I owed $92,000 in student loans. We have been working on paying off my student loans since January 2015 (actually a little before then, more on that later). When we began in January of 2015, the balance changed very little from when I got out of school until we started aggressively paying it down.
It has taken me a while to find the courage to write this. I have been so ashamed that I didn’t want anyone to know until the end was in sight. I have finally found the courage because A). we have finished and B.) I feel it’s a story that needs to be told and one that people are struggling with more and more. I want others to find strength in our journey and know they can change their future.
My debt was a weight on my shoulders that I could never describe. I was 18 years old when I decided to incur that much debt. I naively thought that I would get out of school, find a great job and make tons of money that will pay them off. To be honest, I can’t even tell you how much the school was a quarter, so I had no idea it would end up being a grand total of $92,000 (I went to a private college btw, big mistake looking back on it). Very ignorant of me to not even know how much I was paying for school. I also, took out extra to live. Honestly, I think at that point in time it didn’t actually feel like real money to me. That was probably part of the reason why I didn’t realize the implication this decision would have on my life and my future family’s life.
For the first year after I graduated, I deferred my loans and or made interest only payments. I was making $12/hr and my payments totaled upwards of a $1000 a month. Needless to say I was having a hard time making those payments. Eventually (about 2 years later), I landed a job in my field making decent money and I was able to make the payments. I should say “we” were able to afford the payments because at this point Phillip and I were married and he treated my debt like it was his debt, so that payment was part of our household expenses.
Phillip and I started to settle in to these payments, our income increased, and I was even able to consolidate my private loans, which bought my total payments down to $751 a month. We lived comfortably, got to do what we wanted to do. We went on vacation, went out to eat. We were normal 20 somethings, enjoying life, despite the elephant in the room. But every time I thought about my loans I would get ill, wanting to vomit. There were times I found myself crying when I thought about how much I owed. But hey, we were able to make the payments, so I really just tried not to think about my loans and how much I owed. Let me be honest and say at this point I didn’t know the actual total of my debt, but I knew it was a lot. I was too afraid to total up all the balances. I put my head in the sand and hoped they would go away. Not knowing the amount made it feel less real.
Fast forward to Spring of 2012, we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University! I would love to tell you that from that moment we took charge and decided to tackle our problem head on. Well, we didn’t. The class gave us a lot of great information about getting out of debt, building wealth, real estate information, investing and insurance. It wasn’t until this class that we actually totaled up how much student loan debt I had. I was crushed, I knew it was a lot, but I had no idea it was +90K ! The getting out of debt part for us at that time was too much for us to grasp. I think we felt like it wasn’t a realistic goal because the amount felt insurmountable.
For the next two years we continued living the same lifestyle, and if we had extra money at the end of the month, we threw it at my student loan. That was us “getting out of debt.” We made no traction during this time and had a son. You would think the birth of our son woke us up. Nope. It actually was something that happened to me at work, that made me realize that my debt was limiting. I walked into work one morning (at the job I previously was at) and three people in my department were laid off in their cubes! Yes, right in their cubes. I spent the next couple of hours wondering if I or someone else I worked shoulder to shoulder with would be next. It was a horrible experience and will forever be ingrained in my memory. Thankfully, I was not one of the ones to be laid off, but that is when I realized stability is an illusion.
I was laid off once before, and I was pretty sure that at some point in my career it would probably happen again. From that moment on, I knew I didn’t want to be a slave to my student loans. When you have debt it’s almost like something on your back that causes you to make decisions differently, and it makes life much more scary when you suffer a job loss. So we decided together to get out of debt and pay off my student loans as quickly as possible. There was no time like the present, we had a one year old and thought we needed to just rip the band-aid off. We stopped eating out, got rid of cable and squeezed every amount of money we could out of our monthly budget, so we could make the largest payment on my student loans we could. The first 4 months we did not even make a single extra payment. We had a house that we were renting out and had expense after expense, almost $11,000 worth of expenses. A pipe burst, we were in between tenants and had to cash flow the mortgage, the AC needed to be replaced and we had a $1000 water bill (from the pipe that burst).
Those 4 months were hell! Here we were sacrificing our lifestyle to finally start paying on my debt only to not even make 1 extra payment. I wanted to give up. We both did. We were both wondering where God went. We felt like we were being punished and couldn’t understand why. Not to get too spiritual on you, but I realized this was because the devil did not want us to live the life God called us to live, and he was trying to get us to give up. Think about it this way, when you have debt, you can’t live your best life. The reality is if we didn’t cut back on our lifestyle, we would not have had the money to pay for those emergencies. And we would have probably ended up deeper in debt. January 2015 we made our first additional payment on my student loans!
It hasn’t been an easy rode. As Dave Ramsey says, “You can wander into debt, but you can’t wander out of it”. That is such a true statement. It’s constantly being intentional about what you do with your money, constantly having to say no to yourself. What I mean by that is that you have to delay pleasure. The better you become at telling yourself no, the quicker you get out of debt. You begin to be able to distinguish a want from a need. You would think it’s like a big grand gesture or decision when you get out of debt, but really it’s in all the little small decisions you make everyday. That is what getting out of debt looks like, CHOOSING everyday what is most important.
I have to admit, none of this would be possible without my husband. Let me remind you that all of this debt was mine, technically speaking. He truly accepted the fact that when he married me, that debt became his. I think there are some people who really struggle with that concept. And the reality with that is, this will not work unless you have two people working together, regardless of who’s debt it technically is. So, I am thankful everyday that God gave me the husband I have.
So after all this hard work, I couldn’t be more excited for our future. Pressing the submit button for our final payment was surreal. This has been a very empowering experience, teaching us to work together and changing our family tree. We will never look at money the same way again. Our son will not have student loans, his college WILL be paid for (out of his 529 plan). We are finally able to move forward and live our best life, no longer being ruled by a master called “debt”. And yes, student loans are debt. 😉