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How I Paid Off $170,000 of Student Loans

Encouraging advice on how to quickly pay off expensive student loans! This testimony is SO inspiring!

Testimonial from Chantel of ABC Murrah Family

I am a podiatrist (foot and ankle doctor) and there are only a handful of schools around the country that offer a degree in Podiatric Medicine — and at the time, they were all private schools. That meant very expensive tuition.

I applied for every scholarship I could (and received several) but they didn’t even cover the cost of my books. And because our academic schedule was so rigorous, we were not allowed to work with the exception of work study on the campus — I picked up as many teaching aid jobs and other positions as I could!

I was also single so there was no spouse to help pay the tuition or even with the cost of living. I was literally living on student loans.


By the time I graduated and finished residency, I was facing about $170,000 of student loan debt. They were on a 30-year note, but with a lot of hard work, I was able to pay them off in 10 years by following a few simple steps:

I Lived on Less:

My husband and I (I was married by this point) decided to live on just his salary so that my entire salary could be sent in to my student loans. At the time I graduated, we had no children but we knew as they joined our family, I wouldn’t be working as much anyway, and we didn’t want to count on my salary to live.

I Set Small Goals and Tracked the Progress:

$170,000 was a huge amount, and at the beginning, it seemed endless.

So, I set small goals for myself — the first one was a $4,000 variable loan. Even though it barely made a dent in the total, knowing I had met that goal gave me so much satisfaction and a desire to keep going. I also had a ticker on my blog. Watching it go down and down gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment.

I Set up an Automatic Payment:

My student loan company offered an incentive for having automatic payment. This lowered my interest rate by a quarter point.

I Increased the Amount I Paid Monthly:

I had the loan company automatically take out more than the amount due. This paid more to the principle and ensured that I was paying less in interest. I also found I was less likely to spend that extra money on other things because it was automatically being taken out.

I Started with the Highest Interest First:

Most of my loans were on a low fixed rate of 2.25%, but I had a few loans that were on a variable rate of 12%. I applied the extra amount specifically to those loans first.

I Sent in Extra Money:

ANY time I had any extra money, I would send it into my student loans. When I was in residency and making very little money, sometimes it was only $25… but every penny helps!

I Found Extra Ways to Make Money:

I wanted every penny from my salary to be sent into my student loans so I started a Vinyl lettering company at home. The money I made from that company was set aside for other expenses.

I Never Gave Up:

There were many, many times that I wanted to but I didn’t and eventually my hard work paid off!

I learned invaluable lessons from paying off my student loans and while I don’t usually condone acquiring debt, this was one loan that I’m glad I took. Without it, I never would have obtained my degree — and that to me was worth every penny I had to spend (and then some).

I also got the satisfaction of knowing I could work hard and reach my goal. I wouldn’t have gotten the same experience had I not paid off those student loans!

Chantel has been married to her sweet heart since 2002. They have four small children, under six, which keep her busy and a little crazy. She also works quarter-time as a podiatrist. Read all about their crazy life at ABC Murrah Family.

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  • Courtney G. says:

    Congrats!! What an amazing accomplishment. Both becoming a Podiatrist and paying off your loans so quickly.

    Its nice to see such an inspiring post!

  • Denise says:

    Wow so exciting! And while Dave Ramsey may not agree I don’t think your debt was bad! You invested in an amazing career helping people! Paying it off in 10 years is wonderful! Congrats!

  • Chantel says:

    Thank you all for the nice comments. It had my whole day seeing this posted today!!!

  • Meredith M says:

    Way to go!

  • Susan in St. Louis says:

    Wow! I have to say when I saw the title of your post, my jaw dropped! 🙂 Congratulations!

  • Pamela says:

    Awesome job, Chantel!

    I took some loans for my PhD too, against Dave Ramsey’s advice, but I’m glad I did. And they were paid off quickly, even before I graduated. I don’t condone debt either, except for mortgages, but I have to say I’m a softie about advanced degrees. 🙂


  • Jessica says:

    I encourage all of you to read the story linked into the post. It’s amazing testament to how sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith- the falls scary but looking back the ride is amazing!

  • These are great tips. I cringe at the thought of how much my loans are going to be when I finish medical school.

  • Lori says:

    Way to go! Just think, because you weren’t a servant of your debt and learned to live frugally, you are able to enjoy being with your little ones most of the time. 🙂

  • Jennifer C. says:

    I was also impressed that you started a vinyl lettering company on the side!! I think this shows just how committed and hard working you are to find ANY way to be able to keep on that track of getting out of debt. And, Congratulations!!!!!!

    • Chantel says:

      The vinyl business was fun. I’m not doing it any more because it got too hard with four kids. All the equipment is paid for, though and I just do it for friends and family.

  • Meagan says:

    Your discipline and drive is to be admired!

  • Lynn says:

    That is so great! My daughter just recently graduated from law school. She too went to a private college, but was able to work as a bank teller all through her undergrad and law school. I am so very proud to say, that when she walked this past May to receive her JD, she was “DEBT FREE”! With the help of some scholarships and her hard work she was able to achieve her dream. The university frowned upon working while in law school, but my daughter was raised that “DEBT” is a four letter words, so she was determined to work and pay her own way, and that she very well accomplished.

