How to Achieve Financial Freedom with Travis Hornsby

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Continuing a series on finances this year, today we tackle how to handle debt and invest in yourself and your business. Travis Hornsby took himself from being deep in debt to be able to support him and his family through his own business – and he gives us the framework so that we can do the same thing. Plus in Build Something More, we talk all about investing.

Show Notes:


Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Real quick before we get started, I want to tell you about the Creator Crew. If you want ad-free extended episodes of this podcast in the form of a podcast called Build Something More, as well as access to a community, live streams, bonus episodes, and deals, check out and sign up for just $5 a month. You’ll get a bunch of great content and you get to support the show directly.

Today on build something more Travis and I talk about the best strategy for making investments as a solo business owner. I am always interested in this, saving for retirement and things like that. Travis offers a lot of really great advice there. Again, that is You can sign up for $5 a month or $50 a year, get two months free. And every member gets an exclusive customized poker chip that I’m calling a member chip in the mail. Again, that is Head over today and join the club.

Hey, everybody, and welcome to Episode 222 of How I Build It, the podcast that offers actionable tech tips for small business owners. I hope you’re doing well today. Our sponsors are TextExpander, Restrict Content Pro, and The Events Calendar. You’ll hear about them more later in the show.

But right now I want to get to our guest. His name is Travis Hornsby. He is the CEO and founder of Student Loan Planner. And we are going to be talking about debt and financial freedom and starting a business even if you do have student loans and things like that. I’m really excited because I think that smart financial moves are super important. It’s been a theme of this show since the pandemic started. But let’s bring in our guests. Travis, how are you today?

Travis Hornsby: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on, Joe. Excited to hopefully add some value to people.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for coming on the show. Like I said, I think this is so important because I don’t think… well, I’ll say it this way. I don’t want to sound like I’m smarter than everybody. My wife and I have taken strong steps to financial freedom. We read Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover.” I don’t want to editorialize on people’s personalities but he doesn’t seem great lately based on his press. But his book was very helpful to us in the Debt Snowball, specifically.

But in talking to other people, it seems like a lot of people don’t have a good handle on their financial situation. I hear people say things like, “Oh, I’m just going to blow my tax refund or my COVID stimulus on something because it’s not enough to make a big dent in any of my debt.” And that just like I die a little bit inside. Hopefully, we’ll get into all that. But first, I do want you to let people know who you are and what you do. mean.

Travis Hornsby: Sure. I thought I was going to be a PhD economics professor. That was my original dream. Everybody has different dreams of what they want to be when they grow up, right? I had umpteen dreams until I finally settled on that when I was in college. And then I took this really hard math class too, that I needed to do to get into a PhD program.

And I was so sad because it was football season, basketball season. Like I wasn’t really going to these games, I was just studying all the time. And I just didn’t feel like that was what I was meant to do. If you ever, as a listener, have felt like you’re supposed to go down a certain path and then there’s an obstacle that gets thrown up, sometimes you’re supposed to go through it. But my case I pivoted away from it did something totally different.

I liked applied math, and so I ended up becoming a bond trader. So, you know, went out three years, did that, saw some crazy stuff. I was there for the Detroit bankruptcy, the Puerto Rico problems, the taper tantrum, if anybody remembers that. Like all these kind of weird things in the market. And I traded $10 billion of bonds…

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Travis Hornsby: …which is not to say that as a 20-something year old that I traded $10 billion of bonds. That’s kind of nuts, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Wow.

Travis Hornsby: All the while, I was kind of like, “What am I doing all this for? What’s the point?” I had a little bit of a panic attack about the long term of working in a corporate environment, and this was what I thought was my dream job that I was going to be out for 20, 30 years. And then I just kind of freaked out a little bit because I was like, “Well shoot, I’m kind of clock watching.” Like I’m kind of looking at the clock and “Oh, gosh, thank goodness, it’s 4:10 and only 20 more minutes so that I can sort of start my wind down mentally for the day.” And then I thought, “This is not good. I need to make a change. This is really bad.”

And luckily, for me, I had the benefit of one of the best bull market run-ups that I ever could have hoped for. It was 2012 to 2015. I remember one year, I saved more than 100% of my salary.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Travis Hornsby: And you might say, “How the heck did you do that?” Well, it was pretty straightforward. The markets went up 35% and I was living on 35 or whatever. And I saved and invested that amount. So that’s how that happened.

