Student Loan Hindsight

Angela Melpolder is in her late 20’s and having to weigh life decisions against managing a fairly large student debt load. She offers a transparent glimpse into just how much student loan debt can strain an early start in life for today’s New Year New You 2015.

Angela is young and she’s still single so she has a lot of flexibility to be aggressive and creative when focusing on dumping debt. Hindsight is definitely 20/20. Who among us wouldn’t make adjustments now that we’re older and wiser. I love her willingness to be open when discussing the challenges large loans pose.

After you read her interview, please pass this along to anyone who’s considering significant debt to fund a college education. Hopefully Angela’s hindsight will help a future college student approach loan funding with clearer vision.

 

1. How much student loan debt do you have and how long have you been seriously focused on repaying it?

As of right now I have a total of $85,000. My parents also took Parent Plus loans which total to about $65,000. I went to a very expensive art school in Chicago. And then decided to go back for a 2nd bachelors to a public university. I haven’t started repaying it, yet. However I’m due to start repaying it in May. In addition to my $85k in student loans, I also have another $3000 in medical debt…so that’s on the list to get paid off too! Not to mention, my parents would eventually like me to pay down the loans they took out as well. If I were to do both my loan payments and theirs it would total close to $2000 a month!

2. You’re planning an overseas move soon, how do you expect the move and new location to impact your plan to dump debt?

Life can totally change in an instant! I spent the last 6-8 months prepping and planning for an overseas move (to London), only to not have things work out, so for now I’ll be staying in the States but hope to relocate out of Chicago for a location with a little more sunshine and a lot more heat (Austin, TX)! But when I was preparing for the international move, it definitely hindered my plan on repaying my student loans. Because ultimately my focus was on saving the money in order to do the actual move. But what it did do was make me realize that with careful planning, lots of hard work, there’s a real possibility of me paying them off through the standard payment plan, or even better earlier than expected. Now that I’m planning on staying in the States, I’m trying to make a decision of where I’ll best be able to find a new job that goes with the career I want (marketing for non-profits or with a start up) in a new city & state but also I’m going to approach things much differently budget wise. Instead of spending extra cash to live in a trendy area I may opt for a cheaper place for a year in the suburbs. And also try to make sure I get a much bigger salary so I can afford everything comfortably!

3. How has the amount of debt you’ve incurred impacted life decisions (if at all) i.e. job choices, home purchases, relationships, etc?

Well when I was in school I didn’t think anything about it. I was definitely not smart about loans, paying them back or racking up medical debt (unavoidable to get the bills…but I shouldn’t have just ignored them). I can say the one relationship it has impacted is with my Dad. We definitely disagree on who’s loans should get paid first. He thinks I should pay his loans first so he can retire. whereas I see my loans as a priority so that when and if I get married and have kids, I can send them to school, buy a home etc etc. It has caused many of arguments, but I’m pretty strong willed and stick to my own plan. In addition to hopefully being debt free in the near future, I want to have my own retirement plan, which I’ve already started…something my parents have yet to. Beyond that it definitely makes me more selective of my job choices. Before I would just take whatever would pay my monthly living expenses and ignore the debt collectors calling. But now, I’m trying to ensure that whatever position I have or will have, affords me the ability to pay my bills and my debt.

4. How much thought did you give student loan debt or the repayment terms before graduating?

Absolutely none. Bad move on my part. One thing I wish I would have done was try to send at least $50 a month to those loans all throughout college. I’ve been in Chicago for 12 years…if I would have done that, I would have paid off $7200 already. In the grand scheme of things $50 doesn’t seem like a lot, but it really adds up!

5. Have you determined your student loan debt free date? If so, what is it?

Not even close. with a traditional repayment its 10 years. I’d obviously like to pay that down sooner if possible. To avoid the $20,000 in additional interest. My goal is to work in small bits. I paid off my car back in March, I paid off my credit card (I continue to use it but in moderation and pay in full each month) and my next goal is to pay off the medical debt as well as making payments towards my loans. Once all the bad bad debt is gone (collections accounts on my credit) then I’ll throw as much extra cash as I can towards my loans.

6. What do you think all college students should know about student loan debt, but probably don’t learn until after graduation?

I think kids see free money. It is so not free. I certainly thought it was free. I’d get a big refund check and go shopping! Now I’m paying 5% interest on that shopping spree! I knew I had to pay it back, but I don’t think I realized how much the monthly payments would end up being when I did finish school. Or how much I would need to make a year in order to do that. When you do the Exit Counseling for student loans through the government website, they calculate based on your current living expenses and what your student loan payments are, what you should make a year in order to afford the payments. Mine told me in order for me to afford my monthly expenses (which are somewhat modest in my opinion, and as low as I can get them for now) and my loan payments I would need to make $141,500 a year. I definitely don’t make that…and I can’t see myself making that in the next 3-5 years (one can hope).

When I saw that number, I look back and REALLY regret some of my choices. I think there are a lot of ways to avoid big chunks of student loans before you even START college, which I definitely didn’t do and should have. When I was in High School, my last semester of my senior year I could have had a half day. Instead I opted to fill my schedule with fun classes, which was great, but at the same time I really should have enrolled in the local community college and gotten at least 3-4 college credits out of the way. Because yeah, even in an art school…you gotta take college algebra. I could have eliminated an entire semester which would have eliminated close to $20,000 off my student loans (or my parent’s loans). I lived in the dorms for 2 years, when it really should have only been one (I think dorms are a great experience and totally worth it) but I could have saved $15,000 if I skipped the 2nd year and gotten a better paying job. Those two things could have saved me $35,000 off my student loans. Which is a HUGE amount.

All I can say to kids out there now is find ways to avoid taking out loans if you can. Take your gen-eds before you start at a university. Or take those gen-eds on summer break. It may suck to take classes over the summer, but when you’re in the workforce and paying back those loans that couple thousand you saved in loans and interest will be way worth it. I wasn’t eligible for hardly any scholarships and didn’t get any grants (until my last year of college) so but there are always other ways to avoid taking out hefty loans. Only take out the exact amount to pay for tuition and books, no extra (those “refund checks” yeah…you gotta pay those back too…those racked up a total of $12,000-$15,000 for me!) And if you can, pay them while you’re in school. Even if its $25-$50! It adds up and every little bit helps!

Make smart decisions BEFORE you can even get to the repayment period. If I would have made smarter choices before I went through it all…I would have saved myself closed to $60,000 in student loans…Its all hindsight now, but hopefully someone out there can learn from my big whopping mistakes! School was really fun though!

Angela Melpolder blogs at www.theOguide.com.

Student Loans

 

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