Student loans….student loans….student loans….remember those??!!

I believe this is called a "steeple" formation - over time, it erodes away into an "island."
I believe this is called a “steeple” formation – over time, it erodes away into an “island.”

Note – none of these photos relate to the title of the blog. That’s because student loans are ugly. And well, my surroundings are anything but. So, enjoy. 

Some of you long time readers (I hope you’re still out there and I haven’t lost you with my dearth of posts over the last two months) might remember a series of posts I wrote about getting out of debt. I think I had gotten up to “Post # umpteen + 1.”  Anyway. That was when I was going gangbusters on paying down one of my student loans. And then suddenly my focus shifted to saving. And saving. And saving. And saving.  It’s good that I saved, because moving was not cheap. I had to buy a car, and an RV to live in, due to the lack of rental units in my town, and also just general moving costs that come along with a cross country road trip. Even a gas-sipping kind of car like mine took about $350 in gas for the entire trip.

So, as you know if you read my most recent post other than this one, I finally found out what my pay will be after taxes, at my new job. This is a good thing, because I wasn’t sure at what tax rate I would find myself with the new salary. It turns out to be just under 14% so for planning purposes, I’m just rounding up to 14%. A dramatic change from the 28-29% rate I used to find myself in.

Yes, those are bison. Yes, that is a cute little baby bison! And yes, they were THAT close to my car!
Yes, those are bison. Yes, that is a cute little baby bison! And yes, they were THAT close to my car!

Of course I’m not yet eligible for health insurance benefits at my new job, so the amount will change, but I can figure out by how much and do the calculations. I think that if I live frugally, I can make this work, and still put some extra money down every month to be applied to either my RV or my car payment and get those taken care of in the next few years. Or, the pesky LAL loan that I was annihilating there for about a year. That LAL loan, as some of you may remember, comes with a variable interest rate. Right now the rate is low, so I would like to take advantage of that and get as much of my payments applied to the principal as I can.  If the LIBOR rate starts to go up, then I need to watch out, because then the rate of my loan can go up, up to as high as 9%. I don’t foresee that happening with this economy, but you never know.

And oh yes, the Big Daddy Loan. How can I forget that rat bastard? The one that totals up to something like $97K and which I have easily paid at least that much back over the years, yet the balance never seems to go down by any noticeable measure. Well, here’s the thing.

The Big Daddy Loan is actually two consolidated federal loans. With federal loans, there is a repayment plan that can be based on your income, and it’s called (yes, very originally), Income Based Repayment Plan (or IBR, for short.) With this plan, you have to keep reapplying for it every year. As your income goes up (or down), your payment can adjust accordingly. After 25 years, whatever the amount of your unpaid balance is, is forgiven. I believe it gets counted as income to you for that year, but have to double check on that. So, by switching to this payment plan, yes, I am signing up for another 25 years of payments, but at a HEAVILY reduced amount from what I had been paying with my job back east.

The view from my walk the other day. Absolutely amazing!!!
The view from my walk the other day. Absolutely amazing!!!

Remember how I used to pay $538/month and that was just interest? That was just to keep it from growing?? Well, now I will start to pay $91.31/month. Quite the difference. Yes, the loan will continue to grow. No, I don’t think I will ever make nearly the kind of money I used to make as a reference librarian back east. And yes, I am totally fine with that. I plan to treat it as a utility bill, in my mind, i.e. something that always sticks with you, no matter where you go. For the next 25 years, anyway.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been frustrating to get the payment amount adjusted. To apply for the new repayment plan, I had to send proof of my new salary, but they also asked for my AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) from last year. I knew that this would cause problems, because as some of you may remember, last year, I worked like a crazy person. On top of my full time job, I also worked at the gym part time, and then had the 1099 work doing research for that book. So all together, I actually made more money than I had ever made in my life. I had a feeling that the folks at Navient would not look at all the paperwork together, and “get” the whole situation, even though I had checked off the box saying that my financial circumstances had majorly changed.  Yep, as you can imagine, they didn’t disappoint. They sent me paperwork saying “congratulations, your new payment plan will have you paying a total of $1,038/month!! YAY!!!!! (This is where I started to bang my head against the RV table, at least figuratively.)

