As a first- born, first-generation child of immigrants, I knew nothing of the world of student loans, nor did I ever have any intention of finding out. At 18, my primary concern was getting to college and experiencing life in the city. When it came time to pay the remainder of my balance for my private, Jesuit education, I clicked, clicked, clicked my way through the student loan paperwork until I reached a screen telling me everything was taken care of. Interest rate, payback amount, these were vocabulary terms I cared very little about as I pursued my Visual Communication degree. I had dreams of becoming a publication designer, a visual journalist in charge of designing pages of a magazine or newspaper.
After graduation, I quickly found a job at a local newspaper group designing weekly suburban papers and making a decent wage. However, at this point I was in debt $111,000 in student loans and realized my monthly payment would be almost half of my monthly income. After a year, I found another position with a daily newspaper and received a 10K salary increase -- but still, I found myself living at home with my parents and watching my paychecks go up in smoke.
While a mountain of debt would have deterred anyone from returning to school, that's exactly what I did. Pursuing a Master's was not only a career move, but more importantly it was a business decision. It was your typical 'Spend Money to Make Money' tactic and a huge gamble.
At 24, I began a two-year endeavor that would require me to attend classes full-time during the day and work full-time at night. Going back to school allowed me to differ my undergraduate student loans and be able to afford to purchase a foreclosed condo in a great area which was steadily returning from the housing market crash.
I borrowed from my parent's equity line of credit to obtain a decent-size apartment in the city that only required a little paint, vision and TLC. I made the minimum payments, association dues and still paid significantly less than a friend renting a similar apartment a block away. My Realtor mother and I had crunched the numbers and predicted the area would be once again prosperous in two-years' time, when I graduated and my loans were out of their grace period.
After graduation, as the threat of my student loans loomed over me, I placed my home on the market. The housing market was now significantly better than when I had purchased and eventually a buyer came along.
After all was said, done and negotiated, I walked away from my gamble with $41,000 pure profit.
Mere hours after my closing, I called Discover Student Loans and paid off five individual loans, (some with interest rates as high as 9%!) in a act that was both rewarding and awful at the same time.
Today, I now work for a magazine as a designer for both the print publication and the iPad app, a job I wholeheartedly credit to my graduate degree. I spend my days creating beautiful designs and absolutely loving what I do -- on top of that, I now make enough to afford my (now lower) student loan payment and the new condo I am in the process of buying. Another foreclosure in need of TLC and some artistic vision and interior decoration.
Once again, my mother and I crunched the numbers and have chosen an up-and-coming neighborhood which should allow my home to be worth more in a couple of years.
Unfortunately, this does means moving every couple of years. But if that means paying off my student loans in 6 years, versus 30, then hand me the bubble wrap.
I guess it'll just make me appreciate the first house I won't have to flip even more.