I paid off my student debt at 40. No one should have to go through this


In 2006, I completed my master’s degree. On March 9 of this year, I turned 40. And on March 10, I paid off my student loans.

If this timing seems a little too neat, I admit at the top that yes it is. I basically paid off most of the principal last fall, but since my loans always came due on the 10th of each month, I realized last October that I could let the auto-pay take care of things. and that I would enter a new decade of my life without owing Navient another penny. So after spending $ 1,000 or more in a given month, my last five payments were only $ 172. It was manageable, something like an outrageously expensive cell phone or payment on a 1986 Toyota Celica.

To avenge his father’s death, Íñigo Montoya spent 20 years searching for the Six-Fingered Man, and for me, it’s been a decade and a half of searching out of this situation. Particularly when I was going through my weakest financial ebbs – one after the long tail of the 2008 recession and the next in 2014 after forcing myself to become more independent and less bartender – my loans were the defining feature of my 20s. 30 years old, the cause of all the things I couldn’t afford and the source of all the negative space that creates.

The author at 23, with only an idea of ​​what to expect

I remember the endless little compromises that the Coinstar breakup involved: the gas station add-ons, the two-dollar upchuck, the stolen Muni rides, the jeans with ripped crotch that I wouldn’t let myself be replaced yet, and Refinery 29 Hateful reads about millennials with entry-level PR gigs who suffered from not being able to join a roommate in the Hamptons with the team, but whose grandparents provided the down payment for a condo. If I’m being honest with myself, one of the reasons I was hesitant to go non-binary until relatively late in life is that making the changes I want to see costs money – money. money that I didn’t start having Until very recently.

I think I owed around $ 88,000 when I submitted my thesis in May 2006. (Let’s face it, though: doctors, lawyers, and many others often graduate with three times as much.) to calculate the exact amount I only owed to find that it is lost due to the digital decomposition, because before Navient it was Sallie Mae and Discover – and I vaguely remember Citibank somewhere – but all of their records online do not go back that far.

I don’t even know how much I paid in total, but it’s well over six figures, basically all from a two-year masters program in American Studies at NYU, plus any additional loans I took. to pay for my rent and live. I remember the angst of being at the Williamsburg Metro Bar with friends the night I got a notice saying I should about $ 450 a month from 60 days and run pretty much forever because almost everything that would be interesting. (My rent was $ 600 at the time, I was working in data entry and was all about those two-for-one bar chips.)

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Later, as a useless peon at the ACLU, I worked many wet nights at sticky weddings in Westchester just to make those existentially unnecessary upfront payments. When I won $ 50,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a third of that has served my debt.

Since then, I have alternated between being a industrious little shock absorber and a con artist in near despair. Shortly after moving to California, just as the world was crumbling in September 2008, I put everything on reprieve (without interest) and after that grace period ended, on abstention (which is the case). Right before my 30th birthday the polite announcements started coming in, then the passive-aggressive announcements, then the calls started. When your phone blows up everyday starting at 6 a.m. because the outgoing call center is tracking you during Eastern Time, it really tests the tensile strength of your ability not to yell at them. miserable working class on the other end.

“What are you going to do?” I asked a person after being denied a 30 day reprieve. “Resumption of my studies?”

The author at the dawn of 40 years, costly burden lightened and without fantasy.

December 2014 was the turning point. I worked my last bar shift just before Christmas and became a full-time freelance writer. The next month, I started a spreadsheet explaining how I would pay off what were then seven loans totaling $ 56,779, with the monthly interest of $ 109 alone. Then came the boring part: I just sucked it up and did it for about 60 months. I am very lucky to have been able to.

Not everyone is so lucky. A lot of people don’t finish their degree. They get pregnant, they get married, they are fired. Their spouse falls ill and they fall prey to nightmarish medical bankruptcies and prolonged battles with anonymous insurers whose sheer evil wipes out everything Navient could do to you.

But behind every for-profit university and goofy actor promising unlimited upward mobility in exchange for a little elbow grease, Congress has been there.

Student debt is classified as “non-refundable,” the equivalent of child support and the taxes themselves. You cannot get rid of it in personal bankruptcy. If you turn 67, and everyone doesn’t, they’ll top up your social security to be reimbursed. If you die, they will take your estate for probate and extract a pound of posthumous flesh from your corpse. Just like cannabis being a Schedule 1 substance, this is a grotesque categorization error written into federal law.

And sometimes people will despise you with a sort of haughty pity, as if you were Mathilde in Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Le Collier”, condemned to a life of dishwasher hands just to save face with a debt. that you didn’t have. business in progress.

But now the reform is on the table. Betsy DeVos is irrelevant, tens of thousands of defrauded students get full restitution, and the Biden administration, while acting slower than the speed of an executive order, does not let Navient et al. snatching tax refunds from anyone and heading inexorably towards some relief. Real change seems possible. I remember moaning at the start of the Trump administration that I was on the verge of paying off my loans just when the Democrats could presumably take back power. That’s almost exactly what happened, but I don’t moan anymore. I am delighted to have finished!

Understandably, a predictable online chorus hails these objectively positive developments with strong vows against ’empowered’ young people who have made ‘bad decisions’ – as if every adult in most 18-year-olds’ lives isn’t encouraging them to go to school. – beyond school, or as capitalism itself was not based on the fact that we finance our future with debt.

They don’t seem as transparent as the teeming Euro-troll anti-vaxxers the New York Times’ Facebook page for every story on Moderna, but these people are just as tasteless. It’s usually hard, ideologue on the rise, the kind of person who shouts, “I’m paying your salary!” to all the chosen ones – and who is probably lying that he’s never had help in any area of ​​life, because he just wants a platform to conjure up the hypothetical possibility that someone less deserving will get something he doesn’t have. The word “sheep” will invariably be used, as a sheep corollary of Godwin’s law.

Sadder still, these people almost always express contempt for college, for learning, for all of that. It’s a saying. This person says, “My life didn’t go the way I wanted it to.” Well, I wrote my masters thesis on masculinity and empire in evangelical Christian pop culture, and I wouldn’t say it necessarily opened doors for me, but I certainly don’t feel screwed by it. higher education itself. I feel for the people who do, even when they channel that rage right into Trumpy’s standard grievances. (Although I’m sometimes as judgmental in the comments as anyone runs into an anti-college troll who can’t spell.)

I have no love for New York University, which is essentially a real estate giant with ancillary teaching duties, a steroidal Academy of Art. Several weeks ago, I got a call from my alma mater hoping to collect donations from the alumni. As with the nasal call center that harassed me for non-payment ten years ago, I know this polite-looking student was just reading her script on a screen. So I listened to her. But when I said I never gave NYU any money, her response was a “painful understanding that times are tough right now.” I almost wanted to speak with his supervisor, so they could rewrite that condescending prompt. But I realize that this well-meaning little shit might owe even more money than I’ve ever done.

In the meantime, I’m 40 and debt-free – except for my credit card, which has a balance again, since I’m 40 and bought myself a luxury bike. I’m using a slightly different name, I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’m optimistic about the future for the first time in a long time. Leaving the Revenge Company after 20 years, Íñigo Montoya considered a filibuster life as the new Dread Pirate Roberts. As for me, I’m not a marauder, although I guess I’m officially saving for retirement.

This is not a singular, all-encompassing life goal, however, I also work to develop firmer buttocks.

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