Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The moral of the story is...
don't start a blog during the same week that a major project is due. I never even got around to my real "about me" post!

So, to rectify:

I am still slightly south of thirty. I work in what might be called the company town of all company towns (the one that is slightly south of a city with charm and slightly north of a commonwealth capital). And I make a slight contribution to a product from said company town that some of you might see on the news. (This paragraph is intended to be slightly obfuscating so as to limit search hits from people who might know me.)

What isn't slight? My student loan debt.

Punny Money has a nice five-step plan for getting paid to go to college. I would say that I followed most of it reasonably well (I hope it's not bragging to say that I had excellent grades and standardized test scores, that I tracked down some outside scholarships, and that my family filled out the federal and private aid forms promptly). When it came down to finding a school that would pay me, however, I made some different choices.

Of the six schools to which I'd applied, I had narrowed down my decision to two. Both of the schools were (and are) well ranked in the major publications that tackle that sort of thing, both had very interesting academic options, and both were small residential campuses located in similarly sized metropolitan areas. The more southern school offered me a fairly generous scholarship package that would cover over half my direct costs, and loans and work-study to make up for the rest. The more northern school offered a free ride.

The choice should have been obvious. But I felt a level of discomfort interacting with the students at the more northern school that I simply didn't feel at the other. I admitted this to my parents two weeks before final decisions needed to be made. They said both that they'd known I found the other school a better fit, and that taking out some of the loans would be worth it. And I continue to believe that it was.

I ended up graduating with a reasonable amount of debt, but was able to manage it throughout the next two years of work. After that, however, I realized that I would need a master's degree in my field to get ahead. I had taken a few night classes, which was enough to convince me that my sanity required going back full-time. I'd managed to save up about $10K for living expenses. However, I was going to have to borrow ALL my tuition because the master's was not my field's terminal degree. And furthermore, I was going to have to borrow some more to cover the remainder of my rent. (I had my reasons for living alone.) I held my nose, swallowed, and signed the paperwork. And then deferred the rest of my loans. When I finished my degree, I was able to consolidate the bulk of my loans at under 3 percent. Sadly, this was not the case for everything.

I finished my degree on time, but had to search for several months to find the job at which I currently work, which depleted the rest of my savings. (Since returning to the workforce, I've been able to reverse that somewhat.) Despite the long path to get there, I like my work, and my degree was a huge part of my getting it and getting the level of compensation that makes living in a not-so-cheap area worthwhile.

I continued to live on my own, which is a drain, but again, I have my reasons. I was managing three loans, including the variable fixed expenses one. But as interest rates kept rising, the private, variable one continued to require more payments with seemingly no dents in the principal. So when I refinanced into a non-student, but much cheaper loan the other week, it opened up new opportunities. And I plan to take advantage of them.

My goal is to eliminate $22K of debt within the next three years. Within ten years, I hope to be student-loan debt free.

I've made some good choice, some surprising but ultimately worthwhile choices, and some questionable ones that I wouldn't necessarily recommend. But, as they say, tomorrow is another day, and I feel much better about my financial tomorrow than I have in a long time.


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