    • Chantel says:

      Congratulate her for me. That is awesome.

    • Kay says:

      That’s great – but there is a reason the law school frowns on it. Their accredidation is contingent on permitting full-time students to only work a certain number of hours per week (perhaps 20? I’m not 100%, and think it may vary by year).

  • Lana says:

    Way to go!

  • Lindsey Swinborne says:

    Way to go! A very nice post. However, I have a question. Most non-doctors seem to have an idea in their heads that doctors make a lot of money. So, I guess I’m wondering why it took 10 years to pay off your loans. Did you work for 10 years full-time after completing residency? Or did you start having children and work very minimally over the last 10 years in order to pay off the debt? I guess I was thinking that if you worked full-time as a doctor you could pay off that much in 2-3 years.
    Anyhow, you’ve done a great job! As a mom of 4 kids also, I know how busy your life must be!

    • Chantel says:

      Then ten years were the years 2002 – 2012. I was in residency from 2002 – 2005. I started my practice in July 2005. I got pregnant with my daughter that next summer. I had about a year and a half where I was technically working full-time. That being said, however I wasn’t always busy. It takes time to build a patient base and since I’m not on salary and only get paid a portion of what I collect from billing, the more patients I see, the more I make. I didn’t make a whole lot that first year. I have been quarter time (ten hours or less) since my 1st daughter was born in 2007. I would have loved to have paid them off even earlier but that’s how long it took me and I was literally sending in every penny I could. I thought ten years on a thirty year note was pretty good!

      • Chantel says:

        I should probably also note that if I stay under ten hours a week it significantly drops my malpractice insurance. Any more hours and it wasn’t really worth working just to pay the bulk of my salary to malpractice.

      • Lindsey Swinborne says:

        Thanks for taking time to answer my question! It helped me to understand. Online it says the average podiatrist makes $176,000 a year. But I’m sure that’s full time and with a full client load! =)

  • That’s great! This year is my 10-year reunion for my undergraduate degree (and next year will be my husband’s 15-year reunion for his undergraduate degree). Both of us also have a second degree. We’re down to $15,500 on one student loan. Thanks for your encouraging post! I’d love to have ours paid off by the time our daughter is ready for Kindergarten, one year from now.

    I was wondering, what did you use for the “debt-ticker” on your blog?

  • Jessie says:

    I am so impressed and encouraged by this post! The timing is so incredible. My husband just began medical school a few weeks ago, and so we have had many, many conversations over the past few months about all the loans we are having to take out. I even had a conversation this morning with another 1st year’s wife about all the debt we will have after med school and how we want to be diligent in paying it off when he gets out. Thank you so much for sharing this story!

    • Chantel says:

      Good luck to you and your husband. I remember an Attending telling me I’d get my loans paid off and I never believed him. It seemed overwhelming at the beginning but I can tell you there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

  • Kerry says:

    I was just wondering, I graduated from PA school one year ago and have a very similar amount of debt. My loan officer recommend I do a repayment plan based on my income so my payments are less than a standard repayment plan so I can actually afford a mortgage, etc, and the loan is forgiven after 20 years no matter how much I have left due. I originally thought same as you that I want to pay this back ASAP, but now I’m wondering if I can pay back much less over 20 years, wouldn’t that make more sense? Thanks for any advice and congrats to you! Trust me, I know what an accomplishment that is!

    • Chantel says:

      I have friends that are focusing on paying their mortgages off first since they are at higher interest rates. In my case, this was the bigger debt load, actually more than our mortgage if you can believe it, so we made the decision that was best for us. I also don’t believe there is a forgiveness program after 20 years with the company that owned my student loans. In your case, it does sound like that would be a better option.

    • lisa says:

      Hi, Kerry! Have you been able to find a good paying job. My friends daughter is in a 2 year PA school. She has already done her regular 4 years of college & her parents paid for what her scholarships didnt. Is your pay good , even compared to malpractice money you have to pay? Was it worth the money in loans? With Obamacare is it going to be good to go into PA area? Her parents have took on parttime jobs to pay for it. They are in laTE 50s & 60’s & is taking a tole on them. Thanks for replying! Lisa

  • Liz says:

    What an encouraging testimony! Praise God! Thank u for being an example of a women who worked hard on her career but decided to be home with her children. It saddens me when I have heard people say “why are you wasting your degree.” That is so interesting about the malpractice insurance. A Dr. and a stay at home mom…I luv it!!

  • Monica Johnson says:

    Question tho: I’m working on an MPH and my friend who is also an MPH student told me there was a program under this administration that will forgive student loan debt after 10 years for those working in the health field. Have you heard of this? I’m not sure if it was true or not, but Congrats on getting rid of your debt!

    • Chantel says:

      A quick Google search and I found that there is a loan forgiveness program of up to $10,000. It started in 2007 and you have to pay 120 months first so the first people will be eligible in 2017.

      • Monica Johnson says:

        Lol thanks for responding:). I could have googled it myself but I plan on going back in the military after I finish and working for the federal govt does wipe out all student loan debt after 10 years.

