When it came to getting on top of her student loan payments, Shonnita Leslie had hit a breaking point.
“I felt like I was stuck in quicksand,” she says. “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a grip on my student debt.” Leslie’s student loan balance was over $80,000 when she signed up for DoorDash, a food delivery platform, in 2018 as a “Dasher” to deliver people’s orders and make extra money on the side. She’s made over $52,000 on DoorDash in the last four years, all of which has gone toward debt payoff, a journey she documented on her website, Noir In Color, and her YouTube channel.
President Biden’s administration has now launched the Federal Student Aid portal, an online platform designed to manage and streamline the recently announced student loan forgiveness program. In its first week, more than 22 million Americans signed up. But for some, the prospect of up to $20,000 in federal loan forgiveness hardly makes a dent: 7% of student loan borrowers owe more than $100,000, accounting for a third of all college debt owed.
As a result, many Americans are turning to side hustles or the gig economy to tackle their debt. If you’ve thought about DoorDash or another platform to make money on the side, here are Leslie’s top tips.
“I Had $5 of Gas Left in my Car”
By the time Leslie graduated college and entered the workforce, she had borrowed $80,676.38 in student loans: $30,783.00 in private loans, and $49,894.38 in federal loans. With interest accrual factored in, paying off her student debt was going to cost her over $100,000. Additionally, she had accumulated over $33,000 in non-student debt, including medical debt, credit card debt, and a car loan.
“If someone had told me that it would take me 20 years to pay off what I borrowed for six years of higher education, I would have made different choices,” she says.
With her loan payments taking a considerable percentage of her monthly income, Leslie became increasingly overwhelmed and stressed at work.
Aspire to have debt payments make up no more than 36% of your monthly income; if you’re above this, it may be tougher to get approved for a personal loan or a mortgage. A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio calculator is available here.
When she began researching debt management solutions online, she discovered the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. This federal program offers tax-free federal debt forgiveness to individuals who elect to work in public service careers and make 120 consecutive on-time monthly payments on their debt. In 2011, Leslie left her job to start a new career that would make her eligible for the PSLF program.
The job wasn’t a pay bump, though, and Leslie was burdened with high debt payments for several years thereafter. She signed up to become a Dasher as a last resort.
“My DoorDash journey started in 2018,” she says. “I had $5 worth of gas in my car when I signed up and got approved on the platform. I figured if I could make enough to pay for gas, I’d stick it out over the long term. I made $30 in my first hour.”
Leslie stuck with it as a side hustle, and, over the next four years, used DoorDash to make $52,445.11 in additional gross income, according to documents reviewed by NextAdvisor.
|Year||Leslie’s DoorDash Earnings|
An Expert Dasher’s Top Tips for Success
Leslie used the income she generated on DoorDash from 2018 to 2020 to pay off her car loan, credit card debt, and medical debt. From there, she focused all of her side hustle income on paying off her student loans.
Here are some of her best practices for being efficient with her DoorDash delivering time:
- Work within a specific time block every day. Leslie says that consistency will help you identify trends in your geographic market.
- Identify the 20% of locations or restaurants that generate 80% of the orders. Then, only work in that location.
- Patrol high-density areas where busy individuals live and work. Examples include office parks, college campuses, college dorms, student apartments, high-end apartment complexes, hospitals, and airport hotels.
- Be pleasant, friendly, and courteous when delivering to customers. DoorDash customers usually tip while ordering, but being pleasant might nudge them to increase their tips.
- Communicate with your customers while you’re in the process of fulfilling their deliveries. Excellent customer service goes a long way toward keeping your ratings up.
Take Control of Your Student Loan Payoff Journey
In 2022, on her tenth anniversary of working in public service, Leslie received a message from FedLoan Servicing, the entity responsible for managing the Federal Student Aid program. The message said that $60,045.81 of her federal student loans had been officially terminated from her records. Leslie shared her lessons learned as someone who has completed the PSLF program from start to finish on YouTube.
“In high school, you’re not taught about financial literacy,” she says. “Your income and debt payments have a huge impact on what you’re able to do as an adult.”
If you’re looking to reduce your debt burden, increase your income, and get back on track toward achieving financial independence, let this story about embracing the gig economy inspire you to change the narrative of your own student loan payoff journey.