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I’ve known you my entire adult life. For 20 years, I’ve carried you. You made it possible for me to read great books and discuss interesting ideas with intelligent peers. But, that time passed many years ago. I’ve suffered under your crushing weight for way too long. I’m ready to know a life of freedom. I’m moving on. I’m letting you go.
When I was 27-years-old, I took my mother’s advice and consolidated my undergraduate loans with the unnecessary loans I took out while I was a graduate student. I received an assistantship that covered tuition and paid a small stipend, but I couldn’t imagine how I’d live on so little money. Immediately after graduation, I started to make graduated monthly payments toward the $48,000 balance. Through the years, I’ve put the loans in deferment a couple of times, but I’ve made steady payments for at least ten years. I’m almost 40-years-old now, and I owe $47,554 in student loans.
I try not to rage when I think about how much money I’ve paid to the loan, and how little the balance has changed. It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. I feel little comfort from the low interest rate of 3.125% because it is calculated daily, and it adds up quickly. I don’t work in a particularly stable industry. I’m an adjunct instructor, and my work is often contingent upon enrollment or university need. Although I’ve been fortunate to find work at higher paying institutions, there is still no guarantee from semester to semester.
I made that choice, though. I also work as a freelance writer, and I consider my adjunct work as “freelance” as well. To stay comfortable and secure in my career decision, I am finally making the decision to break up with my student loan debt. It’s been a dysfunctional relationship – maybe from the beginning, when I took out loans so I’d have cash for better groceries, road trips, and nights out on the town.
Those are all good things, but not good enough to be experienced on borrowed money.
I’ve felt very low. I’ve felt sunk in the hole I created. I’ve tried to embrace the loans and the education and opportunity they provided me. It’s true that I’d pay twice the amount for the friends I made while in the programs that prompted the debt. But, I can’t help but look at the balance and berate myself for not being smarter about my money at the time. Even in my decision to pay off the debt, I feel like I’m making up time. Like I’m behind the rest of the world. Like I’m in last place.
I have little in the way of retirement savings. I went back and forth between wanting to pay off the debt and wanting to fund a robust retirement account. But, when I heard myself say to my mother, “I might die with student loan debt,” then I knew which path to choose. The debt had to go. It was a dark cloud. The only empowering choice was to eradicate it as quickly as possible.
I know there are others in deeper student loan debt. I feel for them. It doesn’t really make me feel better, though – except to know that I’m not alone in this mess.Which is why I’m writing this letter to you – as an attempt to feel less alone while I extract you from my life. I’ve found extra work. I’ve built up an emergency fund. I’m keeping my expenses low. The time has come. The decision has been made. I’m over you, Debt. We won’t be traveling together, or building a home base. My dreams don’t include you. We’re through.
Dream Beyond Debt