      • Tracy says:

        I am a nurse, and because I am a single mom of many, my income based payment is still 0 for my RN degree I got in 2012. I was hoping since I work at a non profit hospital I could use this program, but because I am a 0.6 position it doesn’t count. Hospitals hire very few full time, it is a lot easier for them to deal with a varying census with staff they don’t have to guarantee full time. I wish the program covered part timers also.

  • Christine says:

    This is so inspiring. How did you tell your husband (before he was your husband) about your debt load? I have heard some young women say that men have rejected them when they find out about their student loan debt. Good for the two of you for working as a team to get rid of it!

    • Chantel says:

      We met during my 3rd year of school and his last year of grad school. I came with the debt. I guess he decided I was worth the risk!

  • Colleen says:

    Hi, I am a divorced mother of 2 who went back to school to become a nurse and is graduating next month. I think you and your husband are amazing for paying off 170,000 in 10 years!

    I clicked through to read the article hoping I would find some tips that would help me to start paying off my loans and getting married using all my money for loans is not going to be realistic for most people and certainly not for me at this point in my life. A better title would have been, How my husband and I paid off my student loans.

    • Chantel says:

      Yes, having someone help you financially is one of the many benefits of marriage. I am very blessed. I applaud your efforts as a single mom and you are right, my husband does deserve a lot of credit.

  • Carmen says:

    Great job and congratulations! I borrowed $60,000 for my undergrad 15 years ago (not the best decision in the private school I chose). My loan was a 20 year loan. When I paid off my car, I rolled that money into my student loan and ended up paying it off in 10 years as well… Saving a ton in interest. That is so amazing you did $170,000 in 10 years! I know it must feel great!

  • ambra says:

    good job at paying the loans. although i do disagree with what order you paid them in. i would pay them off by how much i owed from lowest to highest. that way you accomplish more in paying off loans faster.

    • Susan says:

      If you have multiple loans, paying them off in order of lowest balance to highest balance only lets you check them off a list faster. By paying the loans with the highest interest rates first, you pay less in overall in the long run.

      Congrats on this accomplishment Chantal.

  • Cynthia says:

    Hi, just wanted to say congratulations and what an awesome accomplishment! I am looking at student loans not quite as much but for daunting just the same. Your story is encouraging and lets me know that get plan and stick to it and you will reach your goal!!

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  • I love that you decided to live completely on your husband’s salary. That is some awesome self-control. Congrats!

  • Sarah E says:

    What a fantastic story! This was a great read – thanks for sharing and inspiring us!

  • Jessica says:

    I applaud your and your husband’s accomplishment in paying down such a large sum over such a short amount of time. My question is why would you incur all of that debt in order to secure a degree and then not practice full time? I understand the desire to have children and a family and a job but why spend all that time and money on something you’re only going to do for 2 hours each day?

    • Chantel says:

      My time at home with my kids is too valuable. They are only little once. I will have plenty of time to work full-time when they are older, if I desire. When I started my degree, I was single and while I desired to be married with kids, I didn’t know if that would ever happen. I also didn’t think I should have to choose between my dreams. I have luckily found a way to balance them both. I absolutely love being able to practice. I love my patients. I am a better person for knowing each one of them but my primary responsibility right now is to my children and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

      • Chantel says:

        Also, had I wouldn’t have met my husband if I hadn’t gone to that school. He was worth the money, lol.

      • Katie T. says:

        Good for you! I agree. 🙂

      • Mandy Brown says:

        I currently am not working but my husband works 40 hours a week. I have two schools of debt and their total is $44,000. What are some ways that you can think of that I can get this paid off? If we paid 175.00 every month, it would pay the interest and the principal. Also, if we decide to get a house next year, don’t people frown on loans of any kind? I’m at a loss. Any and all help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Swaps says:

    Congratulations Chantel! Great story 🙂

  • Hannah says:

    Wow, what an incredible story! That is a great accomplishment (becoming a doctor AND paying off the loans). Thanks for sharing!

  • Samantha says:

    thank you for the tips!

  • Tammy W. says:

    I know of several women in the medical profession, particularly, whose career choices have basically “robbed” them of the opportunity to choose to stay at home with their children–especially because of the debt involved. For that reason, I thought I’d never recommend our daughter (or any other young lady asking my advice) go into such a profession. Your testimony is exceptional, though!

    I especially love that you’re only working quarter-time, now. I’m sure you’re making more than many do full-time, so my general idea about not suggesting women who want families pursue medical careers is now changed!

  • Alicia says:

    Great job!

  • Diane Rogalski says:

    I have a question. My son has almost a 220,000 debt due to Pharmacy school he too paid off the smaller loans but the banks wont even consider consolidating them due to the amount . He got no scholarships there were none offered at MCPHS. He works at a hospital and was not even able to claim the interest
    he paid on the loans due to how much he makes. Do you have any suggestions on how to lower this debt. As his parent I can not help him with this debt

  • Saira says:

    Hi! Thank you for posting. I got accepted in a private school for PA program and probably will end up being in debt like you. The writing is very inspiring. May I ask how long did it take you to pay off all your loans.

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