Andy Josuweit knows student loans. Back in 2012, he had $107,000 worth of student loans to pay off–a number that had ballooned from the $74,000 he’d graduated with three years prior. The problem? No one was giving him smart financial advice on how to deal with that debt.
“I’d call Sallie Mae, and I’d be talking to somebody in customer support, and they didn’t know what they were talking about,” he explained in an interview with Uproxx. “And I said, ‘This is ridiculous. I need to be taken seriously, but nobody is really able to help me.’”
That’s when he decided to create Student Loan Hero, a platform that helps educate graduates on their repayment options. “We pull in all your student loan data so you can see all your loans in one dashboard, and then we make financial recommendations based on your income, your job, where you live, etc.”
It’s a much-needed service, considering that there are over 70 different repayment plans—both private and federal—available for students. Confusing much? Not to mention the fact that, according to a recent survey commissioned by Student Loan Hero, 19% of Americans don’t know what student loan benefits they can claim on their taxes, and you end up with a whole lot of people chipping slowly and inefficiently away at out-of-control amounts of debt.
But helping graduates navigate the wild and f*cking miserable world of student loan debt is just one of Josuweit’s passions. Another is travel—and educating new grads on how they can cut down on living expenses and maximize the amount they’re paying on their loans each month while still experiencing the world.
Josuweit’s own travel story began when he spent a semester in college studying in Vienna, Austria. Growing up in Pennsylvania farm country, he was the first of his family to travel anywhere more exotic than the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. “That first experience in Austria ignited the travel bug,” he explained.
It also showed him how he could save money by living abroad. Even in Austria’s capital city, he was able to bank up nearly $5,000 over the course of that semester. “The cost of my apartment was a lot lower than a dorm on my campus, so that’s primarily where the savings came from. Also, I didn’t have to have a meal plan, so being able to shop and cook in my apartment in Austria helped.”
Josuweit’s travel didn’t end with Austria. After graduating from college in 2009, he took a three-month microfinance internship in Ghana, Africa. It was unpaid, but his expenses were only $1,000/month, and the experience was good for his resume.
From there, with essentially $800 to his name and a credit card with a $400 spending limit, he moved to Asia, where he and a business partner he’d met during his stay in Austria began a software development company. Because they were working for American companies via the internet, it didn’t matter where they were—as long as they had a viable internet connection. “We figured it would be a lot cheaper cost of living and would lower our startup costs by moving to Asia.” He and the business partner traveled, staying for a few months in Malaysia before spending time in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. After Asia, they moved to Canada, spent a bit of time in Colombia, and then finally made made their way down to Chile to participate in Start-Up Chile and launch Student Loan Hero.
Josuweit’s number one tip for graduates is to get out of the country. “Just leaving the U.S., you’re going to instantly see cost savings.” In Asia, he was able to live on $1,000 a month; in Colombia and Chile, $1,500 a month.
Add to that the fact that, if you’re living out-of-country long term, you probably don’t have a car and all its related expenses—car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance—to worry about. “You can live more cheaply in general, because you don’t have the fixed overhead that an American might have living in the U.S.”
“A lot of student loan borrowers feel trapped,” Josuweit said. “But if you find a remote job that pays the same as the job you’re currently in, you could move to Mexico or Costa Rica, and that’s day-one cost of living savings. That’s money you can put in your pocket today.”
Even a domestic move can help a cash-strapped grad save money. Josuweit recently saved $14,000 in income taxes by relocating from New York City to Austin, Texas—not to mention the $400 he saves on rent each month.
“I’m a big believer in focusing on the big-ticket items,” he explained—as opposed to the idea that you can save a couple hundred of dollars each year by giving up your morning trips to Starbucks. Examining how much you’re paying in rent, and asking yourself how you can reduce that that expense by relocating, can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings each month—money that can be applied to those all-pervasive student loans. And the advantage of living in America is that the frustrations of living abroad—time differences that can necessitate midnight conference calls, for example—are erased.
Josuweit’s personal journey with debt isn’t quite done yet. After paying off $50,000 of his loans last year, he’s left with around $49,000. “I’m expecting to pay off the rest by Thanksgiving of this year.”
His travel bug isn’t gone yet, either. He’s currently looking into relocating his company to Puerto Rico to take advantage of tax breaks available there.
“I personally love traveling,” Josuweit said. “I think it helps you grow, both personally and professionally. It pushes you in ways that staying in the same place doesn’t.”
For more nitty-gritty details on how much it costs to move abroad, check out this post, from Zach Johnston.