So I had these huge tailwinds in my back that helped me get there. And then I said, “You know what, I’m going to quit, and I’m going to retire early and travel the world.” That’s what I did at 25. And I did that for about a year, year and a half. Along the while, I started dating someone who had a lot of student loan debt who became my wife, and I moved back. She got a job in the middle of the Midwest, and I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to go for it.”

I moved there, we got married, we have a little baby daughter now. And I realized her parents sort of put down an ultimatum. She’s Asian American, so it’s kind of like their greatest shame to them was not having a job. I think they are embarrassed by it. I was like, “But I have like a lot of assets. You don’t need to have a job right now.” They’re like, “Yeah, but you can’t marry our daughter, or at least you can’t have our blessing.” They are like, “You could do whatever you want, but you don’t have our blessing unless she get a job.”

So I was like, “Oh, shoot, man, this student loan thing I’ve been doing as a hobby, it’s got to succeed.” Then I just went off and started making plans for people with the bond trader skills. I built an Excel program that model the complex options people have for getting through loan forgiveness and repayment. And then that grew a lot because the theme was so great.

And then I hired other people to help me with it. We got a lot of attention on some of these free tools we had. And then the Student Loan Planner became a seven-figure business over time with staying laser-focused on one specific problem.

So that’s maybe a little bit more than I was supposed to say the first question, but I wanted the listener to get a sort of a taste of how it wasn’t like an overnight thing where it just happened. There was this weird journey that was unpredictable.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. In that intro, you raised some really good points. For example, you mentioned that you had some huge tailwind. So you were a bond trader. So of course, you weren’t investing your own money in the stock market and things like that, I assume, right?

Travis Hornsby: That’s right. Fortunately, I wasn’t putting it in 2%, 3% bonds.

Joe Casabona: Right, right. I think that’s something else that a lot of people don’t think about. Maybe we can expand on this in build something more. My first big person job, I guess, I got a job… I was self-employed at a college, and then I got a job at my alma mater. This was before… when I needed health insurance, essentially.

And the HR person was surprised to see me asking questions about our 403B and me making the maximum contribution and things like that. She’s like, “It’s really good that you’re here, because a lot of people your age—I was 26, I guess. 24, 25, 26—a lot of people your age don’t even think about this.” And I’m like, “That’s insane. You’re giving me free money for my future or whatever.”

Again, maybe we can talk about this in build something more, but how important is having assets like that? And if someone is starting from nothing, especially self-employed people, what should they do?

Travis Hornsby: I would say the number one advice that I would have is take a risk and bet on yourself. That’s the first thing that I would say. Now, a lot of times people are afraid of what’s going to happen with self-employment. So you need to have some sort of niche or specialty. If you’re just a freelance graphic designer, that tells me absolutely nothing. If you’re a freelance graphic designer specializing in healthcare, physicians’ offices, and specifically in oncologists or something like that, you can maybe charge triple what somebody who’s a generic freelance graphic designer might. Maybe even 10 times as much.

So I would say, first bet on yourself, but have a focus. Figure out what your thing is that you’re going to be focused on, that you can solve a problem for people for. And how do you kind of niche it down to make it specialized? In terms of assets, Charlie Munger, Buffett’s right-hand man recently said that you need to hustle like crazy to get your first 100k. And then after you get to that level of assets, everything else is way easier after that.

I would probably agree with that. I think that probably anybody that’s got 100k in assets could probably quit their job and go take a huge risk for a while, especially if your burn rate is low. That’s what really helped me starting my business is I only spent when I was single about 18,000 a year. That’s very cheap.

And how did I do that? I did some things that I’m probably a little ashamed of today. Like I rented it out a semi-finished basement for like $300 a month that included all utilities. I drove a beat-up car, and then I sold that car to somebody just randomly just to go travel like it was no big deal when people are like kind of that freaks them out. Selling your own car or something. I don’t know.

I did all these things to specifically to save money. I was super frugal. Now, what’s interesting, though is I had a really good savings rate. But my asset growth was way, way, way slower than it is now. The kind of what I learned is that it’s not just about savings rate. You need to think savings rate and earning potential and earning power.

So it’s kind of like you’re going to get 3%, 4%, or 5% type raises every year working for corporate America. Your bonus is going to be within X amount of dollars. And then you might get promoted and that might jump up faster than that. But ultimately, you have very fixed rewards being in a corporate environment. It’s kind of like being in a… like you’re bond basically working at a corporation for most people.

