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My Student Loan Story

I remember finding the perfect grad school program: the MA/MBA. I loved the program for many reasons, only one of which was the fact that the name is pretty cool. I mean, how many people can say they have a MAMBA? Maybe some snake owners, but only a few post-grads.

More seriously, it was the only graduate degree in the country I could find that combined Arts and Finance. I had been on a bumpy work path that involved both, and in my mid-twenties, figured it was time to figure stuff out before I spent years doing something I wasn't sure was right for me. Since graduating with an undergrad degree in Advertising, I had worked in event planning, financial planning, and now found myself in an art gallery. The allure of this snake-like degree was overwhelming.

Fortunately, Southern Methodist University accepted me, and I jumped in. I was really fortunate that my parents paid for my undergrad studies, also at SMU, a school known for its beautiful campus, incredible network, thorough studies, and (gulp) enormous tuition. I didn't think about that - this was THE place I had to attend.

I vaguely remember filling out student loan documents, and receiving some subsidized and some unsubsidized loans, and seeing some pretty large numbers, but hey, I was investing in myself, right?

Fast forward to the last semester of school: my Arts Administration mentor is encouraging all of us to look at museums, orchestras, and non-profits. She reminded us that working in the non-profit sector means student loan forgiveness after 10 years, so you don't have to lose your shirt with the likely lower salaries and massive student loan balances. My MBA professors are hitting us with the investment banking or corporate finance push. So, as a student without direct experience in either, I'm thinking, OK, so I can make a low salary and have a mortgage of student loans hanging over my head for a minimum of ten years (which may or may not be forgiven later), or I can try to find a finance job that will pay off my loans in less than ten years. I chose the latter. Maybe my creative brain would suffer for a few years, but that's what a #sidehustle is for, right?

Oh, and by the way, I met my cute husband at business school (as often happens), so we go waltzing out of business school in our blue gowns on a balmy May afternoon in Dallas with $225,000 of student debt. I'll just let that marinate. I said $225,000. NEGATIVE $225,000.

Here's the thing about me - I'm an artist at heart. As a child, I used to walk around my parents house singing bible school hymns, and coloring. Now I had these two fancy degrees, and wasn't sure whether to throw up, give up, or run.

We both dove into fancy jobs with high pay, and worked our tails off - to pay our debt. Every month thousands of dollars went to our debt, every bonus, every small windfall around holidays from family. All the time wondering - was this the right choice? Should we have even gone to grad school? What has grad school done for us anyway? We delayed buying a house, we had to be creative with our living situation, we were only able to travel because of my husband's consulting job - hello travel points! After several years, the stress really weighed on us, to work so hard and still feel broke. All while peers are buying big houses and traveling around the world - it sucked.

The positive of sacrificing fun stuff for debt? As of the end of 2019, we will be debt free. FREE.

After exactly 6 years and one month of starting repayment (you get a grace period until November after graduating in May). I've learned recently that this is called the "fast and furious" method in the student loan world. The Federal Government prefers you take at LEAST ten years to pay off your debt, and designs student loan repayment that way. Interest payments on the largest item on their balance sheet - keep 'em coming!

Most student loan recipients take longer than that, and over 45 million people have student debt in our country. The problem I have with taking longer? If your balance isn't forgiven eventually, then why in the heck pay all that interest? Even if your ability to pay is limited based on jobs and family size, please, please explore your options. I know I have - I'm making it a large focus of my business. I've learned that the way we paid our loans was rare, and might not have been the best option. However, the options out there are complicated, depend on multiple factors, and require constant monitoring and documentation.

I plan to dedicate some space here to student loans. Investing in yourself should cost an arm, a leg, or your sanity.

- Your friendly, neighborhood, (nonvenomous) MAMBA

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