My Student Loan Debt Story

MY STUDENT LOAN DEBT STORY $250,000 AND THE 5 THINGS I WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY

Today I share my Student Loan Debt Story.  As embarrassing and humbling it is to tell - I strive to always be transparent here - so here is the honest truth about how I acquired $250,000 in student loan debt. 

What I think will be most helpful by sharing our six-figure student loan debt number with all of you, is to let you know that we can relate to your struggle to pay off debt, especially when it feels like an impossible mountain to climb. 

I also share the 5 Things I Would Change.  If you are young person contemplating college or a parent looking forward to your child's education, I think these 5 lessons will help you make good financial decisions when it comes to getting a college education and managing student loans.

You can also check out a video we did on the topic below.  

(Don't forget to "like and subscribe" if you do!)

My Student Loan Debt Story

It's very humbling sharing what a large amount of student loan debt I still carry at my age.  But I also thinks it's important to be transparent about how we got here, how we've been able to get rid of a significant amount of our overall debt, and the things we have learned that allow us to look forward to a life of financial independence in about five years from now. 

How Did I Get Student Loans

When I started my undergraduate career, I was already four years older than my peers. Frankly, I never thought I would be able to go to college because my parents didn't have any money and I didn't know anything about the various ways you could get an education after high school.

Meeting a new coworker at my job in a call center changed everything.  She was my age and had already graduated from college.  I began asking questions and learned that I didn't need to have any money, that I could just get student loans.  Those conversations changed everything.  I moved to Reno to be closer to my parents in Fallon, Nevada and enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno.  I couldn't believe I hadn't known this all along. It was so easy.  And thus my journey to acquiring my student loan debt had begun. 

Finishing My Bachelors Degree and Law School

And that's how it went every semester.  I would apply for student loans and get my award.  I'd anxiously await my check, pay my tuition and what was left over was a windfall.  

I met my husband while at UNR and after a couple years, we had our daughter and decided to move to Arizona to start our life as a married couple.  

I transferred to ASU and found that the longer I was in school, the more award money I received every semester.  Sometimes there would be several thousand dollars left over.  Both my husband and I were also working and so we had money to live on, but that extra money always seemed to go towards something else we needed or thought we needed, like car repairs, other bills and furniture.  We were by no means living extravagantly; there were times we lived on ramen noodles and Kool-aid.  We were getting further and further into debt but I rationalized our situation by telling myself, I was going to be a lawyer and make a lot of money and be able to pay it all off once I graduated.  That mindset influenced much of our behavior with our money. 

The largest amount of student loans came from law school.  I was accepted to California Western School of Law in San Diego.  I racked up about $100,000 in loans there all the while we were still living paycheck-to-paycheck and borrowing more and more money.  As before, I kept telling myself we would be fine, once I started working. 

Obviously that did not happen, or I would not be here telling all of you why we still have $250,000 of my student loans.  You can listen to what happened during the following 16 years after we graduated and finding the Fire Movement in this video. 

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The 5 Things I Would Have Done Differently

Finding The Fire Movement was life changing.  We had tried following Dave Ramsey and The Baby Steps over the years, but the amount of debt we were carrying was paralyzing.  We eventually became discouraged each time and eventually gave up and believed we would be carrying our debt to our graves. The legacy we would leave our kids would be a mound of debt.

Finding a community that found a way to save money at a crazy rate AND not carry debt is what gave us hope that we could find a way to payoff debt and save money to create generational wealth for our children.   Doing both at the same time had always been a road block for me when following Dave Ramsey.

We discuss how we plan to do all of that in our video posted above.

So let's dive into what NOT to do when contemplating paying for college.  

Mistake 1: Not Understanding Alternative to Student Loans

The biggest mistake I made was that I wasn't aware of and did not appreciate all of the many ways I could have lessoned the need for student loans as well as all of the other viable career options. 

High School students should be encouraged to explore all of their options.  Not everyone is well suited for traditional university and are unaware of the options available that can provide very profitable careers.  Many of these careers, like plumbing, electric and HVAC are also having a shortage of workers.

It's advisable to have these conversations early and some can be accomplished while still in high school.  

One option that I completely forgot to discuss in our video was the military.  The military is a brilliant option for so many reasons.  It can help build maturity and structure, teach real life skills and pay for some of all of your education.  It should not be overlooked.  To learn more about this option, Road2College.com has a very good article about it.  

