary and can be difficult to pinpoint.

“There are many factors that affect student debt levels,” said Matthew Reed, program director at TICAS. He listed a few, including tuition and other costs, available grants and scholarships and student demographics. To get a better picture of institutions’ graduates’ debt burdens, it’s also important to look at the default rate.

Defaulting on student loans seriously damages the borrower’s credit, making it difficult to access other forms of credit, not to mention get general consumer services or rent an apartment. If the student loan servicer sues the borrower for the unpaid sum and wins, the borrower’s wages may be garnished, on top of the further credit damage incurred from having a judgment on your credit report. For students looking at colleges, it’s important to consider the success of institutions’ graduates and how much debt you’ll likely take on by attending the school, because it will significantly impact your future. To give you a better idea of how your student loans are impacting your credit scores, you can see your scores for free on Credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Debt

How to Protect Yourself From the “Epidemic” of Sleazy Debt Collectors

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jvphoto—Alamy

Some debt collectors are using illegal means to get payments. Here's how to spot such sketchy behavior and outsmart them at their own game.

Unscrupulous debt collectors, some of whom pose as law enforcement and threaten arrests to collect payments, have “become something of an epidemic,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.

On Tuesday, Bharara announced that seven people who worked for an Atlanta-area company, Williams, Scott & Associates, were arrested for their “ruthlessly persistent” payment collecting methods.

He said the workers threatened people with arrest if they didn’t pay the debt; falsely claimed to work for the Justice Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and sheriffs’ departments; sent people made up documents designed to look like the government had sanctioned them; and used bogus legal terminology, such as: “The statute of limitations on your civil legal rights has expired.”

These unlawful methods netted the debt collection agency more than $4 million from 6,000 victims.

If you’re one of the many Americans with delinquent credit-card, hospital, or other bills, don’t let a collection agency bully you into accepting its repayment terms. Here are 9 ways you can turn the tables on them and get the upper hand in negotiations.

1. Don’t Get Emotional

When a debt collector calls, he’s trying to assess your ability to pay and may attempt to get you to say or agree to things you shouldn’t. You’d be best served by keeping the initial call short and businesslike. Collection agencies are required by law to send you a written notice of how much you owe five days after initially contacting you. Wait to engage with them until after you receive this letter.

2. Make Sure the Debt Is Really Yours

If the debt sounds unfamiliar, check your credit reports. Request a report from each of the three credit bureaus for free from annualcreditreport.com and scan for any incorrect data. A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in 20 consumers could have errors in their reports, and 24% of the mistakes people reported were about a debt collection that wasn’t actually theirs. (Learn more about how to fix costly credit report errors.)

3. Ask for Proof

Once you get written notice, contact the debt collector. If you are disputing the debt because of an error or identity theft, send a letter to the collector by certified mail within 30 days of receiving your notice stating that you will not pay and why. Also notify each of the three credit bureaus by mail, explaining the error and including documentation so that the problem can be removed from your report. If you are unsure about whether you owe money or how much you owe, ask the collector by certified mail for verification of the debt. That should silence the calls for a while; collectors must suspend activity until they’ve sent you verification of the debt.

4. Resist the Scare Tactics

Some debt collectors may try a range of tricks to get you to pay up, but it’s important to know your rights. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors cannot use abusive or obscene language, harass you with repeated calls, call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., call you at work if you’ve asked them to stop, talk to a third party about your debt, claim to be an attorney or law enforcement, threaten to sue unless they intend to take legal action, or threaten to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to. If the agency commits a violation, file a complaint with the FTC and your state Attorney General, and consider talking to an attorney about bringing your own private action against the collector for breaking the law.

5. Be Wary of Fees

Typically, the contract you agreed to when you took out the loan or signed up for the line of credit states how much interest a collector can charge on your debt. Most states have laws in place capping the amount of interest agencies can tack on. Check the balance the original creditor listed as “charged off” on your credit report. If there is a big increase in the amount the collector wants, consult your original contract. Your verification letter may also give you more info about how fees are calculated. If you believe the debt has been inflated, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which might be able to resolve your issue with the collector.

6. Negotiate

Collection agencies will push you to pay the full debt at once, but if that is not an option for you, tell them how much you can afford to pay and ask if they will settle for that amount. If they accept these terms, get confirmation of the deal in writing before you pay. This way, you avoid any miscommunication about the total to be paid and time frame for the payments.