Why not turn yourself into an equity, particularly if you have something to fall back on? So what I mean by that is a spouse that’s in a different industry, you know, somebody who was more of a risk-averse person, for example, I’m married to a physician. She’s really risk-averse. She hates taking risk. We can pretty much guarantee that her money is safe and nothing is going to happen to it.

So that means that I have the ability to go take out a lot more risk with my personal business. Why wouldn’t I do that? Like, “Let’s see what happens.” So I guess that’s not super specific for people. But I just want them to realize a lot of times people are too concerned with the downsides of what might happen. They’re not thinking at all about the upside potential. And that’s really what you want to think about is are you a stock or are you a bond?

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: I think that’s an oft not talked about point of going self-employed. If you’re going to go self-employed, I tell people they need to have like six months’ worth of their salary and savings. Because if you have no runway, you’re going to panic and you’re probably going to fail. I had six months runway, I had support I had a network, and my wife was very supportive of me going self-employed even though we had a three-month baby girl. And she was like, “Yeah, do what makes you happy as long as you believe that you can support the family like this.” And I believed I could. And here we are four years later.

I think saving, and more importantly maybe doing something with that savings. Again, we’ll talk more about that in build something more because I think there’s a lot here. But right now I do want to talk about the big question here. Because you moved on to start seven-figure business. And getting an ultimatum from your in-laws, that’s very scary. Luckily, my in-laws are like very American, small business owner, “do your thing.” And they believed in me too, which was important.

But there are people with certain levels of debt, right? Student loan debt, maybe they have a mortgage, or they’re paying off a house or credit card debt. To those people who want to start a business, but they have debt, where should they start? What should they do?

Travis Hornsby: It first comes down to tracking what you spent. So if you don’t know what you spend, it’s kind of like you have a blood burst in your body, or you’re bleeding out, you don’t know where it is. So what does the surgeon do? The surgeon cuts you up and sporadically searches for where you’re bleeding from to stop the bleeding. That’s kind of the first step.

Now, you might say, “Well, I don’t have very much to cut.” That’s okay. Our research suggests that if you find what you’re spending where, just the simple awareness of that fact is going to reduce your spending without any effort, because you’re just aware of where your money’s going. And then awareness just create… It’s kind of like if you’re aware that a piece of chocolate cake is 2,000 calories, you’re probably going to be a little more cautious. Just naturally. You don’t have to mentally think about it as much.

So the thing is, is first figure out your short-term credit card debt. Try to get that polished off. Obviously, it’s pretty dangerous to go off and leave a secure job if you’ve got credit card debt because things are going to be unstable for the first several months most likely. So I’d say, first polish off your credit card debt.

Then when it comes to your mortgage and your student loans, your student loans, they’re federal are never worse than an income tax. So this is something that we sort of trade… I don’t want to say we trademarked it, but I think we did probably introduced this concept, that income-based repayment is simply an income tax. It’s 10% of your discretionary income. And if you are going for forgiveness over 20 or 25 years, then you might have to consider paying taxes on the forgiven balance.

Now Congress just seems like they’re passing a bill as we speak that eliminates taxes on forgiven students loans. It only does that through the mid-2020s. So you still have to kind of plan on owning it until they make it permanent. But I think that’s an indication of where things are going.

So if you’re an entrepreneur, you simply have attacks. If you make less money in the year you start your business, you will pay a lot less than your student loans. And you can even sign up for programs that give you subsidies on the interest. So in terms of the student loan debt, unless your debt is super high interest private debt, it should not bother you. You should not be afraid of starting a business with even several hundreds of student loan debt. It’s actually very manageable because these are federal programs.

You asked about a mortgage. I would just say all of your fixed monthly expenses, you just need six months in the bank of those fixed monthly expenses. Six months’ salary is even more conservative because your salary is more than your monthly expenses most likely. So I would say that’s good advice. I think that if you just have six months of expenses in the bank and no credit card debt, you’re really good to take a risk really regardless of your debt level.

And particularly, I want people to be aware of what’s in this latest stimulus because it’s a really big deal. We were joking around before we press record about how you don’t necessarily have to have that stimulus, but it’s cool thing to get. I think a lot of people are probably falling in that same boat, Joe.

People do not read financial news for fun. You’re a nerd if you do. Probably a lot of your listeners are nerds. The average family of four is getting five figures in cash from the stimulus. That’s insanely a lot of money. Basically, you’re going to get this $3,600 child tax credit for kids under six, and it’s like 3,000 for kids 6 to 17 I think. And you’re getting $1,400 stimulus checks, probably multiples. I think a family of four gets around $5,000 or $6,000.

