- Shawn Wharrey borrowed $247,000 in student loans for vet school.
- To pay them off in five years, he spent $20,000 renovating his house before reselling it for a profit.
- Wharrey used the $128,000 profit to pay off most of his loans.
When Shawn Wharrey graduated from vet school at 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 told Insider. “When they talk about a standard 10-year repayment plan, the vast majority of vets — especially those starting out in their careers — can’t afford to make that monthly payment.”
Shortly after getting married to his wife, Kristan Wharrey, he got serious about paying off his college debt as soon 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 the lifestyle creep
Lifestyle creep is the common pattern of spending more money as you make more money. A typical example of lifestyle creep is buying a flashier car or renting a bigger apartment to celebrate a promotion, without necessarily considering how those bigger expenses will eat into your new salary.
Kristan and Shawn wanted to avoid the lifestyle creep at all costs. During the process of buying their second home, the couple asked their broker for pre-approval for a $200,000 mortgage. Their broker approved them for at least six figures more, Wharrey says, but they stood firm on their $200,000 pre-approval request.
“We didn’t want to spend 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.
“Honestly, refinancing with SoFi was the big turnaround for me,” says Shawn. Prior to refinancing his student loans, his interest rates ranged from 5% to 8% for loans in different semesters. After its first refinancing, its rate fell to 4.5%.
At that time, Shawn also went from $75,000 in private practice to $120,000 in a veterinary hospital, plus up to $132,000 in bonuses per year (instead of receiving a fixed salary, veterinarians in ERs receive bonuses for each patient they see).
He suddenly had a lot more to put in for 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 off his student loans.
With a higher income and a lower balance of $170,000, Shawn qualified for another refinance with SoFi at a 2.5% interest rate on a five-year repayment plan. According to Shawn, “Just knowing your interest rates and how they affect your overall payments can make a huge difference.”
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3. He used a $128,000 profit from the sale of his house to pay off most of his student loans
After buying, remodeling and selling two family homes in Michigan and Ohio, Shawn knew he could have a bigger impact on his student loans with the proceeds from the sale of his third home. He invested $20,000 over a two-year period in DIY renovations, including adding a subway tile backsplash in the kitchen for $400 and painting the entire 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 above 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 still had $108,000 to pay on his student loans – which the profits more than covered.
According to Shawn, “We didn’t even let the money stay in our account for more than two hours. When the brokerage company transferred those funds, they reached our account at 10:00 a.m., and by 10:30 a.m. we had already done the lump sum payment to SoFi because we just didn’t want to have second thoughts about it.”