Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Soul Sucking Student Loan Repayment Research

Out of the blue, I received a text message from a younger friend inquiring about my student loans. He gently asked how much debt I had and what I was doing about it. He was worried about being able to buy a house or have kids, etc. I told him I hadn't been paying the loan, for years, since I started grad school in 2008! During grad school I deferred them and after graduating I entered into the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR) I reported my meager income to the loan company by way of my annual taxes and they determined my monthly payment would be zero. Which suited me fine, since I started living on an adjunct instructor income at the time. I've kept it this way up until present time (2019).

My friend asked me if my loan was gathering interest and wasn't I worried about it?  Honestly, I just figured I'd be in this program for the rest of my life and probably never get this loan paid off....ever (sound familar?). But his worried texts got me sweating about it again, so I dug up my password and logged into my student loan account to see what was what. In my head, I thought I owed $60k. That's consolidated from undergrad at SAIC and graduate school at East Carolina University. Turns out that these loans had been gathering interest! PALM SLAP! Oh, only $15k extra added to the principle! Its $75k and rising! Yikes. Maybe I should be looking into this!

I started researching this like it was my full-time job. I fired all cylinders on trying to figure out what to do.  My friend said he was almost $100k in debt and I remembered I have another art school friend with that much debt too. They were both working multiple jobs and living with roommates in their 30's to try to pay down these loans and I knew many more in the same boat.  Maybe I need to stop ignoring this elephant too and start paying it off.

Another art school friend says he's in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Which means if he makes minimum of payments for 10 years the rest will be forgiven because he works for a non-profit (a community college). That's great for this friend, but I don't work for a non-profit at present as many of my friends do.

There are also reports of many many people signed up for this program 10 years ago that aren't getting forgiven! Why? Because they filled out a form wrong! Make sure you are sign up correctly, ya'll.

My generation has a huge problem (I'm an old Millennial). We should be buying homes, starting families with secure jobs, and saving for retirement. Instead we have 20 years of $500 to $1000 monthly payments just to get to zero. College was great! What a party it was!  I have many good friends I met there and I learned a great deal!  But the system is broken and maybe I would have chosen a different path if I'd known it was going to be such a financial leash. Will we elect a president that will help us? Haha not likely. I seriously doubt any president can POOF make millions of dollars disappear.

I'm not here to complain. I'm here to find a solution and to help my friends find a solution or at least some camaraderie. These debts aren't going away and I'm not afraid to talk about them or bring them up at a cocktail party (sorry friends).

In lieu of getting a teaching job (a tempting possibility at this point) I went further down the rabbit hole of how to pay these off, or at all. I found some podcasts and blogs about personal finance. I will use this dusty old blog to talk about this and use it as a way to gather up all the information that I've found useful, just so I can link my friends to it. Especially so that I'm not bombarding them with links and blogs in their facebook comments (haha sorry again).

So here's what I found out...if you're freaking out and need some guidance:

1) I found on Spotify an NPR program called Death, Sex, and Money. Among other uncomfortable facts-of-life subjects they discuss, they tackle the student loan debate. This helped me realize that I'm not alone. They interview a bunch of different loan takers and loan experts. There are millions of us out there with this problem and some of them way more in debt than me. So many people called that they had to split their show into two parts. Geez! They could have a podcast show just about student loans! I listened to them on Spotify (I think they have more than a couple about student loans). Here's a couple links to their official stories. Part one and Part two.

2) Another podcast I would recommend is this Choose FI episode. In this episode, a student loan "expert" is interviewed. He recommended that if you don't qualify for Loan Forgiveness then you could get your student loans refinanced. I looked into this and even though this would reduce my interest rate, I would be kicked off the IBR payment plans and never be able to return. Which means if I ever got a teaching job, I couldn't sign up for Loan Forgiveness. Thus I've decided to stay in the IBR program for now to keep that option open.

Now that I have a lower middle class regular job (instead of a food stamps level adjunct instructor), I decided to return to pay down this monster loan. I think the last time I paid on it was when I had the welding job in Richmond in 2008! So there's a lot of people out there that are paying these off by living very frugally and throwing as much money as they can at paying it off. Like WAY more that the monthly payments. Which seems to work too. But I'm not sure its a good idea to do this if you qualify for loan forgiveness. Then maybe its best to invest that extra money somewhere retirement. But I'm no expert....yet.

This rabbit hole has led me to an obsession with personal finance. Something that I don't think I've been awful at, but now I'm really going to lock it down! I will post more about that next.

If you anything to share please leave a comment below.


  1. This sounds very honest and shows your interest in finding a solution.

  2. Andy - I re-read this post now that I've had some breakfast and a two cups of coffee. I'm impressed by your honesty, your sense of humor and you hard-core commitment to both offer resources / talk about this painful subject AS WELL AS the commitment you're making to this process. It speaks well of your character, something I've always been impressed with. You have a solid work ethic and the integrity to speak honestly about your struggles.


    1. Thanks Dad. I don't want to sound whiney or placing blame on others. For this post I just wanted to share what I've learned about this common problem thus far.

  3. love this! i know pslf is highly polarizing but i am doing it and choosing the invest money instead of paying them down. hopefully that will pan out. i'm committed to staying in academia for the next 7 years in hopes of qualifying. i definitely recertify my employment eligibility each year so i can physically see my number of qualifying payments go up. i think below a certain amount (may like 40k for a lower middle class income) it might be worth it to run the numbers on aggressive debt pay off. i'll look forward to seeing what else you come up with. oh and i love the 'oh my dollar' podcast!

    1. I think you're right to stay the course in academia paying the required minimum. I forgot to mention that you'll likely owe the IRS when the loan is forgiven because they'll see it as income. The Travis dude interviewed in the ChooseFI link talks about this. I'll check out that podcast! Thanks for comment! :-)

  4. Instead, try "is there anything else you'd like me to design for you?"

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