When I was interviewed by USA Today about my student loan debt back in June 2006, I was so unsure of my financial position that I couldn’t even give them the correct total for my loans. That article cites a total of $116 thousand worth of student loans; believe it or not, I was about $5 thousand too low. All I was sure of was that I owed a substantial amount of money and it seemed there was no way to quickly repay the loans.
Before I started an aggressive repayment plan in December 2009 it seemed like today would be impossible to realize. Think about the situation that I was faced with (and remember that many current large dollar student loan borrowers are still in similar situations): How could a guy manage to repay approximately $121 thousand in student loan debt with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Public Policy? Further, how could a guy repay such an astronomical figure much quicker than the 25 and 30 year repayment plans his lenders put him on? Worse yet, how could anyone who worked at a nonprofit organization, did not rely on outside financial support, did not live at home, paid all of their own bills (on-time), lived in the most expensive state in the union, and who felt a moral obligation to annually donate at least 10% of his income achieve this goal? To say that the odds were against this day coming as soon as it did is an understatement! This goal was nearly impossible for anyone to achieve.And yet this day still arrived. As of this morning, my student loans are fully repaid. No more principal balance to report. No more interest versus principal calculations to make with each payment. No more wondering how much longer I’m going to make $2,500 per month payments (this was the amount of my average monthly payment in 2013). That’s $2,500 each month that I can now use towards what it should have been used for since July 2006: saving for retirement, investing in the market, investing in my continued professional and academic development, and purchasing a permanent residence.
During my last “major announcement” post back in December 2010 I happily reported that I was done repaying the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (NJHESAA). The NJHESAA’s series of smaller NJCLASS loans were – after consolidation – one of the two major student loans that I was obligated to repay after graduating from a master’s degree program at Rutgers back in 2006. The other major series of smaller loans – also consolidated into a single loan – were from the United States Department of Education (USED) and their Direct Loans program. Ultimately, the USED sold my loan to the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) – the lender that received my final payment earlier today.
I also had loans from two smaller sources including $1,400 from the USED’s federal Perkins loan program through Monmouth University and $7,000 (plus an additional $1,071.52 in interest) from Citibank’s student loan program.
Just as I reported after paying off my NJHESAA loan, here are the stats as they pertain to repaying my USED/MOHELA loan (these figures include both the amount of the loan and the capitalized interest; also, these are my figures and may be a few pennies or a dollar or two off from what the USED/MOHELA keeps on file).
Sophomore Year of College (2000 – 2001): $3,518.71
Junior Year of College (2001 – 2002): $5,529.88
Summer Session (2002): $0.00
Senior Year of College (2002 – 2003): $5,529.86
Undecided Graduate Semester (Fall 2003): $9,759.06
Part-Time Graduate Semester (Spring 2004): $0.00
Graduate Year One (2004 – 2005): $19,156.45
Summer Session (2005): $6,852.91
Graduate Year Two (2005 – 2006): $6,034.01
Total USED Debt at Consolidation (Plus $205.04 Refinancing Fee): $59,020.15
Total Principal Paid During the Life of the Loan: $57,575.00
Total Interest Paid During the Life of the Loan (Includes Capitalized Interest): $1,445.15 + $14,518.11
Total Fees Paid During the Life of the Loan: $205.04
Total Amount Repaid: $73,743.30
The list above shows the various USED loans that I consolidated into the final $59,020.15 loan that I began repaying in 2006. If you study that list above, there are three lines that will probably bounce out and hit you – my summer session in 2002, my part-time graduate semester in 2004, and my first year in graduate school as a full-time student in 2004 – 2005. The first two of these line items probably stand out because I did not incur any USED loans during those semesters. Why didn’t I take out any loans, you ask? Simple. As an undergraduate, the USED would not advance me any loans if I was a part-time student – that eliminated me from potentially getting a loan during the summer of 2002 (I made up the difference from NJHESAA that summer). And in the spring of 2004 I was still deciding if I wanted to apply to the Rutgers graduate program where I was a non matriculated student. Again, being a part-time student didn’t allow me to take out any loans from the USED.
Of course, I did wind up applying to the Rutgers program on a full-time basis and that first full-time year of graduate school is the other line item that stands out in the list above. This line item stands out because it is so much higher than the rest of the line items at a whopping $19,156.45. What in the world could I need that much money for in a student loan?! Again, the answer is somewhat simple: somewhere along the line I figured out that the USED would advance loan funds to pay for my “living expenses” while I was going to school full-time.
If there is one thing that I can point to that inflated my total student loan debt more than anything else it would be the ability to add my “living expenses” to my student loan requests. Even though I worked part-time at two different jobs during my undergraduate years and full-time during my graduate years (in addition to owning and operating a small business), I still included my living expenses in my student loan requests. Those living expenses including my monthly rent payments, cell phone payments, food money, automobile payments, and Lord knows what else. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the exact amount of my student loans were allocated to these living expenses, but let me put it in perspective this way…
Pretty much all of the tuition I was charged during graduate school was paid either by me, my family, or scholarships. You read that correctly – I did not need to take out student loans to pay for my tuition at Rutgers. In other words, if you look at the list above and add up the line items titled Graduate Year One (2004 – 2005), Summer Session (2005), and Graduate Year Two (2005 – 2006), then you’ll have the total dollar amount of student loans that I requested for reasons other than tuition. After doing the math, you can see that this amount equals $32,043.37. Just to be clear, of the $120,720 that I took out in student loans, at least $32,043.37 were for expenses other than tuition. I won’t set this number in stone as the definitive total amount of loan funds that I received for non-tuition expenses because I also applied for and received living expenses (primarily rent costs) from the NJHESAA’s NJCLASS program, too.
However, to estimate that approximately a third ($40,420) of my total student loan debt was for living expenses and not tuition would be a pretty good guess. Pretty frightening, I know.
And yet today still arrived. From an above-the-fold cover story in USA Today in June 2006 to fully repaying my NJHESAA loan in December 2010, to a nice mention in an online story on USA Today in May 2011, to the milestone of having repaid $100,000 in principal, to today – it’s been an incredible ride. If you’ve been following my student loan story from the beginning, then I offer my heartfelt thanks for your patronage and willingness to read my repayment story to the end. For those of you who have added comments to these blog entries from time to time, I thank you for being a part of the conversation. If you’re one of the many folks who’ve e-mailed me saying that I inspired you to take a more aggressive stance in your own student loan repayment, then I wish you luck.
Quickly and efficiently repaying a student loan is possible; even if that student loan is $120,603.31 on day one and you wind up paying an additional $28,851.81 in interest over the life of your repayment. The great truth that I learned over these past few years is that if you want to do something, then you will find a way to achieve it. In other words, no one can stop you – except you.
And if you’re trying to repay an enormous student loan, then contact me and share your story. Good luck!
In July 2006 I began repaying $120,603.31 in student loan debt. This debt was comprised of $106,070.00 in loan principal, $12,434.58 in capitalized interest, and $2,098.73 in closing and refinancing fees. I made the final payment on this debt in August 2013. My lenders included the United States Department of Education’s (USED) Perkins loan program, the USED’s subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loan programs, the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority’s NJCLASS program, CitiBank, and the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (the USED sold my loan to MOHELA in April 2012). In total, I paid $149,455.12 to these lenders including $120,603.31 in consolidated principal and $28,851.81 in interest. You can read my entire student loan repayment story on JerseySmarts.com.