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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Was Paying Off My Student Loan Debt A Bad Idea?

Student Loan Debt
Student Loan Debt
Back in January 2008, I decided to payoff my student loan balance and be done with it. At the time, I wasn't too worried about draining my savings account, since business was good, and I felt that my business was more or less recession proof. I was paying 8% interest, and there was no way for me to consolidate to get a lower interest rate, because I had already consolidated with William D. Ford. (FYI: you can only consolidate student loan debt once, unless you go back to school and get more student loans.)

Here's what prompted me to payoff my student loan debt:

The above is a clip from the 2007 tax statement sent to me by the folks at William D. Ford. As you can see, since I consolidated, the amount I paid toward the principal was about the same as the amount I paid in interest. That just boiled my blood, and made me a little bit sick to my stomach. I'd been paying interest my whole life, and I was tired of it. This student loan debt was the only debt on which I was paying interest. I had an opportunity to rid my life of interest payments, so I took it.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder if paying off my student loan debt was a good idea. Yes, I know, you're asking yourself, "how the heck can paying off a huge debt be a bad idea?" It can be, if, like me, you are now working with a depleted savings account. I have learned -- the hard way -- that my business is not recession proof. In fact, I have learned that it is in fact very sensitive to economic conditions. This is the first time the economy has taken a hard spill since I began expanding my business back in 2003.

I had paid off my car note a few months previous to paying off William D. Ford, which did not help at all. At the time, I was very confident in my ability to maintain a steady and strong income. I got cocky, and now I'm paying the price.

Here's are the other directions I considered:

  • Keep paying ~$110 per month with 8% interest. Balance would be reduced to $0 in about 500 years.
  • Increase my monthly payment to reduce the time it will take to bring the balance to $0, and reduce the total amount I would have to repay. Of course, with this option, I still would have been burdened with an 8% interest rate.
  • Transfer the debt to a 0% credit card. A decent option, but with 2 significant negatives 1) Once the interest-free period ends, there is no way to guarantee that I'd be able to find another favorable 0% credit card deal to which I could transfer my balance. 2) Balance transfer fees. 18 months ago, finding a 0% credit card that doesn't charge a balance transfer fee was easy. With the onset of the economic slowdown and the global credit crunch, feeless deals have all but disappeared.

So, yeah, I'm hurtin' right now, but I'm still very glad that the debt is gone. I cannot put into words how satisfying it was to call William D. Ford to check my balance, and hear this.

So, how am I going to manage?

First, I'm going to petition the family court to have my child support payments reduced. My monthly payment is nearly $700 for one child, which is way too high considering my current income. The mother of my child and I recently canceled plans to send our daughter to an expensive, private school. The fees were just too high (~$8,500 per year.) That's too much for a child going into Kindergarten. Even if my current income was the same as it was one year ago, when I was making almost as much as a U.S. Senator, I'm 90% certain that I would have decided against sending her to that expensive school. Fact is, she's doing great in the subsidized private school she's attending now. She also goes to Kumon twice per week, which I can recommend to any parent who can afford the $200 per month (she is way ahead of her peers in math and reading, thanks in no small part to Kumon.)

Second, I'm going to cash out my whole life insurance policy and get a term life policy. Suze Orman has finally convinced me that whole life insurance is not the best way to go.

Third, I'm going to cutback on my food shopping. Thankfully, I stocked up on meat during the good times. I now have a deep freezer full of high quality meat that could last a year or so -- literally!

If you can payoff your student loans, I say do it. Just don't payoff your car note within the same time frame! Comments welcome.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

My Student Loan Debt Horror Story

Student Loan Debt Horror StoryI have a very personal story to share with all you people out there with student loan debt. I am sharing this story in the hope that as many people as possible can learn from my mistakes. This is a true story that happened to me back in 1999.

I had been out of school for quite a while. I was working at a big law firm in New York City making a decent living, paying my bills and some of my debt. I had (foolishly) incurred a lot of credit card debt in my youth and I was really paying for it. I also had about $11,000 in student loan debt from a Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan I had taken out when I was in school. I wasn't paying my student loan debt. In fact, I completely ignored my student loan debt, throwing all the threatening letters I received into the trash! My thinking was, "what could they do to me? If I ignore the debt the government will step in a pay it off. Besides, those monthly payments are way too high!" There was a moderate amount of guilt associated with my actions, but it's hard to feel sorry for the richest government that has ever existed on the earth.

So I was moving along with my life, happy to be slowly improving my credit rating by paying of my old credit card debt. I got a raise at work and started investing a large chunk of my paycheck into my employer's 401K plan. Yeah, things were OK and getting better. It was at this point in my life that I opened a business checking account because I had big plans of quitting my job and starting my own business. I started making small deposits to this account every week or so and soon I had over $1000 in that business account. And that's when it happened.

One day, I was performing a routine balance check on my business bank account and found that my bank account was completely empty! Shock? Horror? No, it was more than that. I nearly fainted! I immediately got on the phone with the bank to get an explanation. They informed me that my money was legally withdrawn from my account by a law firm representing the government in student loan default matters. I got the phone number for that law firm and called. They told me that they had obtained a "judgment" against me in court 3 or 4 years prior, and that they had every legal right to seize any and all money in my bank accounts. Wow. That's some serious power, eh?

So, all those threatening letters I was throwing away: I really shouldn't have done that! If I had responded to those letters, I would have been able to avoid the nightmare that I have just described. If I had contributed a little less to my 401K and made payments on my student loan, I would have avoided having my bank account emptied. And to add insult to injury, because my business bank account was empty, the bank assessed some very large and nasty fees due to lack of funds.

Hey! Learn from my mistakes! Consolidate your student loan debt and do it now while interest rates are still low. If I had consolidated my student loans years ago, I would have been able to secure a fantastic interest rate, which would have made my monthly payments far more manageable and I would have been much more inclined to keep up with my student loan payments.

The market for money for the average consumer is the best it's been for many years. Take advantage and get a great consolidation interest rate for all your student loans. The economy will be strong again soon, and that means higher interest rates. If you don't consolidate your student loan debt now you'll probably regret it. I am not saying to go for the first student loan consolidation offer that comes your way. You should shop around for the best consolidation deal, just as you would shop around for the best mortgage or credit card deal. Nowadays, there are a plethora of organizations out there that specialize in buying student loan debt (it's obviously a very profitable thing to do these days.) All that competition is great for you, the consumer, so let the consolidation companies fight for your business. Don't settle for anything but the very best deal.

Thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome.

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