The view from my town's city park - can you believe it??
The view from my town’s city park – can you believe it??

So, the other night I found myself on the phone, talking to someone who was clearly not a native English speaker, and I was losing my patience. I was told that had looked at my AGI from last year and that’s how they arrived at the new number. He said the paperwork I had sent from my new employer was not sufficient to tell them the salary I would be making. (The letter gave them my hourly rate and told them how many hours per week I would work and I had been told previously it was enough.) I finally said to the guy, “I want to talk to a supervisor and I want to talk to someone based in the US. I am not sending paperwork a third time because someone can’t take the time to multiply my hourly rate times 40 hours times 52 weeks to get my gross salary.”   I was then placed on hold for a long time, but everytime he would come back and apologize, saying they were manually processing my application, I just said, in a resigned voice, “I want it taken care of, I’ll hold.” And finally it was. Sigh…..

“Why, and how, Terri, would you do this to yourself?” is what you are probably thinking. I know. To many people, my choices sound insane. But to many others, they look at me, and go “wow. I can’t believe you’re doing this.” Well, I am. It’s a choice you make. Either stay in a city where you don’t want to be (although I have some awesome friends back there that I want to come visit me NOW!!!) and work at a job that pays well, but doesn’t lift your spirit the same way it used to. Or move to someplace where you can make a positive change in the world of animals, and the days go by quickly, and you get to meet new people every day and have an impact on their experience. You just don’t get paid as well. But, as a coworker of mine and I said to some visitors yesterday, you go into a line of work dealing with animals because you love it, not because you want to get rich. And that’s what I have decided to do.

Life is short, people, really short. You never know what tomorrow will bring. For all I know, I could get hit by a tractor trailer tomorrow and then I would have lived my life and not lived out my dreams. If you have even the slightest inkling that you are not where you want to be in life, then start working with that inkling. Take baby steps, every day, to work with it and not against it. Trust me, your gut and heart will both thank you.

So, here are my three big debts I want to concentrate on, in no special order.

LAL Loan = $12,802.84 (2.665% interest rate)
Car Loan = roughly $7000
RV loan = roughly $7300

Both the car loan and RV loan have very low interest rates- the exact numbers just escape me at the moment. I’ll write a post on my budget later.

Grand Canyon, North Rim. I love taking pics with trees in the foreground for scale. The clouds were gorgeous.
Grand Canyon, North Rim. I love taking pics with trees in the foreground for scale. The clouds were gorgeous.

Getting Rid of My Debt: FINALLY some good news (I think)

I called up Navient today – they are the company that has recently taken over my loans from that EVIL BEE-ATCH, Sallie Mae. Have to say, it was nice talking to someone who didn’t sound like she was reading from a script and could actually answer questions. When she heard that I had already been paying my loans for 17 years (and she could see my balances), she said “oh, that makes me feel sick.” I said “trust me, if it makes you feel sick, you have NO IDEA how sad it makes me feel.”

Someone commented last week that they know about “student loans” and they hear about “student loans” but it’s another story to see them. So I need to put down some cold, hard numbers here. In addition to my LAL loan (which is private) and has a current balance of $13,390.70, this is what is sitting there for my federal loans:

BIG DADDY (consists of my federal law school loans):

Loan 1-09: $44,347.24, interest rate of 7.5% (fixed), unsubsidized
Loan 1-10: $30,821.51, interest rate of 7.5% (fixed), subsidized

TOTAL: $75,168.75

SIMMONS (consists of my library science school loans)

Loan 1-07: $9,106.26, interest rate of 1.62% (fixed), subsidized
Loan 1-08: $14,081.79, interest rate of 1.62% (fixed), unsubsidized

TOTAL: $23,188.05

GRAND TOTAL of FEDERAL LOANS: $98,356.80

GRAND TOTAL of ALL LOANS: $111,747.50 (including my LAL of $13,390.70)
Anyone depressed yet?? This is what the loan system has turned into! This is after 17 years of paying on the $75K portion of Big Daddy and the LAL loans, and paying for 10 years of paying on Simmons Loans!!  Ok, I digress and will stop ranting.

