TheCrimsonRibbon / iStock.com

TheCrimsonRibbon / iStock.com

Nothing can completely derail your dreams like carrying a mountain of student loan debt. The stress alone can make anyone believe it’s impossible to become wealthy simultaneously.

But not only is it possible to climb yourself out of this hole — you can even end up reaching millionaire status — if you play your cards right.

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GOBankingRates spoke to 3 self-made millionaires, Garrett Ham, CEO of Weekender Management, Heather Curtis, marketing director for Tormach, and Aapt Dubey, veterinarian and founder of Its About Dog, to discuss how student debt nearly stopped them from building wealth — and the steps they took to tackle it.

Overcoming Debt Required Discipline and Persistence

“I’m a self-made millionaire, but student loan debt nearly derailed my journey to building wealth,” Dubey said. “I owed $100,000 across five loans, which created significant financial and emotional stress.”

He explained the practical challenges included a tight budget, delayed investments, and constant worry about making ends meet. Emotionally, it was draining and caused a lot of anxiety.

“The financial burden was overwhelming, making saving and investing in my early career difficult,” he explained.

The constant stress of monthly payments and accumulating interest affected his mental health and decision-making. He created a strict repayment plan to manage the debt, took on additional side jobs, and focused on high-earning career opportunities.

“I also practiced frugality, lived below my means, and prioritized paying off the loans as quickly as possible,” Dubey said.

Overcoming his debt required discipline and persistence, but he said it ultimately paved the way for his financial success.

“Over time, I paid off the debt and began investing in real estate and stocks, eventually building my wealth. The experience taught me resilience and the importance of financial planning,” Dubey said.

Breaking Debt Into Manageable Pieces

“As a self-made millionaire, student loan debt was one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome,” Ham said. “When I graduated from law school, I owed over $200,000 in student loans with interest rates as high as 8%.”

His monthly payments were crippling, often over $2,000 per month. On top of the financial stress, he said the emotional stress of owing so much money was intense.

“It felt like an insurmountable amount of debt that would take decades to pay off,” Ham said.

To tackle this challenge, Ham created a strict budget and payment plan.

“I paid off the highest interest rate loans first to minimize the amount of interest I owed.”

He also took advantage of income-driven repayment plans and public service loan forgiveness programs.

“After a few years of aggressively paying down my debt, I was able to refinance the remaining balance to a lower fixed interest rate, cutting my monthly payments in half,” Ham said.

While the debt caused a lot of stress and limited his ability to build wealth in his 20s, he said overcoming it gave him the confidence and discipline he needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

“The key is not letting the size of the debt overwhelm you. Break it into manageable pieces, cut expenses, increase income, and chip away at it each month. Stay focused on your long-term financial goals, and you can achieve them despite the student loan debt.” Ham said. “The day I made my final payment, 10 years after graduating, was one of the proudest and most liberating days of my life.”

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Shifting From A Limiting Scarcity Mindset to One of Abundance

“I graduated in 2007 during the Great Recession,” Curtis said. “Fortunately, I worked through college and had some modest grants, so I only owed $40k upon graduating.”

Similar to the others above, she said the biggest hurdle during that time was the emotional stress the loan caused.

At the time, she was working a traveling sales job that was already stressful as a new graduate.

“I was making my minimum monthly payments but then I lost my job and my finances were so tight, I had to move back in with my parents,” Curtis said. “I could no longer make the loan payments and they went into collections. I was getting calls from collectors non-stop which triggered a lot of anxiety and depression on top of already feeling depressed searching for a new job.”

But what she didn’t know back then, was that she could have answered those calls and asked for help or new terms.

“I had a scarcity mindset during those years that was very fearful, so I kept myself stuck in this collection-dept loop. No one educated me or had the perspective to share with me that I could negotiate the terms.”

Instead, she continued to live with her parents and took on two jobs: a waitressing job as well as an entry-level marketing coordinator role–pouring every penny into the student debt until it was gone.

“I kick myself looking back at how I could have leveraged that debt differently if I had negotiated,” Curtis said. “I could have invested my income earlier and taken my time to pay off the student debt which had a very low interest. But I was never educated on personal finance in school or at home, so I lived in a scarcity mindset.”

“Years later, when I learned about shifting to an abundance mindset, doors and money have been flowing in ever since!”

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: I’m a Self-Made Millionaire: How Student Debt Almost Stopped Me From Building Wealth