As I’ve said once, twice, or at this point in my life, exactly 400,027 1/2 times, my private student loans are the bane of my existence. I do not like them in a house. I do not like them when I am running from a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.
Like many who carry the burden of what often feels like insurmountable debt, I carry shame, and undoubtedly, regret. Many will tell you not to live with regrets, but those are folks who either have already paid off their student loans by figuring out how to miraculously exist solely off of a condo constructed out of one-ply toilet paper or don’t pay any at all. Although I’m not in the habit of quoting him right now because he cheated on Beyoncé, Jay Z was right when he said, “This is the number one rule for your set, in order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets.”
In an effort to make peace with that notion, here are some of things I wish I had done differently in tackling my student loan debt in my initial years of repayment/indentured servitude.
Choose your deferments wisely.
If your loans are primarily through the government, more often than not, you have far more opportunities to defer payment as you try to figure out your life post-college. Unfortunately, if you have private student loans like me, you will not be alloted as much time. So, while I don’t regret delaying repayment of my loans in the first six months, I do wish I hadn’t exhausted my only available six-month deferment so soon afterwards. I humbled myself and remained home far longer than I wanted to in an effort to work towards a dream. It was the right call, but I wish I had started paying off the loans sooner and saved that second deferment for an emergency period. I once found myself laid off from jobs and missing thousands in unpaid invoices from contract work. Let’s just say, my student loan lenders were not sympathetic to my plight and there was nothing I could do about it.
Make more out of your deferment period.
A lot of us don’t talk to each other about how we handle this oppressive debt. For instance, one of my friends didn’t pay all of the $800 required of her per month. Instead, she gave them what she could, which in her case was about $500. In doing so, she managed to actually start a savings account while also doing something awfully responsible like setting up an IRA account. One in three Americans are expected to work past the age of 70. As a writer, I plan to write into I keel over, but I only want to work because I want to keep creating versus having no other choice.
So yes, while I always knew the importance of setting up a retirement plan – particularly as a contractor in the ever-rising gig economy – I hate that I didn’t start sooner because I was giving every dollar I had to the student loan industry. Somewhere, someone is going, “Wait, what about my credit?” While I don’t encourage bad credit ‘cause no one wants those problems, pay as much as you can and work what limited options you may have as best as possible, but-but-but please think about your future. You never know what will come and your health and well being shouldn’t come at the expense of a loan payment. If you’re going to be damned if you do, damned if you don’t, at least try to prepare for emergencies and the future.
Sacrifice some, but not to the extreme.
I was a twenty-something paying anywhere between $800 to $1000+ in loans per month, and in order to do so, I had to make a lot of sacrifices. This means skipping out on friends, rarely if ever going on vacation (and I do mean rarely to the point of damn near never), not shopping much, and well, hell, I could give a bunch of examples but let’s just say I denied myself a lot of pleasures. Yes, on its surface, this sounds like boo hoo, bugaboo, but no, you cannot just work and go home, work some more, and rinse and repeat all for the sake of satisfying people who truly do not care about you.
There are many, many times in which I wish I had just said, “Forget them, I’m going to take a break and relax.” Not doing so literally impacted my health. Moreover, there were times I could have invested in myself and my career goals but didn’t out of a feeling that I had a duty to pay my lenders. Do not do this to yourself. It is not worth it. Again, they don’t care about you.
Do not turn down a job because you think it won’t pay you enough to cover your loans.
I did this and suffered professionally for it. Granted, I was in the midst of the great recession and media was undergoing a digital-inspired burst so I wasn’t completely stupid to do this, but the larger point is I allowed fear to guide my choices and it was not for the betterment of my career.
I would encourage you to consider a side hustle to help cover your loans or just make a little extra cash to live. For example, me writing about my student loan dilemmas with Undebt is helping keep those vultures off of my back.
If people can help you, let them.
So, I’m not a cast member of Good Times, but I’m definitely not Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island either. I come from a working class family, and thanks to a college degree, am considered middle class. I mean, I find that term to be comical – particularly when you have sizable debt – but if people can help you, let them. This isn’t necessarily monetarily either. Help as in listening to you, taking you out for drinks or dinner, or whatever else constitutes help. There is a depression that can be spurred from tackling this debt, and if someone wants to help you in any way, allow them to. I can be very prideful and it only hurts me.
Do not talk about your student loans all of the time.
It will drive you every type of nut there is: believe me, I’m a honey roasted almond right now because I’m always thinking about it.
Try to win the lotto.
I mean, you gotta be in it to win it, beloved.