In the fall of 2009 I was sitting at my family’s kitchen table in tears.
My brother was sitting with me, calmly walking my through the letter I had received from the National Student Loan Service Centre. It’s not like I hadn’t known this was coming. Years earlier I had come to terms with the fact that my post-secondary education was going to have to be primarily funded by student loans. If I wanted to go to school, that was the reality I had to accept. I’d pay them off one day.
That didn’t make the $35,858.00 I now had to start paying back any easier to swallow. Nor did the fact that, if I followed the 10-year repayment option I had been presented with, I would have paid more than $40,000 when it was all said and done. Oh, and by that point I’d be in my mid-thirties.
I hadn’t had a lot of options when it came to paying for school. I had a bit of (extremely appreciated) help from family, I worked in the summers, and I spent my third and fourth years of university as a don (U of T’s slightly more intense version of a residence assistant) to help cover my room and board (if I hadn’t gotten that position I probably would have had to take some time off in the middle of my studies), but student loans still needed to cover the bulk of what I needed. Biting the bullet was made easier knowing that my education was a worthy investment.
But I hated – absolutely loathed – the idea of having to wait until I was in my mid-thirties to be clear of the burden of those debts. While $36,000 may not sound like a sum worth getting worked up about in comparison to the cost of things like grad school or tuition in other countries, it was (and still is) a lot to me.
But it was what it was, so I dutifully set up my repayment plan and settled in for the long haul.
I only paid my minimum payment for three months. Those ten long years were constantly weighing on my mind. While I wasn’t making a whole lot of money at the time, I reasoned that I could at least afford to toss a bit more at my loans than what was being asked of me at the time. So I rounded it up and never looked back.
I bumped up my payments again when I got a new, better paying job in my field. Maybe it wouldn’t make a huge difference in the long run, but it made me feel more in control to contribute more.
Then, a few years ago, I found myself making some truly adult choices like getting myself into RRSPs and life insurance. I was feeling more empowered but as I crunched the numbers I still couldn’t imagine myself as the “responsible” 20-something that all the financial professionals I spoke to praised me as being. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t making smart choices and being fairly good with my money: it was because of the student loan, still casting its shadow over every financial choice I made.
People always tell you not to feel bad or guilty about student debt, and I see where they’re coming from. But I’m just not that kind of person. I couldn’t stand the debt when I said okay to it, and my sentiments hadn’t changed even after making a respectable dent into it. I was so done.
One night around that same time I sat down and spent hours cranking out pages and pages of numbers and budgets. I knew I could afford to do more to tackle my student debt, so what was stopping me? If it made me that unhappy then it was time to fix the problem. I eventually came up with a monthly budget that allowed me significantly pump up my payments without completely disregarding my savings. It mean some sacrifices and that I had to be being diligent with my budgets, but I didn’t care. I had a new goal: get my student loan paid off by the time I turned 30.
Fast-forward to last Sunday, January 18th, 2015. Kyle and I were sitting around my computer and I was holding my breath as I clicked the “confirm payment” button glowing on my screen.
It was done.
I had just finished paying off my student loan, four months out from my 30th birthday and over four years earlier than I was supposed to be finished.
Now, I have a confession to make: I did a bad thing. I did something that all my personal finance blogger friends and financial role models tell you not to do… I took the final payment out of my savings. I only had three months left before the loan would have been paid off in full, but I couldn’t wait. I could not stand the idea of seeing the earnings of yet another year go toward this ghost that had been haunting me for years. I was ready to move forward, I had new plans and goals, and this time I was determined not to have the shadow of my student debt looming over top of them.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows: Over the last year I foolishly let my line of credit creep up. It’s nothing unmanageable, but I am disappointed in myself. I could be completely debt free right now if I had been more diligent. I had also envisioned having more in savings when I reached this point, regardless of whether I had used some of the money to help with the loan or not. I’m not in bad shape (my RRSPs are coming along), I’m just not where I wanted to be.
But I’m not going to let those little set-backs bring me down for long. I’ve already refocused all of my freshly freed-up income toward those two areas: bulking up my savings and paying off my line of credit as quickly (and responsibly) as possible.
More than anything though, I’m just so relieved to be done with this chapter of my life. I’m also really proud that I was able to achieve my goal in the process. It’s refreshing and even a little exciting to know that I’ll be starting the next decade with a fairly clean financial slate with at least one burden firmly in the past and the others more firmly under control.