Joe Casabona: Fifty-six hundred bucks, yeah.

Travis Hornsby: Yeah. So $5,600 plus the child tax credit. So about 7,200 I think with the family with two young kids. And so $5,600 plus 7,200, that’s $12,800 if I did that math right. So $12,800, that’s over $1,000 a month that you’re going to start getting, that you’re going to get the stimulus check in April or March depending on your bank. That’s going to be this huge influx of cash.

And then the child tax credit comes out from July to December in monthly payments for like half of it. And then the other half of it comes as a lump sum for your taxes when you file your 2021 taxes in April 2022. So you’re going to get a firehose of cash. The average middle-class person is literally getting a firehose of cash, thanks to this stimulus, for good or for ill. There might be unintended consequences from it. But that is coming towards you. So if you already have quite a lot of savings in the bank… a lot of people worry about health insurance. Joe, were you worried about health insurance at any point during your journey?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Before I got married, I definitely was.

Travis Hornsby: A lot of people don’t know this. But if your income is around like 100%, 150% of the poverty line, if you carefully manage your income for your family size, then you can qualify for a silver plan, and pay almost nothing on your monthly premium, and you get a deductible as low as $500 a month from what’s called cost-sharing plans. Cost-sharing assistance with the silver plan. Which basically means your health insurance would almost be virtually free.

So it’s kind of like if you wanted to do a job, start a business, and you are sitting on no credit card debt and a few months of expenses in the bank. You could set yourself up for enrolling in the ACA and getting better health insurance than you probably have already right now, because you’ve only earned that income for like part of the year. And then you could kind of rely on this child tax credit and the stimulus money to sort of carry you through to not have to eat into your savings at least until early 2022.

And then, what do we know about inflation? If there is bad inflation from the stimulus bill, and from everybody going back to wanting to go to Disney World again, people that are employed are probably going to get hurt worse because their incomes are probably not going to be adjusted upwards for inflation nearly as fast as people that are new hires, people that companies are having to pay market rates for people they’re acquiring new to their business.

So you also kind of have probably the likelihood that if it doesn’t work out your thing you’re looking to do that you can go back to your company or different company, probably at a much higher salary than you might have had if you’d stayed there and stayed put. Or your business works out really successful, and it takes off, you make a lot more money than you did when you were working.

So that’s kind of what ended up happening for me. My business makes multiples of at least… and it could be very temporary. My business could go away tomorrow. If they canceled all student loan debt, it would. But then I have other assets. I have the assets that I’ve saved. I have the community that I built up when we pivot to do something else.

So I just want to encourage people that, yeah, you have all these beliefs that can be limiting beliefs, but maybe this should be the biggest opportunity of your life. Like when are they going to pay five figures to the average American family in a stimulus bill without raising your taxes? I mean, probably never again, because it’s just a one time kind of thing I think. So take risks.

Joe Casabona: Wow, there’s so much to unpack there. And I understand a lot of what you’re saying and I did not understand some of that. There’s a lot of really good info here. First of all, I’ve been following the latest stimulus, so I knew the income lines and the fate outline. So I know how much we’re getting from that.

I read about the tax credit but that didn’t feel as real to me. So you just kind of spelled it out to me a little bit better. Actually, we have two kids, four and eight months, and that tax credit is even more than I thought we were going to get. I feel like I’m speaking from a place of privilege here. But I give way too much to the government in quarterly taxes. I’m setting up a payroll this year to prevent that. But we got a big refund because of that and because our son was born halfway through last year. And then there’s this.

What you’re saying basically is do something smart with that huge amount of money. The government is about to give families of four more money than some people make in a year. So be smart with it. Don’t just put it away for some big dumb purchase. Put it in savings and take a risk and bet on yourself, like you said.

Travis Hornsby: Well, it’s like, what is your best asset? If you’re young, you said your audience is in your mid-20s to early 40s mostly, your best asset is your human capital. That means, what is your earning potential? What kind of things could you do? Now, a company is only paying you your salary because you’re producing more money for them than that salary. Otherwise, they’re going into a big loss and they can’t afford to do it.

Obviously, if you’re in a nonprofit sector or government sector, that might not necessarily be the case directly. But, in general, still, you have to be producing at least your economic value that you’re getting paid regardless of what job you’re in.

And not everybody wants to do their own thing. I get that. That’s totally fine. Like the majority of people are not going to want to do their own thing. And that’s totally cool. I would just say then, try to figure out what risk you can take within your career to get the life that you want.