7. Call In Backup

If you and the debt collector can’t reach an agreement and it appears likely they will take you to court, consider hiring an attorney. While the fees and costs of doing so may be prohibitive, the collection agency is more likely to drop the case in favor of easier targets, a.k.a debtors without attorney representation.

8. Know the Time Limits

Creditors may imply that court action can be taken against if you don’t pay up, and while that’s true, there is only a certain window of time—typically three to six years—in which a creditor can sue you over the debt. While you’ll still owe the money, and collectors may still call about it, creditors cannot take you to court over it once it’s past your state’s statute of limitations. Statutes vary widely by state and type of debt, so check your state’s specific rules if the collector is calling about older debts.

9. Don’t Get Tripped Up By Your Own Good Intentions

Collectors can’t legally “re-age” your debt by giving it a new delinquency date, but you can inadvertently extend the statute of limitations or restart the clock in some states by making a payment on old debt, agreeing to an extended repayment plan, or even acknowledging that the debts is yours.

More Help for Conquering Debt:

3 Simple Steps to Get Out of Debt

7 Ways to Improve Your Credit

Which Debts Should I Pay Off First?

 

MONEY Debt

How One Couple Paid Off $147k of Debt (Even While Unemployed)

two birds escaping cage
iStock

Feeling overwhelmed by your debt? Look for inspiration on how to break free from this couple.

Jackie Beck and her husband once “owned” a six figure debt. They’d borrowed for their mortgage, credit cards, education, autos, and home improvement projects. Like most of us do, they’d borrowed over time, barely noticing as their balances grew and interest accrued.

Beck is not alone. The average American borrower owes $225,238 in consumer debt, including $15,263 for credit cards, $147,591 in mortgage debt, $31,646 for student loans, and $30,738 for auto financing.

What set Beck and her partner apart, however, is that they set out to pay off that debt, and after a 10-year journey, they succeeded. Today neither holds a traditional job, they maintain collective annual expenses of less than $12,000, and they’re free to pursue their passions. “Anyone can do it, too,” says Beck. “You don’t have to have debt. Life is a lot easier without it.” (See also: How One Inspiring Saver Found True Love, Shook Off Debt Denial, and Paid Off $123,000)

Getting Started

The Beck’s get-out-of-debt journey began when they decided to tackle their credit card balances. “We were just really sick of being in debt and feeling like all our money went toward the credit cards and interest,” says Beck. Paying off the balance on their cards took a full three years and Beck was unemployed for a lot of that time. “In the beginning, it took us a long time to pay things off,” says Beck. “Then we figured things out and we had more money because we had paid more off. You get better at it and it gets faster.”

She’d been deferring her student loan payments but, once the credit card bills were paid, that freed up some extra cash. “I’d been living for many years on very little money. I never would have been able to start paying on my student loans if I’d still had those credit card payments,” she says.

Beck viewed her student debt as a burden and she couldn’t wait to get rid of it. When finally she landed a job, she was able to speed her repayment schedule. “I continued to live on nothing. I put all my money toward my student loans,” she says. “Then it went super fast.” (See also: How One College Graduate Paid Off $28,000 in Three Years on a $30k Salary)

Maintaining Momentum

Beck’s husband was inspired by her student loan success and together they worked to amp up their efforts. They started paying for most of their purchases in cash, foregoing credit cards altogether. Then they decided to tackle their car loan. “After he saw what I did with my student loan,” says Beck, “he thought it would be nice to live without the car payment.”

Even with successful milestones along the way, the Becks repaid their debt at a measured pace. “We spent a lot of time getting out of the debt we had gotten into,” says Beck. “You don’t have to live like a monk the whole time. We had more money coming in and it didn’t all go toward our debt. We spent some.”

The Becks increased spending somewhat over time but even so, they began to view their mission as preparation for an emergency. In the previous years they’d taken turns being unemployed, had undergone surgeries, paid expensive veterinarian bills for their pets, and even totaled a car. They’d taken out a $10,000 home improvement loan around this time, but even though the loan came with a 0% introductory rate for the first 12 months, they realized their attitude toward borrowing had shifted. They were no longer comfortable taking on new debt. “Gradually we realized that debt is dangerous and that something could go wrong,” says Beck.

Ultimately, the Beck’s took the remaining balance from their savings account and paid off the loan. “Life doesn’t work out perfectly and, when you don’t have debt, it really changes what you’re able to do,” she says.

