How I Paid Off My Student Loans

by Melissa Kirsch
Originally Published: 

The midterm elections are Tuesday, November 4, 2014. This is when Americans vote for their representatives in the 114th Congress, which will meet from January 2015 to January 2017. People have a hard time getting excited about non-presidential elections, and voter turnout for midterms is normally low.

If you have student loans, or kids with student loans, or plan to ever have kids that you will send to college, or are concerned about the economy at all, you need to vote.

Let me explain why.

Paying off my loans is my version of finishing a marathon

A friend of mine who completed her tenth New York City Marathon yesterday told me she runs marathons because they make her feel invincible. “I ran 26 miles,” she’ll tell herself when she’s stressed or scared or feels like she can’t complete some seemingly insurmountable task. “I ran a marathon, so I can certainly do this.”

I tried to think of huge, seemingly insurmountable experiences in my own life that I had met and conquered in the same way. My one half-hearted attempt to run the marathon consisted of putting my name in the lottery for a spot, a month of training that I hated, and then massive relief when I found out I hadn’t gotten in.

The biggest thing I could think of that I’d accomplished that seemed truly impossible at the outset was paying off my student loans last summer.

After 16 years of faithfully writing a check each month, including those years when I barely made a dent in the interest; after a decade and a half of despairing of ever being free from this bill for a graduate degree that had long since stopped impressing anyone reading my resume or helping me get a job or really providing any of the benefits I had convinced myself it would when I’d made the decision to get a graduate degree straight out of college, I was finally free.

I was able to pay off my loans because I consolidated them a decade ago at 4.88 percent. If I hadn’t consolidated when I did, I’d be sunk—my interest rate would be locked in at 7 percent or higher and I, like the millions of other students who took out loans before 2010, would be unable to take advantage of the historic low rates (currently 3.86 percent for undergrads) offered to new borrowers.

Here’s why you have to vote

Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would simply allow those with outstanding loan debt to refinance at the same, lower rates offered to new borrowers. This legislation is stalled because in order to pay for it, Congress would have to end tax breaks for very high-income households.

©Alex Wong/Getty Images

You’ve heard the horrifying stats: Student loan debt has hit $1.2 trillion. The government has made $66 billion in profit off student loans in the past five years. Grads hamstrung by student loans are unable to buy groceries—never mind take jobs in teaching or other low-paying professions, buy homes, start businesses or otherwise put any money into an economy whose job market requires people to have degrees in order to get any job at all.

For the sake of the economy, and for the sake of a million other issues that are going to be decided in the final two years of Obama’s presidency, you need to vote in the midterm elections. Find out who’s on the ballot in your state, who supports student loan reform, and do it.

Paying off my student loans may not have imbued me with a marathon-finisher’s level of confidence that I can take on the world, but I still feel pretty proud of myself. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to lock in an interest rate that made the payoff possible. 25 million other Americans are not so lucky.

Photo: David McNew/Getty

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