Paying Off Student Loans

Insight on how to live with student loans


Graduating college can feel like the start of the rest of your life. Exciting new career possibilities, places and experiences lie ahead of you—and student loan debt may also be on the horizon. 

You’re not alone. A 2018 report from the Federal Reserve estimated that 44.7 million people are dealing with some level of student loan debt. By creating a strategy, organizing your values and setting attainable goals, you can not only manage your debt but thrive while doing so.

Capital One® money coaches Mira Megs Lathrop and Carmen Sullo shared what living with student loans means to them and how to pay off student loans without diminishing your quality of life.

Meet the Money Coaches

Mira Megs Lathrop

Mira is the co-creator of the Money Coaching program at Capital One. She developed the program with experienced designers and helped it grow to more than 25 money coaches across the country. She was a financial advisor for 10 years with a leading financial services company, and she is a certified financial planner and a Certified Money Coach (CMC)®. Mira is a pioneer in bridging psychology and money, people and capital, and transforming people’s relationship with money.

Carmen Sullo 

Carmen’s background in IT leadership for financial services companies was her jumping-off point into professional and personal leadership coaching. Working with small businesses, community leaders, and women and family networks, she cultivates authenticity in leadership and relationships. Coaching helps clients break through barriers of fear and self-doubt and write their own personal success stories.

Money Coaches Q&A

How Can I Set Myself Up to Successfully Pay Off Student Loans?

Mira: When you’re fresh out of college with a bunch of student loans, there are a few things you can do to start off on the right track.

  • Mark your calendar. Explore the terms of your student loans and note the start date for your payments on your calendar. Get clear on that ASAP, and start taking ownership of the fact that you’re now past the days of having loans and entering the days of paying them back.
  • Consider deferring. You may have so many new expenses when you first get out of college that deferring loans can be a helpful option while you’re looking for a job or finding a first apartment. You can defer most loans for up to six months. Just make sure to check the terms of your loans to ensure they align with your plan.
  • Create a ritual. Develop a process—maybe even a ritual—to step into your new reality. Set a monthly amount and start paying it back. Don’t leave it to chance—set up autopay and commit to it. 

How Do I Create a Sustainable Repayment Plan?

Mira: There’s no standard plan, because everyone’s situation is different. Sustainability involves comparing your income and your outgoing expenses and seeing what you’re left with at the end of the month. Start with a repayment amount that you think will work—and be a bit conservative. If it’s going smoothly after three to six months, add another $100-$200 to your payment and see how that goes. It’s OK to explore and find what’s sustainable for you.

What Are Some Pitfalls of Repaying Student Loans?

Carmen: A big challenge is comparing yourself with others. I often say comparison is the death of development. You can’t move forward if you’re busy comparing your situation with someone else’s. 

What’s true for you may not be true for somebody else. Don’t limit yourself to the belief that there’s only one way to handle student debt. Once you figure out what’s important to you and develop a plan that fits your life, you’re much more likely to create a sustainable repayment process.

How Do I Enjoy Life While Paying Off Loans?

Carmen: You don’t experience the weight of student loans until you finish school. At that point, you’re no longer building up to something, but it’s valuable to recognize how far you’ve come.

Find ways to celebrate the small wins in ways that still keep you on your path. Celebrating a major milestone in paying down your loans by going on an expensive vacation could actually set you back. It’s like celebrating a weight loss goal by eating an entire cake. Celebrate milestones by enjoying something that fits within your spending and savings plans.

How Do I Invest in Myself While Paying Off Loans?

Carmen: Investing in yourself means aligning your life with things that really matter. 

Once you identify what you value in life—things that make you feel good—you can choose how to spend your money as well as your time and energy. You may be surprised to find that some investments aren’t even associated with money.

Finding a way to monetize something that you do for fun can be a great way to align things that bring you joy with your financial goals. For example, if you like being in nature, organize and lead nature tours.

How Do Traditional Investments Fit Into All of This?

Mira: Try to work to build momentum with your payments. There’s a power of momentum that happens when you’re paying off debt and investing in your future. You stay more engaged. It’s more exciting. And it feels more sustainable. You’re doing more than just paying off debt. Starting a 401k or making other investments can keep you feeling balanced and holistic.

What’s One of the Biggest Things To Remember About Paying Off Student Loans?

Mira: People with student loans often feel that they can’t do anything because of their debt. They tell me they think about it in almost every spending decision they make. This can be a deterrent to having the life you want. That’s why there’s power in having a plan and a sense that you’re paying your loans off. You can feel confident that you’re taking care of them, and you can enjoy your life.

Craft Your Own Action Plan

During Capital One money coaching sessions, trained professionals like Mira and Carmen help you craft a personalized action plan that’s both practical and sustainable. One particularly helpful part of the sessions is the Chart Your Values exercise. It helps you identify and prioritize what’s most important in your life—things like adventure, security, family, community, love and growth.

Schedule your session today.


We hope that you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Money coaches are not financial advisors, accountants or tax specialists. Materials have been prepared by Capital One for instructional and educational purposes only. The information provided is not intended to encourage any lifestyle or changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional.