A man who paid off $118,000 in 5 years started by channeling his rage into a ‘debt tornado’

Steven Donovan, a financial coach who paid off six-figure debt. Courtesy of Steven Donovan
  • A few years out of college, Steven Donovan owed about $US118,000 on student loans, credit cards, a personal loan, and an auto loan, he said in a recent NerdWallet Q&A.
  • After his student loan company tripled his monthly payment, Donovan moved back home with his parents and sold his luxury car, cutting his debt down to about $US90,000.
  • He soon implemented the “debt tornado,” channeling his “anger and rage” into paying off the debt he disliked the most. Within five years, he was debt-free.
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When it comes to paying off debt, motivation is crucial.

For Steven Donovan, a financial coach who was recently profiled on NerdWallet, nothing worked quite like channeling his “anger and rage” into paying off the debt he hated most – a method he calls the “debt tornado.”

After graduating from college, Donovan owed around $US98,000 on student loans and credit cards. He wasn’t focused on repaying the debt, and his credit-card balances slowly ticked up. A few years later, he financed a Mercedes-Benz, adding $US18,000 to his debt load.

On a whim, Donovan moved from Chicago to Miami and soon found himself with little income to cover his monthly debt payments. It was a wake-up call.

“About a year into living there, I ended up getting a letter in the mail from my private student loan company,” he told NerdWallet. “Since finishing college I had gone into forbearance and paid the minimums … [but now] my payment was going to triple. It upended my budget and something had to change. I tucked my tail between my legs, moved back to Chicago to save money and worked where I did when I was in college. It was a very humbling experience.”

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Donovan moved in with family and sold his car, shaving off a big chunk of his debt and saving an extra $US500 a month or so, he said. With a new job as an assistant bank manager and a side hustle selling clothing on eBay, he finally implemented a plan to pay off the remaining debt, which he estimates was between $US80,000 and $US90,000. Enter: the “debt tornado.”

Instead of using one of the two most popular debt payoff strategies – the debt snowball, in which you pay off the smallest debts first, or the debt avalanche, in which you focus on the debt with the highest interest rates – Donovan decided to tackle the debt he “disliked the most.”

“I started with the debt snowball method but shortly into paying off debt I realised how much I disliked my private student loans and also the same bank that tripled my monthly payment and focused on them,” he told Business Insider. “That’s where the ‘debt tornado’ came in. Being from the Midwest, it just made sense to use a tornado. I took all my anger and rage towards those loans and paid them off before the smaller student loan I had.”

Donovan also increased his income and savings by implementing a house-hack, renting out his wife’s house in Florida, and side hustling. Within five years of moving back to Chicago under a mountain of loans, Donovan became debt-free.

“My philosophy is, no one hates your debt more than you,” he told NerdWallet. “If you really don’t like your debt, you kind of end up getting angry about it and you want to do something about it.”