Just as an example of this, how much leverage do you have? Do you need to work full-time hours? One of the benefits of the progress we made in society is that now men and women can say, “Hey, I want to work part-time. And if they’re asked for why, you can say, “Well, I’ve got kids and I want to spend more time with them.” If you’re a man, like 20 years ago, maybe they’d laughed you out of the room. They would say, “Heck no.”

And who knows? A man or a woman could get locked out of the room at this point, because maybe companies don’t offer that option. But if you have financial flexibility, if you have those six months of savings, or your savings, or your thing, it’s like, “Well, I don’t really want to go start my business. That part’s not really jiving with me.” Well, you could still optimize your life. And if you have a high savings rate, then why not get three days a week, and why not pay a little more for health insurance, and then have a little bit more time to do what you want.

I think that this guy I admire that I worked at the company with, he had his job. It was basically this thing where he could take off a couple days’ vacation at a moment’s notice, because he was a recreational fisherman, and he loved to follow certain kinds of schools of fish. And it’s unpredictable. You have to kind of listen to the weather reports and know what day it is and like… I don’t know. He read all the blogs and magazines of what when they were biting and then he could just take that time off.

So happiness looks different for every person. And I just think that if you just try to find what is that risk that you want to take to make your life better, that’s really what money is for is using it as a tool. Otherwise, it’s just this mythical made up construct. So use it as a tool to increase your happiness. It’s kind of my philosophy.

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: I feel like right now, as we record this in 2021, we’re in a golden age of being able to do that. Health insurance is maybe not where it is in other countries for a bevy of reasons that we don’t need to talk about because this is not a politics show. But everybody can work remotely now. We have a lot more freedom. My dad, first of all extremely supportive of me going out on my own. He didn’t think it was the right thing to do, but he still like gave me the first seed money to start my business. The only seed money really.

So my dad’s the only outside investor in my business. But he came from a world where you get a job, you stay at that company for 30 years or 40 years, you build up your pension and you retire at 65. No one’s doing that anymore. People are staying in jobs for two to three years at most because they want that higher salary. They want different challenges. They maybe are trying to get more freedom. And now feels like the best time to take a calculated risk to improve your quality of life.

Travis Hornsby: Yeah. I think that if you think about the American system, there’s going to be flaws and benefits to any system no matter where you live in the world. If you look at Europe, they have a lot, I think, sometimes on average, maybe higher happiness levels than we do. However, if you look at Gallup polls, about only I think eight or 9% of British people are satisfied and engaged at work. Similar numbers for Germany, France, etc.

The US is only about 33%. But if you consider that about a third of American workers are engaged to work only one-tenth of European workers are engaged at work, that’s a lot of time to spend being miserable. And so healthcare, student loans, the thing about these systems is they’re extremely complex and arcane. The American system is made in a way that makes it difficult for one massive sweeping change, you know, of big legislation or so. It’s very hard. And that does have negative consequences sometimes.

But one of the benefits, since you can’t really change it that well as an individual is saying, “Well, if I do know the rules, and the loopholes in the systems, then I can get health care for my family that’s affordable.” A lot of people can’t because they don’t understand the system. And that’s messed up. You can kind of just say how terrible it is or you can just say, “It is what it is. I’m going to try to live my best life for myself and my family.”

Same things with student loans. You can get them on an income base plan, get them on the right plan, file your taxes the right way to minimize your payment, refinance it and get a cash bonus, it’s a big part of what we do on our site, if you’re trying to get a lower interest rate, you can do all these things. And then you could go out and take these risks.

If, say, you’re a German citizen, it’s very difficult to maybe not work at all or do your own thing. Or it’s harder. So they have a lot better safety net. But because they take higher taxes to pay for that safety net, you have less of a potential to get to a minimum amount of savings to then go out and try to do your own thing and take a risk and start your own business.

So that’s not saying that their system is getting worse or better. It’s just it is what it is. And so use the system that you have the best way that you can. If you’re in Germany, maybe you’re enjoying the safety net a little bit more, maybe you’re doing things a little differently. I don’t know.

Actually, this is really an interesting thing that this counselor told me once. He said, “Imagine a guy cuts you off in traffic. Regardless of your reaction, he still cuts you off in traffic. So you can think that guy’s a jerk, or you can think, ‘oh, wow, that guy must be really late to a meeting and he just almost missed the exit. He’s probably really stressed.'” He said, “Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions.” And I think so many of us sometimes go to the negative, and that leads to negative emotions. And that blocked us from doing things we want to do.

