I can’t believe I forgot to talk about Student Loans

by Danny Zawacki

I’ve been talking about my student loans for years. It seems like it’s been a very slow process of whittling away at them to the point where they’re manageable. And what I consider slow is probably blazing fast for the average person. I mean, I rarely paid the minimum due each month and there would be months where I would dump a thousand or two into paying back my student loans. Each year I said to myself, “This is the year I pay off my loans, before my birthday and I feel one year older.” Each of those years went past without reaching the goal. Generally, something came up and I wasn’t able to follow my plan. But I soldiered on.

When I graduated, I had somewhere between $30k-$35k in student loans. A rather manageable amount compared to what some people leave undergrad with. Some people go to more expensive schools where tuition is double what I had. Others spend a few extra semesters or years in school just to get their undergrads. The time and money spent is still worth it, but they have more debt to pay off. Finally, not everyone was as fortunate as I was to get a great scholarship. Mine came through a program at my dad’s work. It paid out $15,000 over four years and that made a huge difference for me.

However, I didn’t start paying my student loans off right after I graduated. I was in the grace period before I left for Peace Corps and then after that, my dad put them into deferment for me while I was in Peace Corps. It would have been awfully hard to make payments when I wasn’t making any money each month.

Then, I got home from Peace Corps and I got my first job. It paid more than enough to live on at the time. Additionally, a few months after I got home Peace Corps sent me my readjustment allowance. This is a lump sum of money you earn for each month you are in Peace Corps. I think while I was there, it was roughly $350/month. It still isn’t much, but after not earning any money for over two years, getting it all at once was like winning the lottery. I believe I dumped it all into my student loans, after putting a down payment on my car.

And that’s the way it was for a while. I earned more money than I had before and I put a good chunk of it into student loan payoff. I think at one point, I was paid ahead about five years on one of the loans. It felt good. But those good times were always followed by a, “Ooops, I wish I would have known about this bill and I could have saved some cash for it.” Then I made no payments until I was comfortable with cash again.

Remember that one year I didn’t pay any income tax? Paying it back made it hard to make my student loan payments but it was a good thing they were paid ahead.

And so it went for the past five years. Big payment, wait, big payment. On and on until the end was in sight. Every now and then, a loan would be paid off and I could focus on the next one.

Until a couple of months ago, when I was down to the last loan. I decided, I would take my bonus and a little extra and finally be free of student loans. It was the last piece of the puzzle towards having control over my life.

You know, except for the home payment.