It's a crisis that hit Generation X hard, and is now hitting Millennials even harder.
We're the only country in the world where students routinely graduate from college with massive amounts of educational debt. The idea of paying it all off can sometimes seem insurmountable. (I've been there.)
At Money magazine, however, reporter Kara Brandeisky found a case study: a 22-year-old recent college graduate who paid off $23,374.84 in student loans--his entire debt--in 10 months.
Granted, Jordan Arnold owed a little less than the median student loan debt among his peers (which was a little over $35,000 at graduation time this year, according to The Wall Street Journal). Still, it required resourcefulness and dedication to pay off so quickly--especially on a fairly low starting salary.
Here are the highlights of his story. (You can read the rest here.)
1. How he ran up the debt.
Arnold said he'd originally planned to go to a two-year community college to save money, but that he decided at the last minute to attend Indiana Wesleyan University, where tuition, room, and board ran $31,000.
"I got some scholarships and a grant from my church," he said, which still left him about $9,000 short. He worked part-time throughout school, but still needed to borrow $17,150 in federal student loans, plus another $6,000 from his parents. That brought him to a total debt of $23,150 at graduation. (The extra $224.84, I'm pretty sure, was accrued interest over the 10 months.)
2. Finding income.
Of course, it's hard to pay off debt without income. Arnold had chosen a college major--finance--that led to good job prospects, although his initial salary didn't exactly leave him a lot of room to live large. Although I guess that's in the eye of the beholder.
"Luckily, I got a job right out of college at an insurance agency," he explained. "I was on salary, and it was pretty good: $36,000 plus bonuses."
3. Two out of three ain't bad
There are really three factors that go into the ability to pay off indebtedness: first, the size of the debt itself (including the rate at which it grows); second, the ratio of one's income or assets to the debt; and third, the competing demands on your financial resources.
Arnold recognized that at least two of these factors were in his favor.
"Right now, I'm single. I don't have any dependents who rely on my income," he explained, adding that despite not being required to make any payments for four months after graduation, he decided to anyway, to minimize the interest that would accrue.
4. Slashing expenses
We should acknowledge that Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where Arnold lives--while I'm sure it's a lovely place--isn't exactly a high-cost area. To have the same standard of living in New York City, for example, Arnold's $36,000 salary would have to be about $99,000.
Even so, Arnold started out by cutting expenses--most prominently by moving back in with his parents, which he said was difficult after having been out on his own at college for four years.
"I was blessed that they actually preferred me to live there because I could help out around the farm they own, baling hay or feeding the horses," Arnold said. "Living at my parents' place for free was a lot better than having to pay $400 or $500 a month for rent."
4. Getting more income
It was inevitable perhaps, but paying off this much debt in less than a single year required Arnold to get a second job: delivering pizzas every night after his day gig.
"I would start work at the insurance agency at 8:30 a.m., change in the bathroom at 4:50 p.m., get to Pizza Hut by 5, deliver pizzas until about 9:30, get home around 10, then shower, eat, and go to bed," he said.
I don't know what this says about the current state of jobs in America, but consider this: With a college degree in finance, Arnold said he took home about $2,200 a month from his full-time job. On top of that, working half as many hours, he took home an additional $1,000 a month from the part-time pizza job.
5. Making the payments
Arnold said he was able to devote about $2,000 per month to paying off his student debt. He wrapped things up a bit earlier than expected because he got a $3,000 income tax refund, and finished off his loans with it.
Then he took a trip to Florida with friends to celebrate.
"I had probably worked 65 to 70 hours a week for seven or eight months. It was exhausting, but it was worth it," he said.