I did something kind of big last week — I paid off my student loan debt! Never mind that I graduated from college during the Clinton administration (his second term, mind you) or that I borrowed very little compared to other people (less than $20k for my bachelor’s degree). But still! I did it, and now the piece of paper that Temple University gave me is now officially all mine.
But, you know, I had waited so long for this day, and in the end it was sort of anticlimactic. I didn’t expect confetti, but I didn’t even get an email from the Pennsylvania State Educational Administration — I wasn’t looking for a pat of the back from them, but maybe just something confirming that I’m all paid off just for the sake of closure. I guess they’ll mail it?
I feel like I shoulda, couldla have paid it off sooner, but 1) I went into journalism so I’m not freaking millionaire, and 2) The interest rate was so low, less than 3 percent, that getting it paid sooner and losing that liquidity seemed unnecessary.
When I graduated, I wasn’t making enough to afford my payments so I had to get a forbearance for a year or so, which means the repayment schedule was just pushed back. But, even though the pay wasn’t great, I am proud of the fact that I got a job as a reporter at a newspaper right after finishing my coursework — in fact, I had to take the day off work to go to graduation. That doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.
And, I’m proud of the fact that I put myself through college without any help from my parents or anybody else, and paid off my loan without any assistance from anyone. Now that it’s paid off, I’m debt-free except for my mortgage.
My parents were really hands-off and didn’t really encourage me to go to college. In fact, my mom said I should find an office job like she did — she worked at an insurance company full-time after she got out of high school — and attend college at night if I wanted. She came of age in the ’50s, so I shouldn’t have expected anything more than some outdated advice from her. My dad discouraged me from borrowing any money at all, saying I could apply for grants if I wanted, but I probably wouldn’t qualify for anything. Well…great.
So, I had to figure out the loan paperwork myself without any assistance or input from them. I decided to take a few prereqs at the local community college, which was cheap and saved me a ton of money. I’m pretty sure I just paid for my classes using my savings. When I transferred to Temple I already had some credits under my belt, which made the whole thing a lot less expensive.
At the time, I resented my parents for not helping me pay because I struggled so much. I never asked them for help, and they never offered, even though they could’ve afforded it. I lived in an apartment in a sketchy neighborhood in North Philly and worked a few jobs while attending classes full-time. I knew some people who got loans for more than their tuition and lived off of that money for a semester at a time, but I was afraid to take on that much debt. Instead, I was super frugal. I stole toilet paper from public bathrooms, never did laundry and drank glasses of water at bars rather than beer or cocktails.
The fact that I graduated at all under those conditions is cause for celebration alone. At graduation, my parents were so happy. In my dad’s memoirs, he wrote that he and my mom were “proud of my perseverance.” But I felt like they were trying to claim credit for something I did completely on my own. They bought me dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse the night of graduation, which was their sole contribution to my college career.
It was a valuable experience, though. It taught me the value of money and that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for. It feels good to be independent. At the same time, I’m still a little resentful and bitter, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I used to feel envious of people whose parents financed their college years — it seemed like they were getting a leg up. But were they? When things are given to you, it’s easy to take it for granted. What do you think?