I had the opportunity to share my student loan story with Harriette Cole of The ROOT web series Bring It To The Table last week. It was my first interview and I was both excited and nervous. Before I post it on social media, I wanted to share it with you, my tribe. I love you, guys.
Here is a link to the interview: Getting Out Of Debt
I also wanted to give you some more specifics about the process hoping that it will both motivate and inform you. So here is the nitty gritty– some of the things that I did to repay my final student loan of $40K in a little over than two years.
I applied for AmeriCorps Funding: I attended Columbia University’s Teachers College for my second master’s. The total cost of the degree was over $40K(with the cost of tuition, interest on four loans, books, and the cost of living). To offset the cost, I secured AmeriCorps funding for two-years, providing me with close to $10,000 dollars. AmeriCorps is a network of local, state, and national service programs that connect over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health, and homeland security. AmeriCorps’ members serve with more than 2,000 non-profits, public agencies, and community organizations. Upon completion of their service, members receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of up to $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans.
I took College Level Examination Programs (CLEP) Exams to get a pay differential as a teacher to increase my salary the quickest way possible: In the New York City Department of Education, there is something called “30 and above.” Those are 30 credits above your master’s degree. Usually, teachers take courses over time to earn the differential, but I found a shortcut. I took CLEP exams for courses for the highest amount of credits. For example, I took a Spanish CLEP exam for 12 credits, an English Grammar and Composition Course for 6 credits, and some other courses with high credit values to obtain my 30 credits above my first master’s degree. So instead of paying a lot of money for college courses over a long period of time, I buckled down and sacrificed a few Saturdays and a couple hundred dollars to make an increase in my salary.
I used the government’s money to work for me. I had to take out four loans for my second master’s degree. The total amount of the loan was a couple thousand dollars more than the total cost of my tuition. So, I spoke with my financial advisor and we decided to put the extra money in a high yielding bond so it could work for me. I was able to earn a few hundred dollars on the money, which would help me reduce repaying the loan more quickly.
I landed a higher paying job but lived like I never had. Once I was on the verge of finishing my Ed.M. in Organizational Leadership, I started to apply for educational administrator positions, which in some cases paid 40% more than a teacher’s salary. Once I secured one of these jobs, I continued to live as a teacher and used most of the extra income to pay down my student loans.
I paid rent to my mother. Since getting out of debt was serious to me, I moved home. I paid rent, but not at the crazy rate that New Yorkers have to do. (My mom and I have a great relationship, but this move may not be for everyone. So, if you are living alone, consider getting a roommate, or renting a room for a while until you make a real dent in the balance.)
I had all types of side hustles: I had an Amazon.com book business; I worked security at the flea market; I was a Cinderella character and Mickey Mouse character at birthday parties and I had “yard sales” in my living room.
I used my investments and savings to pay down some of the loan: I mostly identify as a saver, but I started investing consistently ($300 every month) since I was twenty-five. I was twenty-nine when I started at Columbia University. When my $40K debt shrunk to $5,000 or $4,000, I thought it would be okay to dip into my investments and take a couple of thousand to pay off the debt since I understood that I was building long-term wealth and had youth on my side.
I prepared really hard for my admissions interview. I was awarded a partial academic scholarship upon admission, which did not go to me. It went straight to the Bursar Office
I ignored the minimum suggested payment for my loans and used my emotion to decide how much I wanted to pay: I really HATED this loan, especially since I had successfully paid off my undergraduate loan successfully and paid for my first master’s in cash. I was really obsessed with paying back this loan because I had been living debt free for a while. So, I would keep the phone number of my lender on my phone and call it often to hear my balance. Since I love round numbers, I would say things like, ” Since the balance is now $27,850, I want it to be $27,000 the next time I call” and would make a check for $850 and then find a way to pull together the money. There would be some times that I would make two payment in a month just because I hated the loan that much.
Frugal Feministas: I know how serious and overwhelming student loan debt can be. So, if you have a question, leave it in the comments below and hopefully I will be able to answer it for you. Also, leave any other post ideas that you would like to see about student loans and I will be sure to address them in upcoming posts. 🙂