How to pay off $33,000 in debt in four years
April 2014

By a missionary serving in a security-sensitive location — When applying with SEND International, having a mortgage payment or student debt doesn’t disqualify you from being a missionary candidate. But in order to be accepted, you do need to have a “Reasonable Plan for Repayment”—with action steps and a timeline.

I was able to pay off over $33,000 in four years. If, four years ago, I had told our Director of Selection & Training that was my plan, he would have called it unreasonable. He asked me to write down how I did it for tips and encouragement to others still paying off loans. This may not be possible for everyone, but I hope it can be an encouragement and challenge in some way! 

When I neared graduation and knew that the 10-year payment plan was keeping me from serving God overseas, I knew I had to trust his timeline and make a plan to pay the money back sooner. In order to do this, here were some decisions I made and lessons I learned along the way:

  • I asked God to teach me during this time—to change my heart and let me use this time of repayment as obedient worship. He did just that!
  • I decided to view the loans as a blessing, rather than as bondage. I could only go to the college I did because I was able to take out loans—for this, I am thankful. My monthly payments constricted my budget and taught me how to live on less than what I make. Also, God used my loans to keep me in the States and has used this time to prepare me for serving him overseas in the future.
  • I made my monthly payments manually, rather than using automatic debit. This may not work for some people who may forget easily. For me, it was incentive. I could see the number going down with each payment I made.
  • I saved money on housing. I moved in with an awesome roommate—we shared rent as well as utilities, food, and soap for the dishwasher. She had furniture already, so I only needed to furnish my bedroom. I borrowed the bed from family, the dresser from my parents, and bought a desk off of Craigslist.
  • I didn’t take out more loans. When looking to buy a car, I knew that if I wanted to pay down my student loans quickly, I couldn’t take out a car loan. I shopped around with a very small budget and in the end, God provided a FREE car through my uncle!
  • Dave Ramsey taught me how to budget. After hearing about it for years, I finally sat through Financial Peace University. I hate talking about money, so sitting in a class and small group talking about budgeting sounded horrible to me. Through this class, I learned that a budget wasn’t to keep you from spending, but rather to take control of what you are spending. Once I budgeted for my giving, bills, and student loan payment, I could allocate what was left to areas like: food, gas, and even “fun money.”
  • I paid more than the minimum. When writing my budget, I figured out how much I could pay after my necessary payment. For a few months during my repayment, I was paying three times the minimum monthly payment. Or, I would pay the minimum, then put the extra into savings—paying off the balance of an individual loan in 4-6 months once I had enough in savings.
  • I learned to snowball my payments. Dave Ramsey teaches this too—when making payments, pay off the smaller loan first. Once a loan is paid off, you can take the minimum monthly payment you were paying and put it toward the next lowest loan. You see the balance go down faster and you feel lighter when you have fewer loans taken out (I started with almost 15 loans).
  • I didn’t always buy lattes. I love Starbucks. And with one only two blocks from my apartment, I go there often. But I don’t always buy lattes. Once in a while I’ll treat myself, especially when their Pumpkin Spice Latte is in season (or when I have a gift card). But for the most part, I enjoy their bold roast. I can hang out there more if I’m paying $1.85 for a coffee (with free refills!), rather than $3.85.

Let’s not let debt stand in our way of pursuing missions! 

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