How To Be A Stay-at-Home Mom (With Student Loans)
Becoming a stay-at-home mom can be daunting, especially if you have student loans. But you can totally do it! And I hope the following will help.
Step 1: Know How Much You Owe
Thankfully you are a super organized person! So you're going to use those skills to get super clear on what you owe. That way you have a very specific goal you are striving for. This clarity will help the debt feel more manageable because you will have a detailed plan on how you will tackle it. So your job is to find out the total amount, of all of your loans. Undergraduate and graduate, subsidized and unsubsidized.
How Do You Find Out How Much You Owe?
Go to your student loan servicer's website and create an online account. Your student loan servicer is the company that sends you your bill. Online you can get a better picture of what your loans look like. You'll also be able to view your payment history, see how much interest you pay a month and even designate where each payment goes. Key numbers you should know are...
Current Balance: The total amount you owe.
Principal Balance: The original amount you borrowed.
Outstanding Balance: The amount left on your loan. If this number is higher than your principal balance, it means your loan is growing.
Interest rate: How much the lender is charging you to have this loan. This number can typically range from 3%-20% and can be different for each loan.
Accrued Interest: This is the unpaid interest. Some loans require you to pay down the interest before applying any payments towards your principal balance.
Knowing your numbers will make you more financially confident. Meaning, you’ll feel more in control of your financial future because you actually understand how your payments are broken down and where your money is going.
How much you owe should also match the number on your credit report. You can get a free credit report here. Annualcreditreport.com only allows one free credit report a year. But Experian (which is one of the credit agencies — the others are TransUnion and Equifax) has a free app, that allows you see changes to your credit report as they happen. So every month your credit report should reflect your updated balance. It’s a cool checks and balance system to get a complete overview of your financial health and make sure that there are no discrepancies in what you owe. Discrepancies can happen if your loan is transferred from one loan servicer to another (which happens frequently) and records are lost.
Step 2: Change Your Mindset
Now that you have a clear understanding of your debt, you must adopt a new mindset. As stay-at-home moms we function better with less financial burdens. This allows us to focus more on our homes and our children. So instead of paying off bills in monthly increments, our job is to keep the amount of bills we have to a minimum. So this means, we are not going to pay down our loans -- we are going to pay them off. Making sure you have this aggressive mindset ensures that getting rid of your student loans is a priority.
Your future self is going to be so grateful that you took this step. Just like you worked super hard to get to where you are today (being able to stay home with your children); your future self is going to be super happy and super proud that you committed to this goal during your child-rearing years.
Step 3: Type Your Total Into A Pay-Off Calculator
Now that you know how much you need to pay, you can try our repayment quiz to see which plan can help you reach your goal.
Student loans are clever because they include compound interest, amortization, principal balance — basically a laundry list of financial terms you had no idea existed when you signed up for them. No worries! The above calculator factors all of that in and is going to help you estimate how much you need to pay to get rid of them.
For example, let's take a sample student loan of $82,000, at a 7.40% average interest rate. If you want to get rid of them in 5 years, you would pay $1,639.22 a month. Please know your ultimate payment may depend on how many loans you have, if you have different interest rates, and your payment plan.
There are programs like parental leave deferment which allow you to pay $0 when pregnant or caring for a newborn. But if your goal is to get rid of your loans, you are going to want to keep plowing through your payments until it’s done. Plus, deferring payments on unsubsidized loans still collects interest -- making your loans grow even more.
Step 4: Stick To The Plan!!
During your pay off journey you may feel a bit hesitant to follow the goals you initially set. For example, during an economic downturn you may want to save more money instead of paying off your loans. But saving is typically for family emergencies and if you’re reading this, your student loans ARE that family emergency. Getting rid of them will put you and your family in a much better position. Once you set a goal the Universe literally works to help you meet it. So stick to the goal you set and don’t worry about the distractions.
Step 5: Tell Your Partner (And The Rest Of Your Family)
I’m not suggesting you randomly tell your family your goal, I’m assuming things may come up. For example your spouse may ask where do you want to go for your family vacation, or a sibling may ask to borrow money. Politely saying that you are working on an important financial goal keeps you focused on why you are saying no to theirs.
Step 6: Pay Down Principal
Depending on the payment plan you choose, you may notice that your payments aren’t going towards the principal -- they are just going towards interest. This is especially true for income-based repayment plans which are designed to keep your payments low. This can mean your student loans are not going down -- they may be going up.
If you allow your loan servicer to designate what payments go where, they may be paying down your low interest loans first, which is good for them. It allows them to recoup more of their investment (especially if the loan will be forgiven instead of paid off). But this doesn’t benefit you. This means, the loan with the higher interest is continuing to grow at an accelerated rate, and it will take an even longer time to pay off your loans.
But don’t freak out!! If you have an online account, there’s an option called payment allocation. This allows you to choose how your payment is broken down. You will want to focus on paying off the higher interest first.
Payment allocation may not be available on your loan servicer's app. So make sure to log onto an actual computer when paying your loans. Technology is advancing pretty quickly, so this may change over time, but at this point, I’ve noticed more website functionality on the desktop version.
Step 7: Get "Paid in Full" Letter
After months (or years) of consistently sticking to your goals, you’ll get a PIF letter. PIF stands for paid in full. It looks something like this...
Above is a sample letter, with identifying information crossed out. The letter should be on your loan servicer's letterhead. It will also have your name, address, account and loan number. You should get a letter for every loan you have. For example, if you have 2 separate loans, you should receive 2 separate letters.
It’s important to safely store and hold onto these documents. You may also want to call your student loan officer to verbally confirm you have a zero balance. And lastly check your credit report to make sure it reflects your new financial freedom.
