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How a 30-year-old with $100k in debt paid it off in just 5 years

Alaina Curry wanted to be debt-free by 30, but she hit some unexpected bumps on her debt payoff journey. Select spoke to her about how she met her goal.

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Courtesy of: Alaina Curry

When Alaina Curry graduated from college in 2009, she had accumulated more than $80,000 in student loans. While she appeared successful to friends and family — working a well-paying PR job in Las Vegas — her debt grew to more than $86,000 in the five years after graduation because of her credit card usage. In 2016, overwhelmed by her mounting debt, she broke down in front of her friend and admitted to missing some of her monthly student loan payments.

That moment motivated Curry to make a plan to pay off her debt. At 25, she decided she wanted to be debt-free by the time she was 30. She sought out a variety of resources so she could learn about paying off her debt, reading Dave Ramsey's book "The Total Money Makeover," watching YouTube channels like Minority Mindset and Graham Stephan, and listening to podcasts by Patrice Washington and The Budgetnista.

Curry decided to use the snowball method to pay off her debt, tackling her smallest credit card bill first, which was $750. With the snowball method, you start by paying off the smallest amount of debt first, so you can achieve a quick win before tackling your bigger balances. The idea is that a quick win will help you build momentum.

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Curry also recognized that paying off her debt fully would required her to make some sacrifices. With her lease ending in September 2016, she decided to move in with her aunt and uncle in Las Vegas to save money. She started treating her debt repayments like a rent payment: Each month she required herself to pay at least $900 toward her student loan debt.

She also worked to build up an emergency fund with the supplemental income she earned from her side hustles. She took on retail jobs at Target and then Michael Kors, and also used online services like Upwork for freelancing and copyediting. She even started her own photography business. In total, she earned $12,000 from her side hustles.

Curry lived with her aunt and uncle for three years and managed to pay off all of her credit card debt and two private student loans worth around $37,000. At the beginning of 2019, she felt ready to move out on her own.

Dealing with surprise expenses

Yet, in May 2019, shortly after she moved out of her uncle and aunt's house, disaster struck. Curry was in a car accident that totaled her car. While she was lucky to walk away from the accident with no injuries, she had to buy a used car, adding another $14,000 to her debt load. Just two months after that, she was in a four-car pile-up. While this accident didn't require her to buy another car, she had to pay up-front for repairs. She wasn't reimbursed for those expenses until she settled with the car insurance company a year later.

Curry couldn't catch a break. In February 2020, she got a new PR job, but just one month later, she was laid off because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, Curry had built up an emergency fund and had paid off nearly $50,000 of the $101,000 in debt she had accrued from her student loans, credit cards and car accident expenses.

"When they told me that I had been laid off, it was obviously a scary feeling," Curry says. "But I can't imagine how it would have felt if I had been up to my head in bills like I had been in 2016."

Becoming debt-free

In September 2020, Curry started a new job in Dallas, and she decided to refinance the largest chunk of remaining student loan — a Navient loan worth $38,000 — with SoFi to get a lower interest rate. After dialing back her monthly debt repayments when she was unemployed, Curry got aggressive about her debt, making monthly payments of $3,000 toward her student loans. 

On October 31, 2021, Curry wrote a LinkedIn post about becoming debt free that went viral on the site, receiving nearly 25,000 reactions and more than 1,500 comments. When asked about what advice she would give to others struggling to pay off massive amounts of debt, Curry stresses the importance of having an end goal. For Curry, that meant shaving financial freedom and not having to constantly worry about money.

She says it's important to remain motivated on your debt payoff journey. Curry regularly watched videos and listened to podcasts about other people's debt repayment stories, which inspired her to keep up with her own.

Most importantly, Curry emphasizes that it's important to be flexible and kind to yourself during the debt repayment journey. When she had to deal with two car accidents and losing her job within a 12 month time span, she was able to get back on track because she accepted that some events were out of her control and she was grateful to have an emergency fund she could fall back on.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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