Jason from Reaching Our Balance attended a private school during his undergraduate college years. During that time, like most students, he took out student loans. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always smart about his decisions.
“My stupidest moment was when I needed only six credits to graduate and instead of just taking out the student loan for that particular amount, I took out the full amount and received the excess from my loan so that I could live on it,” remembers Jason.
He left that private institution with $16,000 in debt. Almost immediately after, he enrolled in graduate school where he received assistantships that actually paid for his schooling. But Jason continued taking out student loans.
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“The assistantships didn’t pay much, but they offered a monthly stipend, free tuition, and crappy health insurance if I wanted it,” Jason says. “In other words, I went to school basically for free, but I felt like I needed a lifestyle, so I supplemented my income with student loans.”
Jason graduated with $57,000 in loan debt. From there he earned his doctorate — while still taking out student loans. When he graduated with his doctorate, he had accrued $97,000 in loan debt.
More trouble ahead
In 2006, after Jason graduated, he found a teaching position.
“I actually made standard payments for the first year at about $1000 a month,” Jason says. “That was tough because I was paying for a mortgage, apartment, and student loans at the same time, plus I was transitioning to the Boston suburbs with my ex-wife.”
After that first year, he could no longer make the payments. At the time, Jason heard about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) offered by the government. As a teacher, he probably could have qualified.
“I thought I would make too much money to qualify,” Jason says. “So, I decided to do the extended payment plan, which extended my loan to 25 years and was a fixed payment at a lower interest rate. I thought that was going to be my fate for the next 25 years.”
He told me he made those payments for eight long years. During that time, he remarried and discovered his new wife also had student loan debt.
“We enrolled her in an income-based repayment plan almost right away (this was something like 2013), and then in 2014 she began employment that qualified for PSLF,” he says.
At the time, Jason was making his extended payments of $500 a month. But he knew that he couldn’t go on much longer.
“In 2016, I converted my payment to an income-based plan (my payment went down a bit), and I finally enrolled in PSLF,” Jason says. “I kick myself for the choices I made. I should’ve enrolled right away in 2014, but I didn’t and I cost myself about two years of eligibility.”
In fact, if Jason had done his homework on the PSLF, he would probably have his loans forgiven by now.
“The Student Loan Whisperer”
After all the mistakes Jason made, he decided he couldn’t sit back and let other students repeat his errors. He became a Certified Financial Education Instructor and holds one to two workshops per semester, and also counsels students and faculty individually.
“I try to counsel students on getting assistantships for graduate school and/or have their employer pay for it,” Jason says. “I see no reason to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a master’s degree or doctorate when you could work for the school or get your employer to have some tuition reimbursement.”
He helps fellow teachers with personal finance issues and guides them through the different federal student loan programs.
“I have written several blog posts on PSLF and created a PowerPoint presentation that I give people to help them navigate the process,” he says.
Considering the student loan problem in our country, we could use more people like Jason giving out real-life advice about avoiding excessive debt.
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