Living the Dream While Paying Off $83,000 in Student Loans

Katrina McGhee

Image Courtesy of Katrina McGhee

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you did all the right things to achieve success, only to realize youre not even sure you want the type of success youve earned? And then you feel stuck because you had to take on debt to get there?

This is an all-too-familiar story for student loan borrowers who find themselves embroiled in work that isnt what they thought it would be. And its even harder to transition into something else because the monthly student loan bills make the risk seem too high.

But this story can have a happy ending for the person who can balance ambition and patience with strategy and courage. And for student loan slayer Katrina McGhee, thats what she needed to transition her life to one of fulfillment and happiness, free of debt.

When right starts to feel wrong

Katrina McGhee looked like she was on the perfect path to success. Recruiters were knocking at her door before she even finished her math degree at Smith College. Even if the job offers didnt match her wildest dreams, it was hard to turn down a good opportunity just out of college.

Thats how Katrina came to move to Atlanta after graduating in 2001, with a degree and a

$45,000 per year job offer in hand to become a health actuary. But the offer was just the beginning. She had to obtain new certifications every six months, for a total of 10. She may have had the job, but she still felt like a student.

It only took a few years for Katrina to realize she was bored, unfulfilled, and studying constantly for something she didn’t even want. So, on the advice from a friend, she decided to go to business school.

Another degree should solve it, right?

The next step of Katrinas journey was a full fellowship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But when she received her MBA, the economy was weak, and she had to focus on finding a stable company to work for.

She found it in General Mills, but eight months later she was in the same place she was before hating her work, stuck in a corporate culture that didnt match her personality, and feeling stifled and overwhelmed.

Katrina was also deeper in debt. Although she had paid off her portion of her undergraduate debt of $49,000 (her parents covered $26,000) in 10 years, she took on another $60,000 in student loans for her MBA. Even with the fellowship, which covered her tuition, Katrina had to take out the loans to cover her living expenses while she went to school full-time for two years.

However, Katrina used part of her signing bonus, year-end bonus, and tax return to knock off $11,000 of those loans in her first year after grad school. And she made sure to apply that to her highest-interest-rate loan first an approach known as the debt avalanche payoff strategy. But that still left her with a ways to go.

Taking a beat to make sure the next move will stick

After Katrina realized how unhappy she was at General Mills, her co-worker introduced her to a life coach. This event, it turned out, would change everything.

Before, Katrina thought she couldnt change anything in her life until she achieved certain things, such as paying off her debt and achieving specific career milestones. But talking to a life coach led Katrina to an epiphany about herself:

You want a freaking break. You can give yourself permission to do whatever you want to do. Its so simple.

After that, Katrina spent 18 months saving. And once she had put $40,000 together, she put in her notice so she could take a year off and travel.

Just three years after obtaining her MBA, Katrina was starting over again. Only this time, she wasnt looking for the answers to her problems in her work she was looking for them in herself.

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