By the time they were able to start tackling their mortgage, their journey had become about more than just safety. They started to view it a road to freedom. According to Beck, “The fewer expenses you have, the longer you can go without a job.” (See also: The Freedom of a Debt-Free Life)

Rewarding Yourself

For the Becks, freedom was defined by the rewards they chose for themselves after they paid off their mortgage. Beck had wanted to travel to Antarctica since she was eight years old and her husband had his eye on a new car. “After the house was paid off, we spent another year saving up for those things,” says Beck, “and then we went and did them.”

Beck also started developing other streams of income and eventually left her day job. “I created the app Pay Off Debt after I paid off my student loan,” she says. “I thought other people might want to obsess about debt as much as I do.” She also started to blog about her journey at TheDebtMyth.com, and even bought a couple of rental properties, paying for them in cash.

As a couple, they’d also learned to keep their collective expenses low.

“We can live on $12,000 a year if we need to,” says Beck. “We basically have no required bills and we’re not eating ramen,” she laughs. “My husband got laid off a week after I quit my job. Neither of us has a [traditional] job now. People who owe a lot of money don’t do things like that,” says Beck, “because they can’t.”

The Beck’s get-out-of-debt journey has changed the way they think about money altogether. Now it’s common practice for them to make their purchases — even big ones — in cash. They don’t carry debt and they can live their lives freely, without the burden of owing money to anyone. Beck is even thinking about a second trip to her dream destination, Antarctica. “I’m totally going back,” she says.

Because she can.

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

How One College Graduate Paid Off $28,000 in Three Years on a $30K Salary
How One Young Entrepreneur Paid Off $40,000 in Student Debt By Age 24
Our Worst Financial Mistakes and What You Can Learn From Them

MONEY Kids and Money

4 Costly Money Mistakes You’re Making With Your Kids

parents cheering softball players
Yellow Dog Productions—Getty Images

Help your kids become financially literate.

When you’re a parent, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day money issues: Which brand of milk is a better value? Is Old Navy having a school uniform sale? How much lunch money is left in the kids’ accounts? But parenting is ultimately about the long view, with the goal of raising capable, self-sufficient adults. Dealing with daily details, we sometimes neglect important money issues that can have a huge impact on our kids — and on our finances — as they prepare for college and adult life.

The mistake: Not talking enough about money

Too many parents don’t talk about money with their kids at all. Others skirt topics they don’t know much about, like investing and debt. Parents are the main source of money information for children, but 74% of parents are reluctant to discuss family finances with their kids, according to the 2014 T. Rowe Price Parents, Kids, and Money Survey. That’s too bad, because ignorance about money can set your kids up to make bad decisions — and eventually pass those bad habits on to your grandkids.

The solution: Make financial literacy a family value

In her book, Do I Look Like an ATM?: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible African American Children, Sabrina Lamb details “the business of your family household.” Lamb, founder and CEO of WorldofMoney.org, says all families should work together on five financial topics: learning, earning, saving, investing, and donating time or funds to causes you value. She recommends a daily diet of business news, occasional meetings between the kids, your banker, and other financial advisors, and support of your older kids’ entrepreneurial goals.

The mistake: Believing in the “Scholarship Fairy”

A lot of parents pin their hopes on pixie dust when it comes to funding their kids’ college educations. Eight in 10 parents think their kids will get scholarships. In the real world, less than one in 10 U.S. students receive private-sector scholarship money — an average of $2,000 apiece, according to FinAid.org.

Even more unrealistic is the myth that great grades and high test scores will lead to a full scholarship. The truth, per scholarship portal ScholarshipExperts.com, is there are many more 4.0-GPA students than there are full-tuition awards, and only one-third of one percent (0.3%) of all U.S. college students earn a full-ride scholarship each year. The time to learn this hard truth is now, not when college acceptance letters start arriving.

The solution: Save something now (or accept that you can’t)

There’s a considerable body of literature out there on the merits of 529s, trusts, and other college savings options. Don’t let the details distract you from the real issue, which is that if you want to help finance your child’s higher education, you must save regularly, starting now.

If there’s no money to save, be honest with your kids about it. You can start educating them about ways to finance college through loans and cut costs with community college transfer credit and placement tests. It’s perfectly acceptable to expect your kids to take responsibility for their own higher learning as long as you prepare them properly to face that reality.

