I just added up my loan disbursement totals for the first time and it was jarring. $41,000. Wow! That’s not including the $10,000 parental loan my Mom took out. And that’s before interest.
I received in-state tuition all four years plus a few extra scholarships each semester for academic excellence, but the cost of my college education sure adds up fast! I figured after sharing my fears that my debt will keep me from traveling, the natural next question you’d want me to answer was exactly how much we’re dealing with here. And then, how? Why?
For me, college wasn’t a question. I knew I was going and at the ripe age of 18, signing up for loans didn’t feel like much of anything. I had no way to put the thousands of dollars into perspective – let alone feel the weight of them. My freshman year I got my first handful of federal student loans and a parent plus loan. This money covered tuition and fees, my meal plan, books, etc. and I was blissfully unaware as the money was automatically transferred to the university bursar.
My sophomore year was filled with stress-induced tears and anxious calls home (and plenty of fun – don’t get me wrong, I loved college). I was working as a hostess on nights and weekends, babysitting over the holidays, interning 10 hours a week and taking 6 classes each semester. This worked for awhile because I tend to be more productive the busier I get, but it was still taking a toll on me. Without the parent loan I had freshman year, I couldn’t pay my tuition in full and was barely meeting the payment plan. Accepting more loans made me a little nervous, but I figured it was something I had to do. By this point I was getting three federal loans a semester.
Then, like an ironic lifesaver, Federal Student Aid came to my rescue (well, sort of). I applied for their internship program and got the job. I saved every penny of my intern salary – while learning about the federal loans I had roped myself to. I was able to drop the other side jobs and saved enough money to get through the fall semester. Things went so well, they kept me on part time and I worked remotely from school. On holidays I worked full time in the office. This paycheck (and some savvy research to identify an affordable direct exchange) was how I was able to study abroad. They even let me continue to work remotely from Paris!! All in all, junior year went pretty well.
Senior year reality started to set in. I tried to calculate the salary I would need to afford repayment and general cost of living. I was no accountant but I could tell the opportunities I was finding and my future expenses weren’t going to match up. I still had my internship but they weren’t sure they had funding to hire me as an employee after graduation.
I ended up joining Teach For America and putting my $41,000 of student loan debt into forbearance for two years. At the end of each year of service, they (being Americorps) paid my accrued interest and awarded me a $5,500 educational grant – that I could use towards paying off my loans or for future education. I’m saving the grant money to pay off the last of my debt or in case of emergency.
During this time I took over the payments for my mom’s parental loan. My mom would handle the payments, I just had to have the funds in my bank account. It was when I finally took over the entire billing process to set up automatic payments that I realized how much interest I was paying out the nose. Right then and there I knew I needed a plan.
Are you trying to pay off loans and travel? Have you created a plan for handling your student loan debt?
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