Roughly 44.7 million Americans have student loan debt according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. However, one Bellingham couple can now exclude their name from that statistic.
As soon as their tax return was deposited, Kayla and Ryan Anderson completed a five and a half year journey to paying off a sobering student loan tab of more than $400,000 between the two of them.
“It’s nice to know that Sallie Mae is never going to call us up again,” Ryan said.
Kayla graduated with her doctorate degree in physical therapy from Loma Linda University in 2013 and Ryan graduated with a masters in orthotics and prosthetics from LLU in 2014.
Shortly after graduating from graduate school in southern California the couple returned to the Pacific Northwest to start their family and be close to their parents. They also began repaying their student loans.
When they started making payments on the combination of subsidized, unsubsidized, and loans borrowed from family their total was $366,000, Kayla said. However, in the past five and a half years, we paid off $407,858 due to the interest we accrued, she added.
Between all 24 loans, the Andersons had an average interest rate of 6.5 percent, with some loans accruing interest as high as 7.9 percent and some accruing interest while still in school.
“When I made some of the first spreadsheets I was shocked,” Kayla said. “I sat there and cried a little because it just felt completely overwhelming.”
Most of the debt was accrued during their graduate programs although some carried over from their undergraduate degrees.
After the initial sticker shock, Kayla said she Googled ‘How to get out of debt fast’ and one of the results was a video of Dave Ramsey, a well-known radio host and financial advisor, who laid out his Seven Baby Steps for paying off debt as fast as possible.
Step one is to save a $1,000 rainy day fund, Kayla said. Step two is to pay off all debt, aside from your mortgage, by starting with your smallest bills first, she said.
The couple has been sharing their story with nearly 10,000 followers on the Instagram account @dumpingdebtwithdave.
“A lot of people have asked us about how we budget,” Kayla said. “Most people think you just track what you spend as opposed to having a plan for every single dollar you are going to spend.”
That plan, or miniature contract the couple sets for themselves at the beginning of each month, is known as a zero-based budget.
With this carefully crafted budget, when the Andersons subtract their total monthly expenses from their total monthly income it always equals zero. This leaves no dollar unaccounted for while simultaneously putting any amount left over to chipping away at the debt.
Ryan currently works as a product development engineer at Superfeet in Ferndale and Kayla is a stay at home mom for their one-year-old daughter, but has worked in a variety of physical therapy clinics.
Over the past five years, the couple’s average household income was $112,000. We worked a lot, at one point Kayla had three jobs and I had two, Ryan said.
While their monthly income has fluctuated over the years, on average, each monthly budget includes roughly $1,100 for rent, $400 for food, $50 for clothing ($25 each), $100 for gas (Ryan commutes 22 miles to and from work via bike), $200 for their one-year-old, $100 for gifts, $35 for their dog, $50 for miscellaneous, $50 for pocket money ($25 each) and $32.38 for entertainment (Zwift subscription).
“Organization is key because you have to know where your money is coming and going,” Ryan said. “The goal of this is so we can push as much towards the bottom line for the debt as possible.”
Most months the couple managed to pay off an average of about $4,000 of their debt. One month it was $80 and one month it was $0. Last month they paid off $7,533.
About 66 percent of their pre-taxed income went to their debt. Their biggest payment was $68,000, an inheritance that Ryan received from his grandmother.
Now that the couple is debt-free they plan to crack a keg of root-beer gifted to them by Ryan’s cousin and celebrate with friends and family. Future goals include beginning saving for a $15,000 emergency fund and a college fund for their daughter.
The couple says they want students and recent graduates to know that by educating yourself, setting a plan with small goals and dedicating yourself to the process there is hope.
The sooner you can pay it off the sooner that money is yours to invest, buy something nice, start a new business or help people, Kayla said.
If we could do anything different we would look for more opportunities for additional scholarships, grants and work-study programs while going to school, Ryan said.
“Student loan debt is not the final nail in your financial coffin,” Kayla said. “The opportunities that will open up to you as you become debt-free are just profound.”