So, the good news: next year, when I change my living situation and move (probably south, but definitely someplace warmer), I will apply for what is called and Income Based Repayment or IBR plan. With this plan, I will never have to pay more than 15% of my AGI as long as I keep reapplying for renewal of the status every 12 months.  I know that as a veterinary assistant, my salary might be somewhere in the 20-30K range (and the 30K range is kinda pushing it.) So I asked the Navient person to run some numbers, if I had an AGI of $25K and 20K, respectively. Whereas right now I am paying $538 a month just to keep my loan from growing, my payments would go down to about $93/month and $33/month, respectively.

What’s the catch? You know there had to be one, right? Of course there is. The catch is that the IBR plan will last for 25 years. At the end of the 25 years, whatever amount is not paid off will be forgiven. (There is some question as to whether that amount would then be imputed to you as taxable income for that year or not.)  So if I were to do something like that, it could be conceivable that I could be paying off law school (and Simmons) loans for 42 years. You read that right. 42 years. And that’s if I changed to that plan right now. However, changing to that plan right now would actually raise my monthly payments, likely to something around $700, so if I do switch repayment plans, it’s not going to happen right now. I’d be paying something like $1800 to save myself somewhere around $360 or $1080 (depending on how low my salary is) to end the loan 25 years from today instead of 25 years from next fall.

So here’s where I am at. I don’t love the idea of paying loans for another 25 years, obviously. I’m already 42. Who wants to pay until they are almost entitled to social security and are almost three times the age they were when they first got out of law school? (I was 24.)  However, since I feel like I have paid for these loans already at least twice, I don’t feel too badly about making the government wait and wait and wait to be paid these amounts, and to then be paying  smaller amount overall. I know as a vet assistant, it’s not like my salary is going to drastically change over the years. It’s not like I could ever make it back to the salary I am making right now, I know that for sure. And, since I have learned to live simply, I could maybe afford to save a bit at the same time too, so I’m not living hand to mouth. I still want to be able to save for retirement, even if it’s at a smaller rate per year. And keep away from the credit cards, because those can bury you. Luckily, I don’t have any of that debt right now. And I would hope that working as a vet assistant, I could maybe get a break on vet care for my herd. 🙂

Unfortunately, society just doesn’t place such a huge monetary value on those who care for animals. It’s not like I’d be running a huge investment bank or anything important like that, right? (Don’t even get me started on that kind of rant about executive compensation getting out of hand…again, I digress. Sorry.)

I do still plan on paying off that LAL loan by the time I move. I could pay it off right now – I have enough in savings, but it would definitely put a damper on what I have saved. And it feels good for  me to mentally keep looking at the savings balance I do have and know I’m getting somewhere. Right now, so much of my payment on that loan goes to principal, that my financial advisor suggested I keep hoarding cash and then take a look at things in the spring or summer and decide to pay it off then. That way if anything else happens in the meantime, expected or not, I’m prepared and have some liquidity.

I find it somewhat sad, but this actually seems like good news to me right now.  Any thoughts from any of you? If so, please drop me a note below.

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Getting Out of My Debt: A New Plan (I’ve Had IT!!)

I came to a few realizations last night and I went to bed angry. Fighting mad angry. But in a good way. I owe a lot of this to my friend Dan, who answered a text message of mine that said “Do you think I’m stupid for wanting to leave a good paying job to do something that will pay so much less?”

The reason I asked this question is because I see so many people struggling just to get by and I feel like I should just be thankful for whatever opportunity is thrown my way. For example, there are the cleaners/housekeeping folks at my gym – all three of them work two jobs. None of them have English as their native language, which definitely hurts their job prospects.  I know for a fact that one of them works seven days a week, and that a second one was until he finally had his daughter talk to me to write a note to the manager stating that he would like to take Fridays off since he was working seven days a week. (He and I are slowly teaching each other some words in Spanish and English.)

In response to these concerns, my friend Dan told me, among other things, “you can still be thankful and desire to live a Purpose Driven Life.”  He also said something that struck home: “No one says on their death bed, ‘Thank God I paid off that student loan.'” Finally, “It (my student loan debt) runs your life in that it makes your decisions for you.”

So now, I’m going to do what he suggested: “Find a balance between the obligation you owe the debt and the bigger obligation you owe yourself.”