Joe Casabona: I love that. Whenever somebody cuts me off, I try to say, ‘wow, I somebody must be having a baby in that car. I hope they get to the hospital in time.” Because otherwise, you’re right. I’m filled with rage, I’m like, “I hope this guy crashes his car.” That’s not a nice thing to think about anybody. I love that. Play by the rules of the game you’re playing.

And yes, vote, and write your representatives and things like that if you want things to change, but you’re right, our system was designed here in the United States to be very slow-moving and not reactionary. And there are good and bad things to that. But if you know the rules, you’ll be better off.

And speaking of those rules as we kind of come up on time here, I always ask for tips for the listeners. You’ve provided a lot of great information. When it comes to student loans, specifically… I’m going to introduce this with my own personal story, and then hopefully, we can parlay that into some general tips.

My wife is a nurse. And for years, we’ve heard things like nurses can get their loans completely forgiven and this and that. I looked into it a little bit. I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it. Her loan couldn’t tell if it was a federal loan because it was through PNC Bank. So we ended up not doing that. We refied around this time last year and went from like 8% or 6% variable to like a 4% fixed. So we are on track to pay that off this year. Thanks to some of the things that we talked about.

If people have student loans that they think maybe can be forgiven or refied or whatever, because the other thing is I refinance, and I was like, “Am I doing this right? Is this good? How’s it going to work?” Since it’s like PNC to PNC, do they just know? Am I going to get penalized for paying this off early?” That’s the question my dad always asked, because I guess that used to be a thing. So what are some tips for people who want to reduce their student loan burden?

Travis Hornsby: It sounds like she has an FFPL loan. So this is a very unique case. Most of your readers or listeners are not going to be going through this. So this is a loan for before 2010 is basically what used to be with the student loan program where the government guaranteed private bank loans to people for student loans. That’s not a loan that’s eligible for something like public service loan forgiveness unless you convert it to a direct loan.

She could have done that. We do analysis for people like that all the time. Let’s say that this loan… I don’t know if your public about the details of this with your community or not. So I’ll just like throw out hypothetical numbers. Say it was a loan of, let’s say, $60,000. So let’s say you’re both making middle class incomes. Well, if you’re filing jointly for taxes, then if you’re considering like, “Could she get sued or loan forgiveness?” Well, the problem with that is you’re going to count both of your incomes, and they’re going to take 10% of both of your incomes, and then they’re going to have her py 10% of your marital income, and then that loan would get paid off in full.

And so by refinancing, you’re cutting the interest rate and you’re going to get out of debt sooner, and you’re going to be out of debt pretty quickly, and you’re excited about that, of course. Now, the thing that could have saved you a lot of money potentially, and it really kind of depends what the individual is, she could have seen if she was eligible for income-based repayment or pay as you earn specifically, filed taxes separately, instead of jointly, and potentially gotten her payment down to about $200 or $300 a month.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Travis Hornsby: This is just totally guessing based off of what nurses on average earn, what the average nursing student loan debt that we see is. But say, she’s able to get her payments down to $200 or $300 a month. So instead of putting that money into the loans, she could go put that money into her 403(b), and lower her income even more and pay even less on those student loans. So maybe, then she can knock that payment down to like 100 or 200 a month.

And so, if you say 10 years’ worth of payments, what does that look like? Well, that might be $20,000 to $30,000 over 10 years. So then the question is, does she have a lot more than that in debt? If she does, and maybe she could get all that forgiven tax-free, and maybe going for forgiveness would be a way better plan than going for full repayment.

Now, alternatively, maybe she is a nurse that works on the west coast and makes a lot of money. So then maybe she won’t actually have anything left to be forgiven. In which case, all she’s going to do by keeping those loans in the federal system is just pay the government too much an interest. And so then she could get a lower interest rate. People refinance their mortgage. So you can refinance your student loans.

It sounds like you guys just sort of went through PNC or went through the similar lender that you were working with. You can shop a lot more places than that. That’s a big part of what our site does. Right now, for example, a five-year rate is as low as maybe 2.6%.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Travis Hornsby: So if you’re going to be done within a year, maybe it doesn’t matter too much, but you could cut her rate almost one and a half percent.

