How We Paid Off $483,000 Student Loan Debt in under 6 years

By stephdorworth

January 17, 2023


From 2005-2009 I accrued my first batch of student loans while in undergrad getting my Bachelors. From 2009-2012 I accrued another batch of student loans while in PT school getting my Doctorate. I graduated in 2012 with ~$200,000 in student loans. And within four years, I had paid it off. How? Let’s rewind first.

Prefer to hear about this in video format? Hear the entire story and lessons on YouTube here:

If you recall from my YouTube Story video, I shared how I was led down the path to go to college and grad school even though I’ve always known I had an independent, entrepreneurial spirit.

I graduated with over $200k of student loan debt. And I moved out to Arizona with Zach to start a life there. I began working as a full-time Physical therapist. I loved helping my patients feel better and get back to the hobbies they loved! But I realized pretty quickly that I did not love having to work late shifts, have no flexibility with where I worked, and the glass ceiling to how much I could make. I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to work in corporate PT forever - that retiring in my 40's or 50's would be the goal.

Zach felt the same way. He was studying to be a pharmacist, but soon after graduating and working he had the same realization. So we were both in a HUGE amount of debt with big dreams. Not only did I have ~$200k in student loans at that time, but Zach was also in pharmacy school and accruing over $280k in student loans… They were piling up. So we knew we wanted to tackle mine first and get them paid off ASAP to then tackle his next.

So how did we pay off around half a million dollars in student loans in just six years? I attribute it to three things:

  • setting aligned goals
  • working hard
  • having more than one job.
the freelancer academy

Setting aligned goals

Pretty early on in our relationship, Zach and I discovered that what helped us stay on the same page with finances and remain motivated together was to do once a year goal setting together as a couple. Even in our early twenties as a young couple dating, we would sit down and write out our future goals together: personal, professional, and hobby related. Most people would write down goals of getting a BWM or a house or a Louboutin! But not us. We wanted financial freedom and to be debt-free… so our goals all aligned with that.

We would set health goals and travel goals of course. But most of our goals focused on finances: ways to spend less, ways to make more, and ways to pay off student loans quicker.

To spend less, we lived a simple life. A one bedroom apartment in a more affordable part of town away from the trendy area without a garage. We kept our old cars that still functioned fine and would shop at Walmart for most things. We didn’t go out to eat much unless it was to be social with friends and trips were super budget friendly.

To make more money, we built up several sources of extra income like online coaching, weekend jobs, etc. and any bonuses or extra income went straight to paying off student loans (instead of splurges). 

We lived a simple life that was still full of joy and happiness! And life was easier having goals together! Any decisions that were tough to make became easier to make because we just had to look at our goals and decide based on what aligned with our long term goals best. Should we buy an SUV? No, it doesn't align. Should we go on this group trip for $500/nt? No, it doesn't align. Should we share our health & fitness passions online and coach others? Yes it aligns.

Working hard

In our full-time jobs as a PT and pharmacist we worked really freaking hard. Personally, I had been with the same company and did my best to wow my bosses and make my patients happy. In under three years, I was promoted to clinic manager running my own clinic with staff under me. And thanks to that promotion, I was in the perfect position at the right time when our company was bought out by a larger PT company. So I financially benefited greatly from that. Not because I didn't work hard. I worked really hard to be the youngest female PT promoted to director - really freaking hard. And I had some of the best bosses in my corner who supported me and wanted the best for me - forever grateful.

When you work hard, others notice. And the best people will not only notice you, but support you by lifting you up.

Having more than one job

Very early on in our twenties, we knew the importance of building side hustle incomes, as well as passive income. It started with small tasks like selling eBooks or accepting extra shifts. And eventually grew and grew. Zach had three jobs at one point while I had my PT job, an online coaching business, and an online freelancing business (so we each had 3 sources of income).

When my other friends would spend their free time each night going out to happy hour, out to dinner, and watching TV I was making money instead of spending it. I was on my laptop coaching and teaching. An extra hour here and an extra hour there to build my own business - a business that was all mine. A business I could work on from anywhere, anytime, my way.

We knew that we eventually wanted to invest in our Roth IRAs, HSAs, the stock market, and investment properties for passive income. But for now, we focused on things that were free to get started. For me, that was starting a health & fitness blog and coaching business. And eventually starting freelancing.

It’s funny how freelancing started for me - I had no clue if it would even work! But I threw out this crazy idea to Zach one day. I said Zach, I know our apartment is tiny and ~700 square feet. I know this dining room space is nice to eat meals at. But what if we sold the dining room table and I started filming exercise videos in this tiny space? Would you be mad or find it annoying to not have a table anymore? And guess what - he said to go for it! Without hesitation. Because he’s my #1 supporter and he knew that freelancing aligned with our long term goals. 

So I cleared out this little dining room space, put down my yoga mat, and got to work promoting myself. I listed my freelancing services on Fiverr.com and did my best to stand apart from the rest of freelancers. I made my photos and videos better and pitched myself better. And guess what, it was a slow start. But the orders came in. And once I had happy customers, the positive reviews rolled in. And once those rolled in, I got promoted. And once I got promoted, I could increase my prices. And once I could increase my prices, sigh…I could finally get paid my worth (and not just for my time).

Building a side hustle or side income on top of my full-time job was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If I hadn’t taken that leap of faith to just try, I never would be sitting here as a full-time entrepreneur now. Freelancing has given me all I wanted and more from work - it’s given me joy in working again.

the fiverr roadmap

Take messy scary action to grow

I still can’t believe we did it. We paid off around $483,000 in student loan debt in six years and are now on our way to early retirement. If you want more from your future and you want to pay off student loans quicker then try this process: write aligned goals, work really freaking hard (harder than anyone you know), and build up multiple income streams as quickly as you can.

The more streams of income coming in, the more opportunity there is for one or more of them to take off and skyrocket you to your dream life!

Freelancing may be the perfect side income for you. Is it? Write out your long term goals and what you want from a job. If a remote job that you can work anytime on is what you want, then consider freelancing. I’ve made six figures from freelancing alone. You can do this too if you stay focused on your goals, work hard, and take action to build side income now.

The first step of action to take: invest in yourself. Invest in The Freelancer Academy.

This 10-week course and group mentorship teaches creative, multi-passionate men & women how to increase their income and make money from anywhere! It’s time to start doing what you love while making more money in less time.  

TFA will teach you how to build an online freelancing business on Fiverr to help you gain the financial freedom and schedule bliss you deserve. 

I get it. As a physical therapist who dreaded my 9–5, I took the leap to create my own freelancing business making more than $100k from it!

When you join TFA, I’ll help you learn how to make thousands of dollars as a side hustle so you can get paid for your passion projects and gain financial freedom. When your BFF hears about your success, they'll want to start freelancing, too!

Join today! We start Feb. 1, 2023.

Thanks for reading!

Peace & love, Steph




About Dr. Steph

Six-figure freelance leader and media creator in Phoenix, Arizona energized by seeing you spark your passions into paid gigs freelancing.

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