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How I Paid Off My Student Loan Debt at 22

When I told others that I wanted to graduate college without student loan debt, everyone looked at me like I had 5 heads growing at the same time. And I can definitely understand why.

I attended a private, Roman-Catholic University in Chicago. I lived on campus all four years, pursued a double major and a minor, took advantage of study abroad opportunities, and didn’t start college with any special university scholarships.

No academic, athletic, or arts scholarships with my name on it. Nada!

So, I can see why my goal of graduating without student loan debt seemed unrealistic and just plain impossible.

But if you know my mom, you would understand why I never let the thoughts of others impact my potential and future possibilities. My mom makes amazing things happen and I was determined to do the same!

That’s how I was able to walk across the stage at graduation without ANY student loan debt.

Yep, I paid off every loan that was on my profile and I was debt free at 22!

How did I do it?

Well, I didn’t just blink my eyes and wake up with thousands of dollars raining down on me.

I was intentional. I was focused. And I was committed to the goal of being debt-free.

If you want to position your future children, nephews, nieces, cousins, or community members for financial success in college, share this article with them and let them know that it is POSSIBLE.

Here’s how I paid off my student loan debt at 22:

1. Chose a Lucrative Major

Your major has a lot to do with the financial opportunities you attract. If you’re pursuing a specialized skill that’s high in demand, people will PAY for your studies.

But don’t be discouraged if you would rather follow your passion now and pay big bucks for it in an educational program. There are options for you, too! You just need a really good plan. My good friend Joan Moore always says, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”

And failing means tons of student loan debt that you can’t afford to pay back. Don’t get yourself in that situation. The interest adds up and your credit score will suffer.

So, don’t pick a major just because it sounds good. Map out the return on your investment. What justifies a big fat loan for an unprofitable degree?

Will your student loan debt be excused if you pursue a certain profession? Will you gain access to connections that will get you closer to your dreams? Is it needed for your next level move?

What is your why?

I decided to major in accounting. Why?

Here are a few reasons:

High Demand – Accounting never goes out of style. Every industry and organization needs an accountant to manage or audit their financial operations.

Language of Business – Accounting is like a secret code that gets you access (and wins you friends!) in the real world. If you can speak accounting, you can rise as a respected and trusted business leader.

Gives You a Foundation for Entrepreneurship – If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to understand how money works. It’s important to be know how to make, manage, and multiply your money. You also need to know how to use numbers to determine your next move. People get cheated out of their money every day by putting their financial future in the hands of someone else. Not I! I want to understand my money better than anyone around me so I could make informed business decisions.

No Minimum Wage Internship – If I’m going to pursue a college education, I expect to create financial opportunities or experiential learning options that I didn’t have before. During my first corporate internship when I was 19, I got paid more than $20/hour when the minimum wage was less than $8/hr (this was over 10 years ago!).

Bottom Line: Majoring in accounting gave me access to job opportunities and lucrative skills that helped me to pay educational expenses while in college.

2. Received the Best Internships

Where you work will determine how much you make. Choose wisely.

I’m not saying choose an internship just for money. Choose a place where you can grow, learn as much as you can, and gain access to valuable experiences and mentors that will propel your career.

I received three corporate internships at a big four accounting firm and landed an internship as a financial analyst at a prominent bank. I also had other internships during the school year that made me “work ready”. All my internship experiences added up to over $40,000 in cash during my college career.

Although I wish I used every penny of my money better (like buying more used books instead of $300 business books), I was able to use the funds from my internship to pay educational expenses that allowed me more time to serve my community.

3. Applied for Scholarships All the Time

It doesn’t matter if it was 2 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning. If there was a scholarship available, I could often be found sitting in front of my computer putting together a top-notch scholarship package so I could market myself to donors.

Applying for scholarships can be a full-time job. But there’s good news as you go deeper into the process. The more scholarship applications you complete, the less time consuming it becomes.

I applied for over 100 scholarships (yes, I tried to apply for every scholarship I qualified for). Instead of going to college parties every night, I was usually scouting the net for the latest and greatest scholarship opportunities. And if I didn’t qualify for it at the moment, I would note the scholarship in an excel spreadsheet and read the requirements. Then I would make sure I exceeded the requirements when it was time for me to apply.

I will never forget the moment I received my first corporate scholarship in college. I received a call from PwC informing me that I was going to be a recipient of a $3000 exceed scholarship. Girl….I was so grateful! Not only was I getting a scholarship, but I was also receiving a summer internship and a trip to New York to attend the leadership conference. Wowzers!!

4. Enhanced my Network

Have you heard the phrase, “your network is your net worth?”

Many people leverage this term when they enter the working world and are vying for highly coveted positions.

But this applies to college too. Don’t go in thinking that you will be all good if you keep your head in the books. Who you know may determine how far you go.

So I joined every organization that aligned with my values and career interests.

Here are some activities I was involved in:

  • President of Golden Key International Honor Society
  • Vice President of National Association of Black Accountants
  • Member of the Illinois CPA Society
  • National Society of Collegiate Scholars Inductee
  • Ritmo Dembo Salsa Dance Team

I also took advantage of fellowships such as Vincentian Mission Fellow, M3C Fellow, and Student Leadership Institute Fellow to connect with other like-minded leaders.

As my networks increased, my contributions grew too!

During my freshman year, I got a chance to do 300 hours of service in Englewood as a tutor. The program expanded and I got to serve two more years! During my second year at the school, I was asked to be the commencement speaker for the 8th-grade graduation. It was powerful and I could tell the students were listening to every word.

This experience led to many other service opportunities – including a chance to become co-founder of INSPIRE (Individuals Nurturing Students Positively in Rigorous Education) and Founder of the Libby Adopt A School program. I recruited college-level freshman to join me in Englewood, one of the most economically deprived communities in Chicago in early 2000s, to paint images of different college logos so that students can be inspired to obtain higher education. In order to achieve success, you have to be able to create a vision of it.

Little did I know, my leadership and commitment to my community are what would help me to build my net worth. I was able to create a resume of relationships that helped me gain access to top opportunities.  

And you can do it too! Stop settling for student loan debt and start positioning yourself for endless opportunities.

Questions? Ready for your financial coaching session? Send me an email at or click here to schedule your session.

Talk soon!

About Charlene Rhinehart, CPA

Charlene Rhinehart is a Certified Public Accountant, Founder of Wealthy Women Daily, and Editor-in-Chief of the Dividend InvestHer and The Wealthy Woman Investor. Charlene is currently the Chair of the Illinois CPA Society Taxation Individual Committee. With over a decade of experience in the financial services industry, Charlene is one of the few leaders who design insights specifically for the woman investor. Charlene’s work has been featured in a variety of publications including the Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. In 2019, Charlene released her book “Dividends Are a Queen’s Best Friend”, on Amazon.

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  1. Can’t wait to talk today. 1PM

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