The mistake: “Investing” in extracurricular activities

Everyone’s heard about overscheduled kids with too many after-school activities. Not as much is said about the huge dent extracurriculars can put in your budget — hundreds or thousands of dollars each year for lessons, league fees, uniforms, and more. If you’re sacrificing because you think these activities will pay off when your child gets an athletic scholarship, remember that the Scholarship Fairy is rarely seen. The odds of any particular student getting even a small athletic scholarship at a Division 1 school aren’t significantly better than the odds of a student getting a full-ride academic scholarship.

The solution: Treat extracurricular activities as extras

If your child loves soccer, piano, or hip-hop and you have the time and money to spare, that’s ideal. But if it’s a choice between paying for extras and saving for college, save for college. Find cheaper after-school options for now, and don’t apologize for making that decision.

The mistake: Not teaching your kids to negotiate

There’s a big distinction between a child who’s been taught how to speak up when appropriate and one who’s been trained to be passive in the face of authority. The kids who know how to negotiate tend to earn more money as adults, even when they’re doing the same jobs as those who keep quiet. Salary.com found last year that workers who negotiated a raise every three years earned a million more dollars over the course of their careers than workers who simply accepted whatever they were offered.

The solution: Teach your kids how to deal

Show your kids the ins and outs of deal making through trading games, doing some haggling at garage sales, and expecting them to keep their word. You can find specific age-appropriate suggestions here.

By talking about money and business a little each day, being realistic about college planning, and giving your kids the skills to advocate for themselves, you’ll give them long-term advantages when it comes to understanding and earning money. That’s a valuable legacy to pass from one generation to the next.

MONEY friends & money

3 Tools that Help You Nudge Friends to Pay You Back

restaurant bill with credit cards and cash
Dan Dalton—Getty Images

Fronted a pal for a meal, a vacation or rent? These will help you collect what you're owed, and keep your relationship in tact.

Raise your hand if you’ve fronted money to a friend or relative only to realize that your “loan” ended up being a “gift,” money you never saw again.

We’ve all been there—and probably will be again. A survey by American Consumer Credit Counseling found that 82% of adults would loan money to a family member in financial need. Another 66% would lend to a friend.

In a perfect world, borrowers would quickly pay back their IOUs. But the onus is often on lenders to bring up repayment. After all, as at least one study has found, borrowers sometimes just forget and may even incorrectly assume that they’ve paid up.

To keep the peace, we avoid collecting and regretfully file the experience under: “friends and money, lessons learned.”

But it doesn’t have to always end so poorly for lenders. These three online tools serve as financial liaisons to help coordinate and move along person-to-person payments—so that friends can stay friends.

Booked a group trip on your credit card? Use Splitzee

Let’s say you’ve finished booking a group vacation for you and three friends who’ve all agreed to pay you back.

The upside is that by securing all reservations on your credit card, you earn quadruple the points. The downside is that you could be waiting for a while for your friends to pay you back—and rack up interest charges in the meantime.

Head to Splitzee and create a vacation “pool” ahead of the trip, and invite all three friends to participate. They can pay you back via the site using either a credit or debit card. You can then cash out by either having the site send you a check (which takes up to three business days) or make a direct transfer to your bank account (usually three to five business days).

To get your pals to act sooner rather than later, you might want to add a note of explanation: “I know our trip seems so far away still, but I need to pay off my card’s balance by the end of the month to avoid interest. So if you can make a payment by the 20th, I’d really appreciate it.”

If you want, you can allow everyone in the group to see who’s paid up and who hasn’t, which provides some added pressure.

If the total amount of money collected per pool is under $200 there’s no fee. After that, the site collects 5%. So, for example, if you collect a total of $500, the Splitzee sends you $475.

(If you use the collected money to buy a select product directly from one of the site’s retail partners, no fees apply—but that won’t help with your unpaid credit card balance)

Paid for your roommate’s share of the rent, Cheetos and HBO last month? Use Splitwise

As the first of the month nears, that’s a perfect time to remind your roommate that his portion of the rent and living expenses is due plus the $542 you spotted him last month.

Don’t leave this reminder via a Post-It note on the fridge. Mention it in person and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been thinking it would be helpful for the both of us to begin tracking all of our shared expenses in one place.”

Say you found this interesting free site called Splitwise. There you can create a dashboard listing your joint expenses and invite your roommate to see exactly what he owes (and what you owe).

Splitwise lets users settle up their debts by recording a cash payment, sending money via PayPal or using Venmo. It also sends monthly reminders and alerts so you don’t have to keep chasing down your roommate.

Covered your friend’s steak and martini dinner last week? Use Square Cash

The next time the two of you go out on the town again, and the bill arrives, remind your friend that, “I think you owe me, right?”