Are Stay-At Home Moms Eligible For Student Loan Forgiveness?
The public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) program is currently designed to forgive loans of full-time public service employees (such as non-profit workers). Stay-at-home moms can always start a non-profit of their own and work as a full-time employee. This would require you to get an EIN (employer identification number), be classified as a non-profit by the IRS and file all the required paperwork. You'd also have to check the Federal Student Aid website to confirm that your non-profit counts as a qualifying entity. I'd only do this if you have a non-profit idea that you are really excited about, and is an extension of who you already are, so that it isn't a burden as you raise your little ones. Please know you will have to work for this non-profit full-time and make 120 qualifying payments towards your loan. The loans also have to be Direct Loans. You can consolidate your loans into Direct Loans if they are not. Lastly, you can get your monthly payments close to $0, if your salary is low and you qualify for a income-driven repayment plan. The Federal Student Aid website designed a help tool with frequently asked questions, if you're serious about going this route.
While this is a very creative solution for resolving your student loan debt, I am slightly weary of its effectiveness because there are stories of people being denied loan forgiveness for minor details. But if you're confident that you can keep up with and regularly file your paperwork on time this could be a great option for you!
Where Do You Get Money To Pay Off Student Loans When You’re A Stay-At-Home Mom?
Stay at home moms may have earned income through part-time gigs, rental income, or running businesses (to name a few). Companies like Turo and getaround allow you to rent out your car. Neighbor allows you to rent out a parking spot, garage, attic, office space and more. Tax returns can also be a great way to make a lump sum payment that’ll accelerate your payoff goal. Below's a video from a lawyer that really encouraged me. She had $225,526 in loans and paid them off in 2 years. Yes, she made over $250,000 a year at the time, but I strongly believe if she can do it, we can too!
What If Your Spouse Doesn't Support Your Pay Off Goals?
You may feel your spouse makes more than enough to eliminate your financial stress. You may also believe, the family will be better off (especially since you made the huge sacrifice of resigning from your career to stay home).
But your spouse may have their own financial goals. And that shouldn't stop you from reaching yours!
Paying off an enormous debt with limited income is possible!! Not only will you be amazed that you figured it out. You'll also have new, important, and marketable skills for your post-child-rearing life.
What Are Benefits Of Paying Off Your Loans?
Peace of mind -- it's one less thing on your plate (especially as a mom with children). The less mental clutter and financial obligations you have, the more liberating and enjoyable your at-home experience can be.
What Are the Disadvantages Of Paying Off Your Student Loans?
You'll temporarily have less liquid cash. Meaning you may have to empty your savings to accomplish this goal, but (in my opinion) it's worth it. On my pay off journey there were definitely some scary moments, but in the end I felt so much lighter when I accomplished my goal.
What Did You Learn During Your Pay Off?
Gratitude! While reading a lender's annual report, I realized these companies helped so many access "higher education." In 2005, one lender wrote, "We feel honored to serve and have the opportunity to work with hundreds of lenders, thousands of schools, and millions of students as we fulfill our vision for the delivery of educational dreams." Almost two decades later, student loan lenders are still standing by this message.
Yes their approach means they exponentially benefitted from their investment in you/us. But the whole premise of student loans was to create a win-win situation for the lenders and students. Students (like us) got the opportunity to attend the institutions that we did, while the lenders were able to grow their money.
Thankfully our children are living in the information age. Meaning they will not need to attend an institution to access higher learning. And now that we understand how that system works, it's our job to ethically do the same. This means taking the resources we have and investing them in opportunities we deeply believe in. Plus, if you're a hands-on learner like me, paying off your loans (while raising children) is an excellent course in money management.
What Are Some Things To Avoid?
Everyone’s financial situations are different. So if these tips don’t apply to you, totally feel free to ignore them. But if I were talking to my younger self, I'd avoid...
Deferment, which is a break from making student loan payments. This may sound good, but interest may continue to accrue.
Autopay is when you give your lender the authority to automatically deduct your payment each month. Autopay ensures your lender gets paid on time, and you are thanked with a small discount. But it’s best to be in control of your repayment so that you can allocate where every cent goes.
Refinancing for a lower interest rate, means taking your current loans and starting over with a new one. This is not the best idea. Refinancing may mean losing certain benefits (i.e. COVID forbearance meant loans were not collecting interest for months. This was super beneficial in paying off loans faster). It also means starting over on your interest payments.
Lastly, I can not stress enough how enticing income-based repayment plans sound. They have the power to temporarily decrease your financial obligations. For example, instead of paying $1,000 a month, you could pay $300. But this lengthens the life of your loan. The proposed benefit is that your loans may be forgiven in 20-25 years. But suppose you become a stay at home mom in your 20s, you will still be paying off debt (or thinking about the debt) in your 40s or 50s. So I’d encourage my younger self to pay off my loans as soon as possible, because it gives you better control over your financial destiny.
You’ve Paid Off Your Student Loans, Now What?
Congratulations!! Your net worth (and credit score) probably went up a few points.
It's now time to set your next financial goal! That could mean paying off your mortgage, or restructuring your retirement portfolio, or dipping your toes into shared notes or crowd equity. While stay-at-home moms may have limited cash-flow, they are often asset rich. This means that although they may not have tons of money coming in, they may be sitting on super valuable resources that will pay real dividends in the future. If you're not feeling financially savvy yet --don't worry -- you will. Continue to invest in yourself and your financial education!! The fun part about being home is being able to design your own life, set your own goals and accomplish them at your own pace. I’m wishing you the best on your pay-off journey. You got this!!
Until next time...
Love the Journey,