Personal finance is personal – even when the path you choose is controversial.
“I graduated in 2014 with $150,000 in student loans, even though I only slept on a mattress and was as cheap as possible in college,” says Emma Shapiro, a full-time physical therapist with a doctorate and who earns $98,000 a year.
Shapiro chose to pay the minimum on his student loans. Although she graduated eight years ago and made all the payments, her debt has now soared to $208,000, highlighting the current student loan crisis that many Americans are facing. confronted. When she and her husband talked about how they would combine their lives and finances, they weighed their options.
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The physical therapist has decided to enroll in a public service loan forgiveness program, which will make her eligible for loan forgiveness if she has been employed in the federal government for at least ten years. She also kicked off a side hustle: Alternative Careers in Health Carean online education and coaching company that has a facebook group of 41,000 healthcare professionals and a YouTube channel of 2,900 subscribers. The sideways hustle generates more than six figures in revenue per year and about $4,300 per month in profit, which Shapiro contributes to savings and investment goals instead of accelerating his student loan repayments.
Here’s why Shapiro is taking the risk, how she’s set up other sources of income in the meantime to make progress toward financial independence, and what she recommends for graduates and young professionals who find themselves in similar circumstances.
Consider all your personal finance options
After working as a substitute special education teacher and tennis instructor, Shapiro decided to pursue physical therapy, a career that requires a doctorate.
“I’ve always loved sports, so physiotherapy felt like a natural transition,” she says. Shapiro began working as a physical therapist. For two and a half years, Shapiro and her husband tried to balance paying off the student loan with saving money to buy a house. Despite their efforts, his indebtedness increase meanwhile, jumping to $175,000.
“I went to USC for my doctorate,” she says. “I remember sitting with my husband and talking about how my student loans were piling up so fast. I could use a lot of our savings for my student loans, or I could decide to take a government job and participate in a government student loan forgiveness plan.
Shapiro found that physiotherapists are eligible for a civil service student loan cancellation plan. The only problem: she should work for this company for ten years.
How a civil service student loan forgiveness works is as follows:
- You work for government organizations (at any level) or for a non-profit organization that is tax-exempt under section 501c
- Work at least 30 hours per week for the employer
- Have Direct loans (or bundle other federal student loans into one direct loan)
- Make 120 eligible monthly payments
Industry pros note that Shapiro’s debt burden isn’t all that uncommon.
“Unfortunately, the physical therapist profession has an average debt load of around $150,000 due to the longevity of schooling required to become a physical therapist,” says Dr. Karen Litzy, DPTa New York-based physical therapist and host of the Healthy, rich and intelligent podcast, which has over 590 episodes. “Nor do we command the high salaries of other professions; the average salary is $91,000 per year. With a student loan [burden] as high as $200,000 or more, combined with a salary that doesn’t allow you to pay it back quickly, well… you can do the math. Litzy points out that the 10-year federal forgiveness plan applies only to federal loans, and that eligibility for the program has changed or expanded recently in some industries, including physiotherapy.
Shapiro decided to accept the position of government official and pledged to work for ten years to fulfill the conditions of the loan forgiveness program. She and her husband then used their savings of $100,000 to fund their down payment on a house. She decides to make the minimum monthly payment on her student loans (despite it increasing her debt burden) so the couple can start building their lives together.
Use what you already know to make more money
Shapiro’s job in government required travel, which meant long car journeys. She started listening to podcasts and eventually came across the Smart Passive Income podcast, hosted by Pat Flynn, which inspired her to start a side hustle that could be done 100% online.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Shapiro. “I was that little girl selling Girl Scout cookies and candy, trying to help my family as much as I could.”
However, the aspiring entrepreneur’s first online hustle failed – bringing in just $1,500 in two years – as Shapiro continually felt bogged down by technology. The failure had a silver lining; by getting involved in Facebook groups of entrepreneurs, she met Dr. Mike Chuaa fellow physiotherapist who will eventually become his business partner.
To create a side hustle online, try to find an all-in-one platform. Choose something that will allow you to do a lot without having to understand technology.
Together, the two created an online education company in 2020 called Alternative Healthcare Careers. The company teaches healthcare workers how to branch out into online careers, side hustle, and even start businesses. The company made $10,000 in revenue the first year and grew to $100,000 in the second year.
“That first year had a lot of hurdles and bumps as we grew our audience,” she says. “It took the first year to get to $10,000 [in revenue]. Then we saw a rapid progression in the second year because we had built our audience. Now that we have a larger audience, growth is simpler. Feedback is better. It helped us reach $100,000 in year two.
What his Side Hustle does – and what it takes
Shapiro’s online hustle generates an average of $4,300 in net pay per month, which she uses to fund her savings and investment goals. Shapiro works forty hours a week at his government job and spends seven to fifteen hours a week on side hustle. She had to balance working full time, building a side hustle, and living as a spouse (with a baby on the way).
“When I get up and work on weekends, I feel guilty because I’m taking time for my wonderful husband,” she says. “But he is extremely supportive; I wouldn’t be where I am today if he weren’t so supportive.
Related: My family said I was too old for TikTok. Now I have 2 million subscribers and a profitable side business
Shapiro is eager to turn his part-time side business into a full-time business. But she also plans to keep working for five more years to make sure her student loan debt can be 100% forgiven. She encourages anyone looking to accelerate their personal goals to consider starting an online side hustle.
“The initial costs are so low to get started, and the opportunity to have passive income is great.”