And then the other thing that our site does is anybody in the world that advertises student loan refinancing makes a lot of money on it. They need their websites to do this, social media influencers, podcasts, etc. And so one of the business models of Student Loan Planner is on our site, we actually give rebate cash bonuses, essentially, for people that refinance by taking a lot of what we get paid and rebaiting it back to our people that are refinancing.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Travis Hornsby: So it depends on the amount you refinance, but are our bonuses or maximum bonuses are $1,000 or more with all of the major lenders that refinance. The smaller loans, you can generally get at least a couple hundred dollars usually. So in other words, you can get a couple hundred dollars, which a lot of people would do just to open a new bank account, right?

Joe Casabona: Right.

Travis Hornsby: plus get a lower interest rate on interest that you’re paying already. For most people that have five figures, you can get hundreds, if not thousands dollars in savings if you need to refinance. That number is even more if you have six figures. And then for forgiveness, you can get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in savings if you were using the wrong kind of forgiveness program, or you were filing your taxes the wrong way, or you were going for the wrong program.

So there’s extremely complicated rules. And so it’s kind of like, well, you can figure those rules out, or you can just hire someone. That’s kind of hard to know who to trust and know who to decide to hire. People can type in Student Loan Planner “reviews” and see our reviews and decide for themselves. But that’s our business model essentially, is if people feel like they have a really complicated case of student loan problems or anxiety, then they can just hire us for a few hundred dollars and we’ll show them exactly the right way to pay it all back.

And if they already know that they need to get out of debt, like in your case, it’s obvious that you guys need to get out of debt, you could just go to and then look at the refinance link that we have on the site and then just apply it with a couple places to get a lower interest rate. And it doesn’t cost you anything. In fact, you get paid to do it.

And with mortgages, there’s all these fees and the friction to refinance. Student loan refi is the easiest thing in the world. You can do it within like 15 minutes and there’s no prepayment penalties. There’s no origination fees or nothing.

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: That is I think what I was suspect of is that it seemed a lot easier. We got a good interest rate, we got a good monthly payment. I had a long conversation with my father-in-law who handled all of that when my wife was in high school or whatever. I was suspect of it because I was like, “This seems too easy.” I’m basically converting the money PNC is making to less money that PNC is making. But I mean, they probably made a bunch of money off of the interest that my wife was paying in the first couple of years of graduation anyway.

Travis Hornsby: Well, it’s more than that. PNC would rather make 4% than lose your loan to somebody that will do 2.5%. In their model, they already know that you’re going to refinance this away. So if they like preemptively offer you that opportunity, then maybe you’ll just keep it with them and pay them the interest instead of somebody else. That’s what a lot of these places do.

It’s kind of like if you are in your credit union and they tell you to refinance your mortgage, you might get a good rate. And that’s fine, right? But their rate might not probably be as good as if you actually shopped it around yourself, because the reason they’re telling you is because they’re assuming that you might do that. And then they want to do it preemptively to capture your business. And that’s fine.

So I think that if you have private loans, you could generally, on average, save thousands of dollars right now by refinancing them again and get those cash bonuses that I was talking about on But not everybody should obviously because people are paying zero on their student loans right now until September for federal loans. So that might be something too to talk about is just like, what’s going to happen with all that stuff begins again?

Joe Casabona: That’s a good point. And I should say that we refied right before the pandemic started. I think it was like February of last year where I was just like, “We have another kid on the way let’s get all of our stuff in order.”

My last question on this before we get to the trade secret is we’ve been… again, this is not the Joe Casabona consultation hour but I feel like maybe a lot of people might be in this position, or want to be in this position, where that student loan is basically the only debt we have. We’ve paid off our cars… I mean, our mortgage, of course. But we paid off our cars, our credit card bill gets paid weekly, and we’ve been really aggressive about paying down the student loan. We’ve been paying two to three times more than our monthly payment. I have to assume but I’ve never really done the math that that positively impacts the amount of interest we pay.

Travis Hornsby: It does. I guess I would just say, like, do you have other uses for the money? If you think about financial independence, what they tell you is, take whatever you spend and multiply it by 25. And that’s kind of your walkaway number. So if you spend 100,000 a year, 25 times, that is 2.5 million. If you spend 40,000 a year, then that’s a million dollars. So a big part of that spending is your student loan payment.

So if you can eliminate your student loan payments, say your student loan payment is $500 a month, that’s $6,000 a year, that’s like I think 150 grand that you’d have to come up with to need an assets to support that monthly payment to have financial independence. Does that make sense?

In other words, it’s really good to pay off your student loan if you need to, because it eliminates one of those fixed monthly payments, which gives your family so much flexibility and relief financially for the future. And then you never have to worry about it again.

