How Corazon and Curtis Eaton Paid Off $131,000 in 14 Months

  • Corazon Ochanda Eaton paid off $131,637 in student loans years earlier than planned.
  • She did it with the help of her husband, Curtis, who followed her lead in budgeting and saving.
  • They house-hacked and negotiated raises at work, all while keeping their monthly expenses down.

On January 29, 2022, 35-year-old Corazon Ochanda Eaton from Columbus, Ohio, called her student loan servicer to make a lump-sum payment of $131,637 on her student loans, wiping out the balance. She recorded the whole interaction on her phone and posted a video on Instagram, which quickly went viral.

After getting her master’s degree in 2018, she says, “I was working in the nonprofit industry and making a minimum payment of $286 a month, which barely contributed to any of the principal.” Because she worked at a nonprofit, she was eligible to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a federal program that allows some workers in nonprofit and other sectors to make 120 eligible payments before canceling the entirety of their student loans.

However, she was discouraged upon hearing that 98% of PSLF applications get denied. She says, “In that moment, I knew I didn’t want to be bound to my student loan debt, hoping the government would take care of it for me.”

So, with the support of her husband, Curtis Eaton, Jr., 34, who followed her lead on budgeting and saving to become debt-free in four years, Corazon focused on paying off her loans fast.

Here are seven strategies the couple used to pay off $131,637 in student loans in 14 months.

1. They paid off smaller debts first

Before paying off Corazon’s student loans, the Eatons also paid off Curtis’ student loans, totaling $12,383, and his car note worth $8,703, according to records viewed by Insider.

Corazon says, “The momentum from paying small debts first helped us stay motivated throughout our journey by giving us small wins along the way. By the time we got to my debt, our other financial achievements allowed us to feel more confident about paying off such a large amount of debt.”

The Eatons took advantage of the student loan pause during the pandemic to save up the lump sum. Rather than making payments along the way, they decided to keep the money in savings until they had enough to pay off the full balance. Says Corazon, “We wanted to make sure we didn’t run into any financial emergencies, especially with so many layoffs taking place at the time.”

2. They used the cash envelope system

The cash-envelope system involves putting money in envelopes labeled with discretionary spending categories and the limit you’re allowed to spend in each category. The Eatons used this technique to curb their personal spending and eating-out budget.

3. They used sinking funds

A sinking fund is a reserve of money set aside for larger, specific expenses. Typically, people open separate savings accounts or create envelope systems to save toward a long-term goal or expense, like traveling or car repairs.

Corazon says, “Having an emergency fund and implementing sinking funds helped us not get thrown off by sudden emergencies or irregular expenses. It allowed us to forecast future expenses, budget for everyday expenses, and maintain our budget.”

4. They put their tax refunds and bonuses toward the debt

The Eatons dedicated their tax refunds and bonuses each year to paying down Corazon’s student loans. Additionally, they each asked for raises at their jobs, eventually leaving to take higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

Corazon says, “We knew that increasing our income would help us reach our goals faster, so we prioritized that.”

5. They house hacked

The couple moved from a single-family home to a multi-family home, which allowed them house-hack. House-hacking is the practice of renting out rooms in your house to bring in additional income.

“We moved into a multi-family property and lived on one side and rented the other,” Corazon says. “This significantly cut down our housing expense.” According to records reviewed by Insider, the Eatons saved $900 a month on their monthly mortgage payments through house-hacking.

6. They used income from their rental property

The Eatons were able to buy a new rental property, which brought in an additional $818 a month in net rental income. They directed that amount to their student loan repayment efforts.

7. They avoided lifestyle creep

Even though the Eatons started earning more, they kept their expenses as low as possible to avoid lifestyle creep. Lifestyle creep is the pattern of spending more money as you earn more, getting used to higher levels of convenience as your new normal.

“Although we were able to afford a lot more, we resisted lifestyle inflation and stayed grounded in our mission and goals,” says Corazon. “It can be extremely difficult to go from high expenses to low expenses, so we were fortunate to start modestly where we could adjust as we progressed.”

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