After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a town of 28,000 people, I had so many hopes, dreams and aspirations. My plan was to attend a private school to study my passions, Christian Education and Business Administration. I quickly found myself surrounded by a mountain of student loan debt! I was motivated and driven by the unwritten Midwest mentality: “do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Fast-forward four years and I’m a college graduate and $85,000 in student loan debt without a job, and my private loans are coming due 30 days after graduation. I had no idea when I was in college that I’d be preparing to pay approximately $850 a month in student loan debt. A few years later I I married the girl of my dreams and the weight of our student loans grew. Although my loan payments had decreased slightly, my wife brought $25,000 of her own student loan debt into the financial picture. Our combined debt totaled a monthly payment a little over $1,000. We were on our way to a financial disaster as newlyweds. Our debt could have divided us, but instead we teamed together to fight against our student loans. We are fortunate to have been able to navigate the challenges that student loan debt presented us and are proudly on our way to financial freedom.
What I wish I had known before I started college.
My wife and I now have a total of $27,000 remaining in our student loan debt and are proud of that accomplishment considering we have done so on one income averaging $45,000 a year for the last 10 years. We will be debt free in June of 2023 and we are excited! Along the way we have bought and sold a house and bought another, moved five times, had five kids in 10 years, took out car loans and now own our vehicles. We are SO looking forward to being debt free! It’s been a tough journey but we have both gained a lifetime of education through our financial hardships. If someone had asked me what paying back my student loans would look like after graduation I would have said, “I’m going to get a job and pay them back a few years after college.” Unfortunately, like most I was ignorant to the true realities of life and went into life after college young, naive and ignorant.
Here are a few things I wish I had known before attending college:
- Study your passion. All the money in the world will never pay you enough to do something you hate. Pursue what you are passionate about and the money will come. If you are good at when you do your paycheck will catch up to your passion. Be you and no one else.
- Project your income. A good rule of thumb for borrowing for college is to not borrow more and your projected income for one year. (Ex: If my job is going to pay $40,000 a year when I graduate I should not borrow more than $40,000 all together.)
- Know your estimated repayment plan ahead of time. A good rule of thumb for calculating a student loan monthly payment is to take the cumulative debt and multiply that by 1%. (Ex: If you have $40,000 in student loan debt when you graduate you will pay approximately $400 ($40,000 x .01 = $400) each month. Talk to your student loan provider for more accurate estimates, including any accumulated interest. It’s always good to count the cost.
- Landing your dream job may take time. I had no idea it was going to be hard to find a job I loved right out of college, never mind one that would pay me enough to service my debt. So, I had to settle for less than the dream for a while to make my students loan payments until I could find a job that I loved. I worked a part time job for about a year and have worked for the past 10 years in two roles I have loved. I believe you can too if you stay the course.
- Student loan debt is a long-term commitment. I had no idea going in that I was going to be in debt for the next 20 years or so. I also had no idea that debt would cause me to live paycheck to paycheck like 78% of Americans, according to Forbes*. Take a deep breath stay the course and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Student loan debt affects relationships and future planning. Money is a notorious cause for strife in marriages, new and old. Transparency about the debt that I had and the ability to work as a team with my wife was essential. We built a plan for reducing our debt and that was vital to surviving the challenges that debt brought to our marriage. Remember, your spouse if not your enemy in the challenges of life they need to be your alley.
Take a few lessons from folks like me so you don’t have to fumble through the process of student debt.
TS Bank is blessed to have Kyle Osborne serving as Director of TS Institute, our outreach team dedicated to K-12 financial literacy. If you would like to contact Kyle, call 712.487.0419 or comment on this article.
*Zack Friedman. 78% of Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck. Forbes. Sponsor of Website. January 11, 2019. Link to original article.