I mean, student loan debt is like no joke. We do a survey for mental health, and we actually haven’t even released these numbers yet, but we find that 1 in 11 borrowers with high debt contemplates suicide…

Joe Casabona: Oh, God.

Travis Hornsby: …over their student loan debt. It’s really, really high. A couple years ago is 1 in 15. So I think the pandemic has exacerbated people’s mental health challenges that already exist. I think that you’re doing the right thing paying down your debt.

The only thing I would say is, at this point, why not sign up for a five-year variable rate with doing another refinancing with one of those companies I mentioned? Because you’d probably get a one-point-something if you did a variable rate. You’d probably get like a 1.9. And then your monthly payment, since you paid down so much of it, would probably be less than your required monthly payment is right now. So you could get a lower required monthly payment.

And then what you could do is just keep doing what you’re doing. You could keep paying more than you owe, still be done slightly ahead of schedule. Probably like two weeks or so sooner that you’d be out of debt. And then if we have like an economic crash, where we have like bad inflation when the pandemic is like fully over, then you might say, “Actually, you know what? Dude, 1.9% looks really good right now. I’d rather take my money and put it in some of these growth stocks that are crashing.” That’s the only thing I’d say is if you wanted to kind of get a little more flexibility, you might refinance at another time.

Joe Casabona: That’s really good advice. Really interesting. Lots of stuff for me and I’m sure the listeners to think about. As we wrap up here, before we get into build something more, if you are not a member of the Creator Crew, you can go sign up over at You get access to the extra conversation that Travis and I are going to have, as well as lots of other bonuses and extra content in every episode. Again, that’s over at

But before we get into that, I do need to ask you my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Travis Hornsby: About my company specifically or just about what people could do business in general?

Joe Casabona: I think what people can do about business in general. I say trade secret but it really means good advice that enough people don’t follow.

Travis Hornsby: I would say just like I said, get specialized in something that you really enjoy. It’s very difficult to find the intersection of something that’s very specific that’s not generically broad that you also really love following. So find that thing and be the man or woman that is the go-to person for that. And I think that’s going to be the rocket fuel that your business needs to be successful. And even better if it takes a while to get competent in it, like all the skill sets, because that’s just like an increased barrier that blocks other people from getting into it.

A lot of times you get frustrated with having to have licenses or regulation to overcome or all these business challenges, but you can succeed and break through that. Then again, you’re just protecting your business even more. So I guess, like they say, the riches are in the niches. That’s extremely true, because I had a personal finance blog for a year and a half that was generic, and it never got more than 5,000 views a month or something like that. And even though I promoted the heck out of it, I just didn’t go anywhere.

And it wasn’t because I think the articles were bad, it was just because it was generic. There’s a lot of generic personal finance content out there. The people that get the most attention are the people that yell the loudest I think. That’s just not my personality as much, I think. I got really specific. I only focus on student loans for high-debt individuals. And that’s what I needed to have success in business. So the same thing is true for the listener. Whatever you’re doing, narrow it down more, brand yourself more as that person that fixes this very specific problem. And then you’ll have to turn people away.

Joe Casabona: I love that. It’s absolutely true. People want to feel like you’re talking directly to them. And the more you niche down, the more personal you can get about their problems. Do you have debt? Or do you have student loan debt? I really love that.

Travis, this has been an absolute blast. I’m a giant finance nerd. I love doing my own accounting. I do have an accountant. If you’re a business owner, you should have an accountant. But I love looking through the numbers and learning about financial stuff and investing. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Travis Hornsby: I would go to I would. I think that’s the best place. You can also just type in the search icon on the site “Travis Hornsby” and you’ll see some of those personal stories about my wife and I getting started, paying down her student loans, the challenges that we went through, how we lost six figures paying back her student loans because we messed up one forgiveness, and didn’t realize how to optimize for that. That’s one of the reasons I got into it. I was like, “This shouldn’t happen to anybody else.” That’s where I would go it’s just check out the site.

And also, I should say The Student Loan Planner podcast. Obviously, if you’re listening to this podcast, you like podcasts. If you like podcasts about financial independence for people that have lots of student loan debt, that’s probably the best place to go to is Student Loan Planner podcast.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I will link to that and everything we talked about over in the show notes at We’ll have links to the, Student Loan Planner, the Creator Crew, and all that great stuff. Travis, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Travis Hornsby: Thank you, Joe.

Joe Casabona: And thanks so much to our sponsors. They are The Events Calendar, Restrict Content Pro, and TextExpander. I really appreciate their support. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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