A $124,421 Student Debt Story

Chadwick Matlin has a really terrific Medium story about his $124,421 student loan debt from Tufts (class of 2007 — right into the financial crisis), the discussions he and his parents had about it, and how he made accelerated payments over the course of six years to save himself $79,000 in interest.

There are a lot of student loan stories out there, but what I particularly liked about Matlin’s story was how thoughtful he and his parents were about the debt. This isn’t a “I didn’t realize I would be graduating with a six-figure debt burden” story — Matlin and his parents made the calculations when he was a senior in high school, and Matlin considered going to a state school to save money before ultimately choosing Tufts as an early decision student.

After three semesters, Matlin’s dad called a meeting to discuss some concerns he had:

1) Is Tufts right?

2) Does Chad have a career plan?

3) Does Chad translate education into a career that will support a comfortable lifestyle and the ever encroaching debt that is piling up?

4) Does social attachment get in the way of career pragmatics?

5) Satisfying sense of self.

The meeting was contentious in the way that only a father and his nearly adult son can manage. There were ad hominem reinterpretations of what the other said. There were ideological differences made stubborn out of pride instead of passion. There was my skulking fear of becoming my father, and my father’s pitted worry that he’d let me become him. Ultimately, it ended with a call to action: Take a passive risk by remaining at Tufts, or an active risk by leaving and starting over.

I was only a little over two years removed from applying early decision because I was afraid of getting rejected. I chose the passive risk.

Matlin graduated with a fellowship at Slate that included a stipend of $30K (which he said he wouldn’t have gotten if he didn’t go to Tufts). How did he pay off his loans in six years? His parents paid for a quarter of it. The rest he paid by living as frugally as possible while gradually earning more at various media jobs:

Trains were never taken when buses could do. Soda was a myth; it was water — tap, obviously — or nothing. Clothing? Still mostly provided by my mother on trips home. My friends complimented me anytime I had a pair of pants that actually fit. I wore belts a year past their expiration date — by the time they hit the garbage, they lacked their backing.

My narrative, briefly: Graduated in 2007 with a master’s degree and a little over $80,000 in total student loan debt. My parents aren’t able to help, but I’ve managed to pay off about 40 percent of that debt so far, like Chad, through the financial crisis, stints of unemployment and by hopping around various media jobs. I’ve calculated that they’ll be paid off by the time I’m 40.

Photo: DonkeyHotey