Thursday, May 5, 2011

I paid off my student loans

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Someone suggested, falsely, that I would 'twist' the findings about student loan debt when I recently asked the simple and genuine question, did you pay off your student loan debt?". I'd say that the numbers (as of this writing, outstanding student loan debt is at a whopping $909 billion) and your testimonials provide us with ample evidence that there is a student loan debt crisis, and that most borrowers have not paid off their student loans (not to mention all the co-signers out there). This reader also asserted that I only appealed to millennials and that most of my stories came from recent grads, and that is how I supposedly present a skewed picture. That is also incorrect. I'd say if you're aware of simple numbers - oh, like $909 BILLION - that such a figure most likely suggests that recent grads are not the only ones struggling with unbearably high levels of student loan debt. (And please, if you're a reporter and doing research here, please - I'm begging you - stop quoting the damned College Board and Sandy Baum. Averages don't tell us anything about the student loan debt crisis).

In addition, my work has shown that the student loan debt crisis is an inter-generational problem, and most of my readers, especially those who have followed my work closely for the past two and half years, know that. That said, someone recently wrote to me in response to my search for those who are no longer in debt. It's a wonderful reply, and I am greatly appreciative that the respondent was willing to let me share her story with all of you (she did, however, request to remain anonymous).

Here's what she had to say:

JohannsenHow much debt did you owe?

Respondent: I owed approximately $25,000, but with interest it came out to more like $30,000 (studying abroad increased my debt). Sorry! I don't have the exact amounts.  I've since shredded my loan paperwork.

Johannsen: I can't blame you. I bet that felt quite good to shred that paperwork. I know that I'd burn mine! What sort of loans did you have? Federal? Private? Both?

Respondent: Federal loans only, and no co-signers. My parents were wise about debt and refused to co-sign. They also told me never to take out private loans.

Johannsen: How would you describe your economic background?

Respondent: My economic background . . . poor. We were never on welfare, but my parents were self-employed, and we went without health insurance and car insurance.

Johannsen: Where did you go to school? (If you went to more than one, please list all the schools you attended)?

Respondent: I attended the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities, and for 1yr), and UW-Madison.

Johannsen: Are you the first person in your family to graduate?

Respondent: No.

Johannsen: What did you major in? What degrees did you obtain, and when did you graduate?

Respondent: French. I have a B.A, and I graduated in 1999.

Johannsen: What were the interest rates on your loan(s)?

Respondent: I honestly have no idea what my interest rates were, and, as I already said, I shredded all paperwork related to them after paying [off] the loans!

JohannsenHow were you able to pay off your loans, i.e., did you inherit money, did your family help you, etc., etc.?

Respondent: I paid off the loans by working full-time and living rent-free with my parents. They let me do this as long as I worked and paid down the debt. In fact, they encouraged it. They were born during the Great Depression, and knew you should be very careful about your debt load.

Johannsen: That is great. I am sure you feel that you are lucky that you were able to live with your parents and pay down your debt. As you and I both know, not everyone has that 'luxury.' (Laughing). So what advice would you give to someone asking you how they might achieve the same goal of paying off their student loans?

Respondent: I was able to pay off my loans within 5 years of graduating, thanks to my parents' wisdom and generosity (i.e., allowing me to live at home - they did not help me financially beyond that). This is not an option for many, but if it is, take it [my emphasis]! Swallow your pride, and don't act like you are above moving back in with your parents. It means full freedom sooner. Friends thought poorly of my choice then, but now they say I was wise. Other than that, I am not sure it's fair for me to give  advice today, because the laws and [cost of tuition] were so different back then. I'm astounded, appalled, and outraged at how youth are bilked [financially] by higher education today. For people with manageable debt, they should make sacrifices necessary now to pay it off ASAP, no matter how suffocating it might feel. For those who wouldn't be able to make a dent in it no matter what, only a change in the bankruptcy laws can help them. There needs to be serious advocacy on that front.

Thanks for all your hard work, Cryn!  May others join you in droves.

Jean Bruno Gassies (1786 - 1832), "Allegory of Freedom"

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