Sarah Wildermuth, OD, roared through her undergraduate studies in two years on a full tuition scholarship, studying engineering with some optometry classes on the side. She was accepted into optometry school at that point, and she tried to keep her student loan borrowing to a minimum. “I borrowed $130,000 for all four years of optometry school, but I was scared to death when my loans hit $100,000,” she says.
She graduated in 2015 and created a plan for paying off the debt in 10 years. “I didn’t start paying until the grace period ended, and then I paid my minimum. After the first year, I looked at the numbers and saw my loans were just a few thousand dollars less. It was so discouraging to see two-thirds of my payment going to interest each month, so I started to think that I should pay this back a little faster,” she recalls. She began by adding additional principal payments each month, but even that wasn’t making a big enough difference.
So last year she and her husband got serious. Despite two years of loan payments, accumulating interest kept her loan total at about $130,000. “So we took our $30,000 in savings and paid the debt down to $99,999 before refinancing it. Then we got aggressive in paying down bigger sums,” she says. First, she thought she might be able to pay it off in 2019; then she adjusted that to the end of 2018. When she realized in July how close she was, she paid it all. Her husband made it through his undergrad engineering degree with no student loans, which motivated her to pay her loans off faster, too.
She worked hard as much as possible, five days a week at Eyes on Main in Findlay and Ada, Ohio. “Maybe owning a practice one day will be a goal, but I’m learning so much where I am,” she says. “I have a better understanding of how private practice works. Plus, I’ve got a lot going on with two kids. Adding the stress of starting up a new practice out of school might have been too much,” she says.
Now that the loans have been paid off, the couple is ready to start saving toward the next goals. “We haven’t taken any big vacations or fun trips; that’s something I’d like to do more of. We want to build a dream house, but we held off on that because we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor,” she says.