A married couple in their 20s explains how real estate investing is helping them pay back over $170,000 in student-loan debt

shawn and melissa breyer

Shawn Breyer.

Melissa and Shawn Breyer.

  • Student-loan debt is a prevalent issue in the US, with 44 million borrowers in this country owing $1.5 trillion, Forbes reported earlier this year.
  • Here, a married man in his late 20s shares how he and his spouse are paying back her six-figure student-loan debt through real estate investing.
  • Instead of paying down the debt as soon as possible, they decided to buy assets that would generate cash flow and pay for the debt with the passive income.

Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers, has been with his wife, Melissa, for six years. Now in their late 20s, they've been married for three years and live in Atlanta, Georgia.Advertisement

Though Shawn paid off most of his student debt while still in college, Melissa finished law school with $173,000 in student-loan debt that the couple has been working to pay off through real estate investing.

"We set the duration of the loan to be paid over 15 years, which made our monthly payments come out to be $1,459 per month in payments," he told Business Insider in an email.

Paying off 6 figures in debt through real estate

Instead of paying down the debt as soon as possible, they decided to buy assets that would generate cash flow and pay for the debt with the passive income.

"This allows us to use other people's money to pay for the school debt instead of us working extra hours to accelerate paying off the debt, making life significantly less stressful," Shawn said.

To pay down the debt, Shawn and Melissa use rental property cash flow to cover their monthly payments. Shawn said he'd always been interested in real estate, but developing a strategy and plan of action was key to getting ahead of their debt."Our first decision was to buy a duplex. Our housing expenses prior to owning the duplex were $1,350," Shawn said. "After buying the duplex and living on one side while we rented out the other side, we used the tenant's rent from their side, $1,225, to pay for the entire mortgage, $990 (and some utilities with the money that was left over). This enabled us to live in the duplex without having to pay for the mortgage out-of-pocket and saved us the $1,350 in housing expenses that we had prior to buying the duplex."Advertisement

Then, instead of allocating the $1,350 they were saving on housing expenses toward extra principal payments on the school debt, they chose to save that money and bought another duplex two years later. That added $650 in monthly cash flow, which they then snowballed into a third property. Collectively, the three properties provide Shawn and Melissa with an extra $2,500 per month in income that they put toward extra principal payments on Melissa's loan.

"The beauty of this approach is that our tenants are paying down the law school debt, and if we were to lose our jobs or have a medical emergency, then we can rely solely on the rental income to pay for the school debt for us," Shawn said.

Still, the debt has affected their spending

Shawn said that when he and Melissa really want something that they don't truly need, it directly affects their payments on the debt.Advertisement

"Things get tough emotionally when you have to change financial habits that you've had ingrained for 15 years - and the person pushing you is your spouse," he said. "We've had to figure out how to rewire our money habits, be more thoughtful in what we buy, and think longer-term than just what we want this week."

In addition, sometimes their tenants are not as responsible as promised.

"We've had bad tenants that have either trashed the properties or not paid rent, leading to evictions," Breyer said. "Those months where our income from the properties dropped significantly and expenses increased, things got pretty tough."Advertisement

He said that, one month, they received code violations on a property that they bought and it cost them an extra $13,000 in a two-month period.

"We just had to put everything possible on a credit card and ride it out," he said. "At that time, we didn't have that much money on reserve, but we had the financial capacity to make the monthly payments from earned income."

Read more: 5 common mistakes millennials make when buying their first homeAdvertisement

Over the course of a few months, Shawn and Melissa allocated the property income toward paying down the credit card debts and paid the mortgage payments out-of-pocket. "We no longer have that credit card debt and the rental is now operating smoothly," he said.

To track their money as they bring in rental income and pay down their debt, the couple uses the app Qapital, which "helps users save more money by gamifying spending behaviors," Shawn said. "It can automatically move money into a Qapital savings account when certain spending rules are triggered (and can do any type of savings rules that you want to set up). This allowed us to save for property down payments without any effort."Despite the challenges their debt has presented, Shawn said the process of paying it down has made him and Melissa stronger as a couple.Advertisement

"We have set and accomplished goals I didn't ever think we'd be able to when we first got together," he said. "Plus, our support system and communication have drastically improved."