WAYS TO MINIMIZE STUDENT LOANS

CLEP Testing - CLEP Testing allows students to test out of many lower level classes

Dual Enrollment - Students are enrolled in college and high school at the same time.

Grants and Scholarships - Grants and scholarships are FREE money. FREE is GOOD.

Community College - Significantly less than a four year university. Can be paid in cash.

In State Schools - Tuition is significantly less in-state as are in-state public school.

Trade Schools - Many in-demand trades pay very well and are short workers.

Certificate Programs - Companies like Google and Salesforce offer programs.

Careers That Don't Require a Degree -  Many profitable careers do not require a degree.

The Military - Tuition assistance is one of the many benefits available in the military.

Mistake 2: Ignorant About Debt and Managing Money

Money and debt was not discussed in my home growing up beyond being told "we can't afford it."  I saw my mother paying bills on payday and always knew it was a source of stress.  So, at 18 I knew how to work and support myself; however, what I didn't know was how to save or how dangerous and easily debt could get out of control.  

Likewise, there were no conversations about money.  The only savings instrument I knew about were the savings bonds my dad purchased out of every check.  When I graduated, they were used to buy my first car.  Saving it to compound interest was not really discussed. 

I was simply ignorant.  I didn't know what I didn't know and had no one in my life who knew what I needed to know.  We didn't find that until we were in our thirties and triple digit debt looming.

We are changing that for our children.  Money discussions are important in our house and all of my children are learning the pitfalls of debt and the importance of saving.  Part of that is helping them learn about ways to lesson the cost of college as well as deciding if that is the route they want to go.

Mistake 3: Borrowing More Than We Needed

One really big pitfall was using 100% of my student loan award when I didn't necessarily need it.  There were many occasions when I had thousands of dollars left over after paying for my tuition and books.  Even though we were still living very simply, the extra money was not spent well and if we had been more intentional, could have returned the excess. 

Instead, those extra dollars have increased exponentially as our loans continue to accrue interest.  It was very avoidable mistake. 

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I may receive a small percentage for the referral or purchase at no additional cost to you.

Mistake 4: Not Being Mindful of What We Spent Our Loans On

While we were both in school, we lived very simply and there were times our money did not last to payday.  Because of that, when we received our student loan disbursements it felt as if we had won the lottery.  When you win the lottery you treat yourself, right?  We were not very intentional about what we were spending the money on and it always seemed to get spent very quickly and then we'd go back to being broke. 

It was almost like being in a trance.  Would should have been more mindful of our spending. 

Mistake 5: Not Taking Advantage of Loan Forgiveness 

Before opening my own law firm I was a public defender and eligible for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF).  PSLF is available to public service employees and will forgive the balance of your student loans after 10 years of payments, so long you have had your employer certified and you have put your loans into the correct repayment program. The College Investor is who I trust to learn more about PSLF. 

Had I really understood the benefit of PSLF, I could have taken advantage of having a good portion of my debt forgiven since public defenders are eligible.  However, in my mind I was still living under this idea that I was going to make a lot of money and I would be able to pay them off very quickly. 

Obviously that did not happen, because here I am. 

Thankfully, we will be able to take advantage of PSLF for my husbands loans, which are also six-figures, so I am grateful for that. 

Knowing this program is available can help when making career decisions. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Woo! It's always hard to share the honest truth about our student loans.  Debt shame is totally real ya'all!  But, we can't change what we did, we can only change what we do going forward and how we ensure that our kids don't make those same mistakes. 

And if you are like us and carrying a lot of student loan debt, that's why we are here, to help people who felt as lost as we did with how to tackle it.  Our video on how we plan to Retire in 5 Years has a really good breakdown of how we plan to become Financially Independent even with such a large amount of student loan debt. 

SOME OF MY FAVORITE FIRE FRIENDLY BOOKS

This post may contain affiliate links, which means

I may receive a small percentage for the referral or purchase at no additional cost to you.

We hope you have learned a thing or two from my mistakes.  They were HARD and full of long term consequences.  A friend once shared that we can learn either through wisdom or consequences.  I hope you take the route of wisdom. 

Love and Prosperity, 

Wendy and Curtis

5 Tips to Avoid Student Loans

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