3 crucial steps that helped a 31-year-old veterinarian pay off $247,000 in student loans in 5 years
- Shawn Wharrey borrowed $247,000 in student loans for veterinary school.
- To pay them off in five years, he spent $20,000 to renovate his house before selling it at a profit.
- Wharrey used the $128,000 profit to pay off the bulk of his loans.
When Shawn Wharrey graduated from veterinary school at age 26, he suddenly realized he had a total of $247,000 in student loan debt.
“The national average entry level salary for a veterinarian is $65,000,” he tells Insider. “When they talk about a standard 10-year repayment plan, the large majority of veterinarians — especially those just starting their careers — can’t afford to make that monthly payment.”
Soon, after getting married to his wife, Kristan Wharrey, he got serious about paying down his student loan debt as quickly as possible. He didn’t want the burden of student loans to follow him and his family for decades.
Three crucial steps helped him pay off his six-figure balance in five years.
1. He and his wife avoided lifestyle creep
Lifestyle creep is the common pattern of spending more money as you earn more money. A typical example of lifestyle creep is buying a flashier car or renting a bigger apartment to celebrate a promotion, without necessarily taking into account how these bigger expenses will eat into your new salary.
Both Kristan and Shawn wanted to avoid lifestyle creep at all costs. During the process of buying their second home, the couple asked their broker for preapproval on a $200,000 mortgage. Their broker approved them for at least six figures more, says Wharrey, but they remained firm on their $200,000 preapproval request.
“We didn’t want to be spending an extra thousand dollars a month on a house that we didn’t really need at the time,” he says.
2. He refinanced his student loans twice to get the best rates
“Refinancing with SoFi honestly was the big turnaround for me,” says Shawn. Before he refinanced his student loans, his interest rates ranged from 5% to 8% across loans from different semesters. After his first refinance, his rate dropped to 4.5%.
At that point, Shawn also went from making $75,000 at a private practice to $120,000 at a veterinary hospital, plus up to $132,000 in bonuses annually (instead of getting paid one flat salary, ER veterinarians are paid bonuses for each patient they see).
He suddenly had a lot more to put towards his loans. He and Kristan budgeted their living expenses based on their combined base salaries of $175,000, while using all of his bonuses to pay down his student loans.
With a higher income and a lower balance of $170,000, Shawn qualified for another refinance with SoFi with an interest rate of 2.5% on a five-year repayment plan. Says Shawn, “Just knowing what your interest rates are and how they affect your overall payments can make a huge difference.”
SoFi Student Loan Refinancing
Laurel Road student loan refinancing
Earnest Student Loan refinancing
3. He used a $128,000 profit from selling his home to pay the bulk of his student loans
After buying, renovating, and selling two family homes in Michigan and Ohio, Shawn knew he could make a bigger impact on his student loans from the profits of selling his third home. He invested $20,000 over the span of two years on DIY renovations, including adding a subway-tile backsplash in the kitchen for $400 and painting the whole house in neutral colors for $2,000 with the intention of putting the house back on the market.
The couple sold their home in April 2022 for $65,000 over the asking price. In total, they made a profit of $128,000, according to records viewed by Insider. When the sale of the house was finalized, Shawn had $108,000 left to pay on his student loans — which the profits more than covered.
Says Shawn, “We didn’t even let the money sit in our account for more than two hours. When the brokerage company transferred those funds, they hit our account at 10:00 a.m., and by 10:30, we had already made the lump sum payment to SoFi because we just didn’t want to have second thoughts about it.”
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