All of my student loans are paid in full as of this month. Therefore, as a newly minted AMERICAN HERO, I thought I would share my wisdom with folks who haven’t yet crossed that sacred threshold. I thought these pointers would be particularly helpful to people under 40 (like me) who are facing, or are projected to face, major financial hurdles as a result of their crippling debt.
Here are some tips, courtesy of a Real American:
1. Study Hard: Do well at your current level of schooling, and the next level will be cheaper. There is a lot of scholarship money out there. People will trip over themselves to give it to you. Filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re 17 (or even 21 or 35), but the fact that you’re simply willing to fill it out puts you ahead of most of the other lazy people who populate your generation. There’s no excuse for not getting at least a little scholarship money if you’re even a mediocre student.
2. Be Good at Standardized Tests: Especially when you’re moving on to grad school, nailing a standardized test can count just as much, if not more, than your undergrad GPA (except for medical school applicants). Get a high score now, pay less later. When in doubt, pick “C.”
3. Don’t Get Married: Courtship costs money. Weddings cost money. As Haddaway asked lo those many years ago—what is love (when compared to the sweet satisfaction of knowing Sallie Mae or MOHELA no longer has its hooks in you)? I’m paraphrasing the lyrics, but we all know that that was the obvious subtext. Love won’t keep your electricity on. Love won’t put a roof over your head. You certainly can’t eat love. But that extra few hundred bucks a month can do all of that—and more! IMPORTANT PROVISO: If your potential spouse is an earner, or is, like, super-rich or something, marriage and paying off loans may not be at cross-purposes. Choose wisely.
4. Don’t Have Children: Marriage costs money, but kids cost a lot of money. And, unless you hit the jackpot in an “Olsen Twins”-type scenario, there’s not even a potential for a ROI like there is with #3 above. Avoid. Again, what is the joy of bringing another life into this world, one to whom you can impart your values, when measured against the pleasure of knowing you can quietly mutter “There, but for the grace of God, go I” whenever one of your classmates talks about having to sell his car to get creditors off his back? Easy call.
5. Go to College in the 1990s: Everyone knows that tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent years. I graduated from college in 2000, so most of my undergrad career occurred in the 90s. So, despite going to an excellent, fairly expensive school for that era, my bills were still moderately lower than what someone attending a middle-of-the-road university could expect to pay today. The solution: Go to college in the 90s. You’ll save a bundle. IMPORTANT PROVISO: Going to college in the 80s is probably an even better idea, but I can’t speak to that from personal experience.
Following these five simple tips will help you to pay off all of your student debt in a decade (or less!), freeing up the remainder of your 30s to rationalize your poor life choices and to mock losers who complain that they can’t get a high-paying job with their laughable philosophy, sociology, or art history degrees.