Assuming the dinner bill’s roughly the same as last time say, “Are you okay to pay this time?” In the same breath, add, “If not, no worries…You can just pay me back online. It’s really easy.”

If she goes for the latter, introduce Square Cash, a mobile app that lets users transfer money using an email address and their debit card for free to anyone within a matter of seconds.

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at MONEY and the author of the book When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. More of her columns and videos for MONEY.com:

TIME U.S.

City Council Jokes it Will Castrate Mayor if Debt Not Resolved

Joke got sent out by accident

Talk about raising the stakes: if Carmel, Indiana can’t solve its debt problem, the mayor may have to say goodbye to his family jewels.

It’s a joke, but seems to have made its way into the packet distributed to City Council on Tuesday. In a flowchart outlining a contingency plan for dealing with the debt, someone listed “shoot council, castrate mayor, put head between legs, kiss ass goodbye,” as a last resort, USA Today reported.

Another option, according to the chart: increase property taxes “in amount necessary to cover obligation. Kiss political position goodbye.”

City Council President Eric Seidensticker said he made the flowchart months ago as a joke, and shared it with a consultant working with the Clerk Treasurer’s offices. “What you have there is a humorous version that was not meant for distribution,” he told IndyStar. “It was meant to be humorous. So they grabbed the wrong one.”

The events that led to the chart’s distribution are almost as hilarious. Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray is out of the office this week, so the consultant sent out the information packet, and included the joke chart instead of the real one. Seidensticker had gotten eye surgery, so he couldn’t read the packet to catch the error, and he sent the packet to all the Council Members. “I didn’t realize it until somebody (on the Council) called me,” he told IndyStar.

But despite the fact that this was clearly the work of two clowns, Diana Cordray got the blame. “The clerk-treasurer is paid well by the taxpayers and it is unfortunate she is using her time and city resources to promote political campaigns,” Mayor Jim Brainard said in a statement to Current in Carmel. “This blunder is just one in a long line of incompetent and politically motivated things that have emanated from her office.”

TIME cities

Judge Approves Detroit Bankruptcy

The Motor City just took a major step toward recovery

Detroit marked a major milestone along its road back to economic health on Friday, when a judge approved its economic recovery plan, less than a year and a half after the Motor City became, by far, the biggest-ever U.S. public entity to declare bankruptcy.

The Michigan metropolis had been gripped in a steep decline for years leading up to its declaration of bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. The departure of the auto industry from Detroit took with it a large chunk of employment opportunities, and precipitated a mass movement of people out of town, spurring urban decay that was exacerbated by the housing and financial crises.

In February 2014, the city presented its plan, which included deep cuts to pension payments for general city retirees and smaller cuts to police and fire pensions, as well as new funds pledged to improve city services and speed up demolition of empty and decrepit buildings strewn throughout the city.

The plan that Judge Steven Rhodes approved on Friday cuts pension payments by just 4.5%, averting deeper cuts with an infusion of cash into the pension system from the state of Michigan and private foundations. Under the plan, Detroit sheds $7 billion in debt and invests $1 billion in city services. Detroit’s bankruptcy timeline, under a year from the day the city turned out its pockets to a judge approving the recovering plan, is unusually quick—Vallejo, California, for instance, spent three years in bankruptcy.

The deal also negates the need to sell off the city art museum’s world class collection.

[AP]

MONEY Debt

How A College Grad Paid Off $28,000 in 3 Years on a $30,000 Salary

Broken chains
iStock

Think you'll never get out from under those student loan payments? Steal some tips from this college grad who did it in three years.

The average college senior graduated with $29,400 in student debt last year and the number is projected to rise by a staggering 6% per year. Even worse, a full 44% of borrowers aren’t making their payments for one reason or another. Despite the depressing statistics swirling around what’s now been dubbed the current student loan crisis, there are still plenty of college graduates who manage to buckle down, live cheaply, and pay off their debt burdens. (See also: How One Inspiring Saver Found True Love, Shook Off Debt Denial, and Paid Off $123,000)

Take Zina Kumok, for example, who is just one month shy of making her last payment on what was once a $28,000 student loan balance. Through a combination of tenacity and frugal living, Kumok will pay off her debt in just three years — while bringing home an income that’s just slightly higher than what she once owed.

How did she do it?

