I accrued nearly $50,000 in students loans to pay for my flight training. That cost does not include my school tuition, books, housing, etc. I earned a BS Degree in Aviation Science Professional Pilot from Utah Valley University and did my flight training while I was pursued my degree. It took me only 4 years to accrue that debt, and only 4 years to pay it off. Most people think I'm exaggerating a bit when I tell them that, but that is the truth! Here's how I did it.
I worked my way through college. My first semester of college I worked at Cold Stone Creamery and Shopko. Sadly, having those two jobs barely helped me pay for my tuition and housing; the summer between my first and second semester of college I took a break from flying and schooling and worked at Liberty Safe, creating the interior for gun safes. Of course that was not an ideal job, but it helped me save so I could pay for my tuition for the upcoming school year. During that summer, I interviewed for a receptionist position at a car dealership and was given the job. I started out part time but was soon offered the full time position.
During the second school year I attended classes in the morning, had my flight lessons around noon, and then headed to work after that until 9pm. That job was perfect for me because if all my work-work was done, I was allowed to do homework as long as all the phone calls still got answered. Because I was allowed to do homework at work, I began taking online classes from UVU as well as classes in the classroom. That was a lifesaver for me. I was able to pick up a few more hours at the dealership the next semester and take more credits at school.
My third year at college I landed a job in the UVU Aviation Student Support Center assisting students who were interested in taking college course online. For the easy and fun work I got to do there, I was paid quite well and was allowed to do homework as long as it didn't get in the way of my work. Again, another life-saver job.
With all of those jobs, I never had to use student loan money for college tuition. It can be done, but you have to get creative and maybe get a job that allows you to do some homework in the downtime.
As far as my student loans go, each school year I applied for Financial Aid. I typically received a little bit from subsidized loans (I didn't have to pay for the interest while I was still in school), unsubsidized loans (interest accrued while I was still in school), and grants (free money for making such little money). My grants total was under $1,000, but every little bit helps!
Financial Aid didn't cut it for me, so I had to apply for some additional loans. I received a loan from 2 different banks. For some reason I'm drawing a blank on which banks they were, but they were the ones the school recommended at the time. I didn't have any co-signers for my loans (I didn't want somebody to be stuck with my debt if something happened to me), so I had to accept higher interest rates. But I am a firm believer of taking care of myself, so that seemed like a reward, not a punishment.
By the time I finished my flight training and all the interest had accrued while I was in school and not paying, I was nearly $50,000 in debt. That sounds like a lot, but I had a plan. I didn't want to be paying my loans for the next 30 years so I did a little research and devised a way to pay off my loans as quickly as possible.
Avoid Frivolous Spending.
I bought a Honda Civic for $4,800 while I was still in school and paid it off in less than a year (yes, I needed a car). I kept that car the entire time I paid off my students loans. Many of my friends bought beautiful new cars while they were in school- I felt at times that a new car maybe was something I needed, but it wasn't. I always came to my senses before it was too late.
I always looked for great deals as far as housing goes. I found a sweet apartment just before I graduated that was only $250 per month for a single room; of course I had roommates, but doing so helped me to save more and pay more on my loans. Plus, having roommates ended up being such a great experience for me! To this day, we are still great friends.
Later on, I ended up moving in with my oldest sister and her family because her and I wanted to spend more time getting to know each other. She didn't charge rent (wahoo), but I did my portion of house chores to (kind of) make up for it. That helped me immensely in getting rid of more debt.
Do I Need It, or Do I Want It? Ask yourself this question each time before you buy something. You have to have discipline when learning to fly, so why not carry that over to managing your money? Instead of going to the 3-D IMAX theatre, maybe go get a RedBox movie with some friends and watch a movie at home. Instead of going out for dinner, go out for lunch when many menus have smaller and less expensive items. Instead of shopping at Nordstroms, shop at Marshalls. I think you get my point. Have discipline and you will have your loans paid off in no time. Every little bit helps!
Have a Plan
I'm not sure if it is the same today, but when I graduated from college, loans went into repayment 6 months after graduation. When I received all the balances for my loans, I laid them out next to each other and devised a plan. Initially I thought it would be best to consolidate them into one big loan, but no bank would do that for me (no cosigner and not enough credit history). Not consolidating them, however, made paying them off so much easier for me.
I got online and set up automatic minimum payments for each loan; that way I wouldn't have to remember to pay each month- what a life saver! Then I picked the smallest loan with the highest interest rate to pay off first. I made a monthly budget for myself and figured out how much EXTRA money I could stick on this loan. It wasn't much in the beginning, maybe $200 or so. But I was able to pay that small loan off in just under 1 year. It felt so good to pay off that loan that it gave me the momentum to keep going.
I took all the money that I would have put on that loan (that was now paid off) and added that to the minimum payment for my second loan; I was paying an extra $700 or so on the second loan now. That loan was my biggest one, so it took me a couple of years to pay it off. But putting that much money each month on a loan makes it easy to see the number decreasing, which motivated me to keep going.
Two years later that loan was paid off! I had only one more loan to go. Those payments were over $1500 per month (I don't remember the exact amount), but because I had never had that money for fun spending, it wasn't hard to see it go. So I added that money to the minimum payment of my third loan. Towards the end, I was so antsy to just pay it off that I put a few thousand dollars on it to just get rid of it. And I did it! Paid off $50,000 in 4 years!
To reward myself, I took that money that I would have paid on my loans and put it towards a new car. One of the motives I had while paying loans was "When these loans are paid off, I'm going to buy a brand new car, not used, but NEW." And I did, on April 9, 2012... and then paid off that car in a year.
I'm not saying that paying off my loans that quickly was easy, but it was so worth it. There were times when I wanted to go on some elaborate vacation with my friends, or just give in and buy my car NOW, but I didn't. I had discipline and waited patiently for those things.
Another plus of having my loans paid off was the reduced financial stress my first year at the airlines. It was okay that I had to take a huge paycut because my loans were all paid off! It actually didn't feel like a paycut because if I deducted the money that I was paying on student loans, I actually got a raise working at the airlines with no debt. I fly with other pilots all the time who having been flying much longer than me who still have student loans. If you pay off your loans with only minimum payments, you will waste so much money in interest. If you can afford to, I highly recommend paying your loans off much quicker. Eliminate frivolous spending, have discipline, and work hard to pay of your student loans. You can do it!