A Review of “Pay Off” by Shannon Young

by Eliana Osborn

Shannon Young attended Colgate University and had great undergraduate experiences that included study abroad and an internship in London. When all was said and done, she had over $88,000 in student loan debt. Her solution? She moved to Hong Kong to teach English and channeled virtually all of her money into paying off this debt. Instead of the typical ten year repayment plan, she was able to get rid of her college loans in five years.

Her Kindle single Pay Off is on the short side and basically serves as Young’s instruction manual for fellow millennial debtors. She gives lip service to her plan not being for everyone, but basically that is the gist of it: if you aren’t actively doing everything possible to get rid of your student loans, you suck.

That may sound harsh, and it is; as I read the book it was hard to take Young seriously when her measures were so extreme. I hate owing money as much as the next guy, maybe more. So much so that I chose a college that wasn’t my top pick because of finances. For Young, paying her loans off quickly was her number one priority, no matter what.

Young’s central tenet is moving halfway across the world and working a job she doesn’t want simply so she can funnel more money to the loans. Yes, her boyfriend, and later husband, happens to live in Hong Kong, but that’s beside the point? Of course not! Hers is a very unique circumstance and the fact that she holds it up as an example seems a bit silly. Points on which we agree:

+ More thought should be given to the choices we are making when we choose a college and choose how much debt is involved.

+ Student loan debt makes it hard for those starting out to move forward in life.

+ If you pay off loans early, you are paying less in the long run.

+ Something’s got to give in the higher education money situation in this country. The numbers can’t keep going up when earnings don’t grow.

Points on which we disagree:

+ Paying off debt quickly is worth major life sacrifices. There has to be a balance in life, at least the way I see it. If I am working and giving away all that money to Mr. Student Loan Collector, it is damn hard to keep getting up in the morning. High interest rate stuff really adds up the longer you have it, so loans like that are probably worth more sacrifice. At our house, my husband still has grad school student loans even though I can hardly remember back when he got them. The rate is something like 1.5%. I’ll be happy when we stop paying that bill, but frankly I can’t earn any kind of interest in the bank so there’s no incentive to pay more quickly.

+ Choosing a state school or somewhere less expensive gives you a worse education experience. I always wanted to go to a small liberal arts college. Instead I ended up at a fairly large university. Why? I can do math. No way could I justify spending ten times as much to get a slightly different educational experience, especially knowing I would major in English. You can find your community wherever you go to school; that’s the beauty of college. I don’t think anyone needs to spend $50,000 on school unless you have a very specific career path involving embassies or world domination.

+ There are easy solutions to debt, like moving to a new country. Really? There are no halfway points, like having roommates and using public transportation? You can only pay off debt by flying over an ocean to a country far, far away, to a country you have never been to, for a job you don’t want? I have to believe there are less dramatic steps that can be taken. How about filling out surveys online? I hear you can earn big bucks that way.

Pay Off was interesting to read; I read an excerpt on a blog that was compelling enough that I bought the full book. But Young’s extreme measures, in my view, were so outside my range of normal that I didn’t get much out of her story. She does give charts with specifics on loan amounts, interest rates, payments, and totals, which is helpful for seeing what real numbers look like. In the end, I’m happy that Young was successful at what she set out to do. I just don’t think her strategy works for or helps most of us.

Buy Pay Off via Amazon

Eliana Osborn is a writer and part time English professor living in the desert southwest.

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