In “Yes, I’ll come over at 9 a.m.,” I said. “See you then.”
I hung up the phone. The next morning, I went to clean the house of an unemployed Wall Street banker who would read the paper as I worked. I found him on Craigslist while I was living in New York, desperate for money.
I was barely making enough to pay my bills, let alone my $68,000 in student loan debt from my newly minted NYU master’s degree. Needless to say, I needed money then and there, and the Wall Street guy paid me in cash. The first time was fine. “I can do this,” I thought. “It’s not so bad.”
But the second time, he criticized me for missing a spot as well as for the way I cleaned. The way he said it felt so humiliating. I tried holding back my tears but they escaped, running down my face as I muttered, “I can’t. I need to go.”
In the end, I left without being paid. I felt as if my life had been thrown off-kilter after graduation. I was stressed and depressed, my student loans consumed me, and I didn’t have much work to boot.
Finding the Right Mindset to Overcome Student Loan Debt
Once I came to terms with my situation — which included educating myself about my student loan repayment options and coming to terms with my depression — I resolved to get rid of my student loans. This was not the life I had envisioned for myself, and I was determined to get back on my feet.
I didn’t want to be another horror story, another statistic.
All my friends fell in one of two camps: Either their parents had paid for college, or they had taken out massive student loans and weren’t actively seeking a solution. I didn’t know anyone who had paid off their loans. Overcoming student loan debt seemed insane and unbelievable.
But once I divorced myself from the common rhetoric of “I’ll be in debt forever” or “Things will never change” or “We’re all screwed,” I started fighting for my student loan freedom. The reality is that while my college debt sucked, feeling sorry for myself was just a reason to not act.
Hustling to Pay Off My Debt
Over the following years, I made drastic moves and relocated across the country to save on rent.
I started working every single weekend doing any gig I could take. There were times when I felt exhausted or embarrassed by the side hustles, but when debt fatigue set in, I remembered why I was doing it — I wanted to overcome my student loan debt so that I could travel and freely experience life.
During the leaner months, I’d put $800 to $1,000 per month toward my loans. Then, I was able to more than double my income and pay back between $2,000 and $4,000 per month. Throughout the years, I’ve consistently put 50 percent of my after-tax income toward my debt.
Overcoming My Student Loan Debt
During the four years after I left Mr. Wall Street’s house, I worked my tail off. I was focused on one goal at the expense of all others: becoming debt-free.
And right before Christmas a few years back, I gave myself the best gift ever: I submitted my last student loan payment. I logged into my account and saw the balance at zero — I was speechless. My breath quickened, tears welled up.
I should have been excited, but at that moment, I was just so relieved. The past four years of working nonstop had finally paid off.
After sitting there in disbelief, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.
I finally breathed, letting out an “It’s over” sigh before properly screaming and jumping up and down. “I’m finally free!” I thought.
Now I get to explore life debt-free, and every cent I earn belongs to me (or the tax man). I plan on traveling more, worrying less, and saving up for my future, not paying for my past.
Top Tips: What to Watch Out for When Taking on Student Loans
Before you sign on the dotted line for your loan, there are a number of key factors to consider. Leif Kristjansen, founder of FiveYearFIRE Escape, spells out what prospective students should consider before agreeing to any loan.
“Start with a federal loan,” Kristjansen says. “If you qualify for one, they are very flexible and best of all you don't have to pay them back at all until school is over. Not all private loans give you that grace period.”
After the grace period, of course, you will have to begin repaying your debt. “Make sure you can pay off the loan before you take it,” says Kristjansen. “When choosing a specialization and a college, research the average salary you will earn in 10 years. Just to make sure it’s worth taking out your loan in the first place.”
Different Types of Student Loans
Student loan debt is currently at $1.67 trillion and continues to grow. If you have or are considering taking on student loans, it’s important to understand the different types of loans available and how they can affect your debt.
|Type of Loan||Pros||Cons|
|Direct Subsidized||No interest is accrued during the period of study, in addition to a six month “grace period” following graduation.||Determined by demonstrated financial need, and therefore frequently given out in smaller quantities than unsubsidized loans.|
|Direct Unsubsidized||Not determined by demonstrated financial needs, and is therefore more widely available than subsidized loans.||Interest begins to accrue upon acceptance. A student who accepts an unsubsidized loan will graduate with four years of interest already accumulated.|
|Direct Plus||Can cover the additional cost of attendance not already covered by Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans.||Available only to graduate and professional studies students (post-bachelor education). Higher fixed interest rate (5.3 percent) than direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans (2.75 percent).|
|Parent Plus||Can cover the additional cost of attendance not covered by Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans already.||Available only to the parent of a student. Higher fixed interest rate (5.3 percent) than direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans (2.75 percent).|
|Private||Available regardless of demonstrated financial need. Provided based on the credit score of both the signee and the co-signer.||Variable interest rates that are frequently higher than those of federal student loans. No borrower protections (income-driven repayment plans, student loan forgiveness).|
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.