I looked at my loan details last night for my Big Daddy loan. I started paying (or shall we say, deferring and forbearing) back in 1997. Now that I have been paying interest-only payments on it for the last two years (as part of a graduated repayment plan), just to keep it from growing, I see that the final repayment date is in 2034 and another in 2035 (Big Daddy consists of two consolidated loans – one is unsubsidized federal money and the other is subsidized.)

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized one–well, the difference is when who pays the interest that is accruing during terms when you are not in repayment, such as when you have taken a deferment. Deferments can be for a number of reasons but the most common ones are that you are currently in school or you are going through some sort of economic hardship. With a subsidized loan, the federal government pays the interest coming due. With unsubsidized ones, that interest just keeps on accruing and accruing and accruing and at the end of your deferment or forbearment period, all that unpaid interest gets thrown on the top of the loan, essentially making your principal balance, upon which more interest accrues, even larger than when you started. Do you see why this can get overwhelming to think about? I had loans that were unsubsidized during my first year of law school. You’re encouraged to not work during your first year of law school for  a lot of reasons. So even by the time I graduated my principal balances had already grown by a whopping lot.

My Big Daddy loan actually consists of two loans – out of $75K, one has a principal balance right now of $44K.  So that puts the other one around $31K.  Here’s the funny thing – that loan that now has $44K to its  name – when I consolidated that loan back in 2001, guess what the principal balance was at that time? Yeah….it was about $41K.  All these years, I have paid at the very least $538/month, and for many years, while I was married, I even paid extra principal to it every month. Sometimes, about $700/month, on the combined Big Daddy loan.  So, how, you ask, is that balance even higher? If you take an average of $6000 paid every year and you multiply that by 13, how much do you get?? Hmmm. 78K.  And yet the balance of Big Daddy these days is still over $75K.

So here’s what I decided the other night – I’m going to switch careers to something that I find much more fulfilling, and if I pay less money per month to my student loans, so be it. I want to have a life where I feel like what I am doing every day is more in tune with my heart. And for me, that means working with animals.

Beginning this week, I am going to begin volunteering with the Animal Rescue League of Boston and work with their livestock animals. Right now, that means goats, sheep, a horse, and some chickens. I heard back from my local vet who asked me to send a resume or CV and let them know the hours during which I could volunteer, so I would be able to get experience working in a private vet office with small animals. I want to try to expose myself to as many different types of animals and types of organizations so I can see what best fits with me and my personality, etc.

I already know the average salary for vet assistants is something like $22K-30K. This is about what I live on right now, but I currently pay extra money to my student loans and paying the higher amounts on my loans. With a lower salary, I will be eligible for different types of repayment plans, and one can lower your payments to about 10-15% of your salary. So yes, it moves the final payoff date out that much further into the future, but life is short.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a slacker. i do want to pay back my debts. I do. I just think that with all the money I have paid this government over the years, the government can continue to wait for the 2x and 3X the principal amounts I will end up paying back. I could walk outside today or tomorrow and get hit by a car or something worse. I could be like Brittany Maynard who was 29 and found out she had an aggressive form of brain cancer. I’m not trying to be melodramatic or anything. I just have decided to not let these loans run my life anymore. I’m going to start living my life for me. And for the animals.

So this is the new plan. I’m going to pay off the private student loan which is sitting around $13,500 right now. That one, I don’t have tons of options about. But the federal ones…I’ll deal with them, probably for the rest of my life, but at least it’ll be a life that I feel good about at the end of every day. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given in this world, and every time I go to a talk at my school about animal rights, I get this strong feeling in my stomach that I NEED to do something to help them. And with my background, I can. I want to work with the animals in a hands-on way, but if there’s a way I can also be involved in using my education or my social or personal skills to their advantage, well, I plan on doing it. I’m open to the opportunities.

I’m home with my mom this weekend to celebrate an early Thanksgiving. I hope you will all have a great weekend. If you’ve liked this post, please hit like or subscribe, or drop me a line below.

Getting Rid of My Debt, Part (Let’s Call It) 20

I think the last time I actually counted these posts in the title, I was at 16. So now, let’s just start with twenty. That sounds good.

You’re probably wondering what it’s down to now – of course “down to” is all relative. But now that I think about it, it’s been about a year since I really started keeping track of my total debt. Just thinking of it as an amorphously large number doesn’t really motivate you to kill it in the same way as staring the numbers in the face.

sunset last night - this view will never get old
sunset last night – this view will never get old

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Sigh…..