The Motivation

Like most students today, Kumok didn’t give her loans much thought while she was in school. “It wasn’t until I graduated and had my first job,” she says. “I was making $28,000 per year. It was depressing to think that for the next 10 years I would have this payment that was a large chunk of my income.” Even more motivating, Kumok and her then-boyfriend and now fiancee had started talking about marriage. “I didn’t want to saddle him with my debt. My monthly payment was $350.” (See also: 10 Dark-Side Motivations to Get You Out of Debt)

The Job Switch

Kumok’s newspaper job required frequent night shifts and she was living a three hour distance from her boyfriend. “I wasn’t happy at the newspaper and I wanted to go back to a normal schedule,” she says. “I knew I wanted to switch jobs.”

Kumok was able to land a marketing and communications position in the city where her boyfriend lived and she even received a slight salary bump. (Her current annual income is slightly more than $30,000.) With a little more money coming in and lower expenses now that she wasn’t traveling to see her boyfriend most weekends, Kumok was able to increase her student loan payment by an additional $300 per month. In short, instead of using her excess cash flow to expand her lifestyle, Kumok funneled the extra cash into her loan so she could chip away at her balance month by month. (See also: 6 Simple Steps to Discovering Your True Salary Potential)

Decreased Living Expenses

After their engagement, Kumok and her fiance moved in together. They also took on a boarder. “My rent went down significantly,” she says. “Now I split utilities and rent with two other people. That really made a huge difference. Now half my take-home pay goes toward my loans.” (See also: 7 Unnecessary Household Expenses You Can Cut Today)

Keeping Track

For Kumok, her fairly low income offered motivation to wipe out her debt. “Every month I would go through my statement and I would see how much was going toward interest. It was so much hard earned money and I didn’t have a lot of it,” she says. “When you’re not making a lot, every little bit counts.”

Kumok was further inspired once she was able to boost her monthly payment. “I was finally paying more in principal than in interest,” she says. “I liked seeing my interest decrease each month. I felt like I was throwing less money away.”

Budgeting for the Fun Stuff

Kumok admits she finds it difficult to spend money unnecessarily when she owes so much. Even so, she was able to put money aside for a couple of overseas vacations, proving that debt repayment doesn’t have to be all work and no play. “It was hard for me to relax and have fun,” says Kumok, who was able to take each trip on the cheap. Even so, she says, “I counted my budget every day on those trips. I’m excited to travel on a budget but not feel guilty about it, once my loans are paid off.”

And… What’s Next?

About a year ago, Kumok started saving for retirement. “Once I became eligible for my company’s 401(k), I paid enough to get the match. Now I’ll be boosting that contribution amount.”

She soon won’t owe any money and yet she doesn’t expect that much to change. “I was careful for so long. I don’t want to get back into the frivolous habits I had in college,” she says. “I’m a child of the recession, the stock market crashed when I was in college, and I’m the child of immigrants. There are plenty of horror stories around about people who didn’t save or make careful choices. Those things make it hard for me to take a backseat when it comes to money.”

Being the careful sort, Kumok looks forward to starting her marriage without any debt. “He helps me relax a bit so I hope we’ll learn how to be responsible while still having a balance,” she says.

You can read more about Kumok’s journey on her blog, Debt Free in Three.

MONEY Out of the Red

Have You Conquered Debt? Tell Us Your Story

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With patience, you can pay off large amounts of debt and improve your credit. MONEY wants to hear how you're doing it.

Have you gotten rid of a big IOU on your balance sheet, or at least made significant progress toward that end? MONEY wants to hear your digging-out-of-debt stories, to share with and inspire our readers who might be in similar situations.

Use the confidential form below to tell us about it. What kind of debt did you have, and how much? How did you erase it—or what are you currently doing? What advice do you have for other people in your situation? We’re interested in stories about all kinds of debt, from student loans to credit cards to car loans to mortgages.

Read the first story in our series, about a Marine and mother of three who paid off more than $158,169 in debt:

My kids have been understanding. Now I teach them about needs and wants. The other day, I was coming home from work, and I said, “Do you need anything from the store?” My son said, “We don’t need anything, but we’d like some candy.” If they want a video game, they know they need to save their money to get that video game—and that means there’s something else they won’t be able to get. They understand if you have a big house, that means you have to pay big electricity and water bills. I’m teaching them to live within their means and not just get, get, get to try to impress people.

Do you have a story about conquering debt? Share it with us. Please also let us know where you’re from, what you do for a living, and how old you are. We won’t use your story unless we speak with you first.

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