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Teenage boy studies in school library

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It’s graduation season, and high school graduates will be given words of encouragement as they enter their next chapter. Unfortunately, one thing most won’t be advised on is the real deal about student loans!

According to credit bureau Experian, student loan debt in the U.S reached an all-time high in 2018: $1.36 trillion to be exact…TRILLION! Over the next couple of weeks, CASSIUS will be sharing the stories of people and their student loan debt.

The first story I’ll be sharing is my own:

I graduated from Virginia State University in 2012 with a Bachelors of Arts in Mass Communication. I liked college wayyy more than high school, and classes were so easy for me that I graduated in the top 15% of my graduating class. Complete 180 from high school!

I was 17 when I started college, and because I was a minor, I couldn’t take out any loans—so my mom took out parent plus loans for my freshman year. I started my college journey and finished my freshman year on the dean’s list, where I stayed throughout my time at VSU. I turned 18 the next January and the rest of my college tuition was on me. Thankfully, I kept my grades up, and by junior year I was eligible for university scholarships along with financial aid. During junior year, I also became a Resident Assistant or RA which gave me free room and board my last two years!

Let’s fast forward:

Senior year exit interviews happened. Seniors were given career advice and our student loan balance. I thought I had about, ehhh, maybe $10K in student loans. When I opened the navy blue folder, I saw a number that almost doubled that—a little over $19K just from sophomore year.

That was in 2012.

It’s 2019, and I have been paying my loans consistently since 2015. As of today, I have …. $19,808.93. And tomorrow that number will go up because… interest.

How have my loans not moved in the four years that I have been paying consistently? Well… I put them in deferment in 2012 shortly after the six-month grace period was up because I could not afford the payment. In February 2014, I made a payment of $90 and back into deferment my loans went.

2015, I was ready to take on my student loans. BUT the $19K debt was now at $26,143.44.

So since 2015 I’ve been able to pay off almost $7K, yay me (sarcastic yet serious, because it could be worse). But this year I told myself this sh*t has TO GO! I’ve finally found a steady, well-paying job in this media world of what feels like nothing but freelancing. Additionally, I started listening to financial guru Dave Ramsey and decided to follow his baby steps to financial freedom.

Instead of thinking about the lump sum of $19K, I’ll tackle each individual student loan, the lowest being a little over $2,100. Dealing with the smaller numbers makes this mission less overwhelming. I’ve been budgeting every paycheck down to the penny and picking up freelance work because I MUST be debt-free by 30 (I’m 28)—hell, within the next 18 months if possible.

I’m saying this out loud to all of you so I have no choice to be accountable. On September 26, 2020, 18 months from now, when I look back at this article I NEED to be debt free. Per my calculations, I need to be paying over $1K a month to make it happen, whew! One thing for sure I wish I knew in college was that those refund checks weren’t “free money”, and I could have sent them back to the loan companies to lower my balance.

My story is pretty mild compared to some of others I’ll be sharing, but I’m grateful that I can foresee a silver lining at the end of this.