I know I sounded upbeat yesterday and I really felt it. I even felt upbeat this morning as I thought about how I could really kill my debt. I know….I will take money out of my 403(b) account, and even if I end up paying penalties and taxes, it’ll be worth it to beat that Big Daddy loan to debt! Right!! Right??! Right? (This last one was said with a questioning tone.)

I called Vanguard who handles my 403(b) account, and nope, what I want to do – take out my own money, to pay off my own debt, is not allowed by the plan. I understand the reasons why, but what a way to take the wind out of my sails…

Yes, I was willing to take such desperate measures. As anyone knows who has ever tried to get out of debt, of whatever source, at times, it feels hopeless. Like it’s never going to end. I think to myself, “I’m 41, I’m working 2 jobs plus a freelance job and I still feel like this debt will ALWAYS be hanging over my head. ALWAYS.” If I were to add up all the payments I have made over the years, I would get really depressed. Probably to the point of being catatonic. When you have a loan that was $71K in 2001, and after paying about $500-760 a month on it for years and years and years, and still seeing that it now has a balance of (and I mean, NOW), over $75K, well it gets a bit freaking depressing.

One person has said to me, “well, we all signed the promissory notes and didn’t have guns to our heads.”  Yes, this is true. I just wish I hadn’t been such a moron back then. Or that I would have liked the career enough, on which I spent all that money, to stay in it so I would actually (hopefully) be making a bigger salary that would have allowed me to pay off the loans faster. But you can’t force yourself to love a job which makes you miserable. And you can’t force an employer to pay you more money for a job that requires you to have more degrees than just a lawyer, because it requires less hours. So it’s a tradeoff. I make less money than the big hotshot lawyers, but I have a life. Or at least, I try to. In between working three jobs, that is.

And, I have learned, you can realize you don’t have to do what everyone else does in life just because it’s what you are supposed to do. But you do have to pay back those damn blasted  loans, because guess what? They are the ONLY type of debt you can’t get rid of in bankruptcy. (Thank you, Congress. And thank you, President Obama, for trying to put a cap of $57,000 on the amount of student loans that can be forgiven because of working in a public service position. That’s like a drop in the bucket to most students graduating from school these days. And yes, the jury is still out on whether or not my loans qualify for forgiveness, even after ten years, which wouldn’t be until 2017 anyway.)

Ok, my ranting is done. I know I usually try to be more positive than this. But it’s been a very gray and dreary day out, and the weather forecast is looking like it is much more of the same for the rest of the week. The grayness and cold are just getting old.

Thanks for reading, folks, if you have gotten this far.

Getting Rid of My Debt, Part 14

"Oh boy, it's a box! It's two boxes!" (My crazy Sebastian and Max)
“Oh boy, it’s a box! It’s two boxes!” (My crazy Sebastian and Max)

My guys above are invaluable in helping me to keep my spirits up. It always amazes me how they can find such amusement in something so simple as a box. 🙂 “Oh boy, it’s a box!”

I mentioned last week that I would talk about how I keep from letting myself feel down about my debt. I try to not think about it in overall, total sums, but rather what I can work on at the moment. This does not mean I am in denial, by any means, but as my grandmother used to say when I would stress out about my debt or other matters, that I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Or, I guess in this case, not turn a 20,000 foot tall molehill into Mt. Everest. As weather such as wind and rain gradually wear away at such massive structures as mountains or the Grand Canyon, so will I do so with making extra payments over time. (I just thought of that analogy, what do you think of it?) Read more

Getting Rid of My Debt, Part 11

Yep, it's another cute pet photo - my Callie!! She's teeny-tiny!
Yep, it’s another cute pet photo – my Callie!! She’s teeny-tiny!

Well, I’m getting there. Been doing really well with the freelance work so I should be receiving a second payment this week. My financial adviser suggested I set aside 30% for taxes, and then it might be good for me to split the remainder between savings and paying off my private law school loan. She thinks that if I do something like that, based on what my invoices have been for, I might be able to bring down the student loan from the roughly $19,485 that it is sitting at today, to around $11K. Imagine that!  Read more