When I graduated from the University of Delaware in 2016, I left school with over $55,000 in student loan debt. Before you feel too sorry for me though, I have a confession to make: I’m actually grateful that I graduated with so much debt.
After recently reading this post from Drew about why he was thankful to have once had over $75,000 in debt, I decided to write this post!
Yes, this is a strange thing to say, and I realize that many people who are really struggling to pay their student loan debt probably won’t be happy to hear me say it. I also know that student debt is a major problem throughout the United States that’s costing young people the chance to buy homes, start families and move forward in life – so I’m in no way arguing that burdening young people with six figure debt is a good thing.
But, in my particular case, with my particular circumstances, this $55,000 in student loan debt is something that has shaped my life in positive ways. Here’s how.
1. My debt encouraged me to gain valuable work experience
While I was in school, I knew that I was going to graduate with a lot of debt – and I wanted to do what I could to minimize it. This prompted me to get an on-campus job my freshman year in the financial computer lab. While doing this work, I gained valuable skills that have helped me throughout my career. I also bolstered my resume with a job that helped open up doors in the future, specifically an internship a JP Morgan the next year.
2. My debt helped me to become financially responsible
When you owe +$55,000, you really can’t afford to waste a lot of money — and you need to learn responsible spending habits pretty quickly to afford the payments.
As early as my freshman year when I was working that aforementioned job, I learned how to budget my money to make on-time interest payments. I also developed an understanding of the importance of keeping interest costs down to prevent debt from ballooning to unaffordable levels.
As I made payments each month, this also drove home the lesson about the major downsides of debt: paying the lender for the privilege of borrowing.
Writing those checks for interest payments each month — and seeing that my debt balance didn’t even go down as all the cash was going to interest — taught me to avoid any unnecessary borrowing now or in the future. It’s partly because of this that I know I’ll never get in over my head with credit card debt or borrow more for a home or car than I can afford to comfortably pay back.
3. My debt helped me learn to set financial goals
Because I was so in debt when I was so young, I quickly began to understand the importance of setting financial goals and making decisions that allowed me to achieve those goals.
My goal was to pay off my debt ASAP and this helped me to structure my financial plans. I know now how to get smart goals by breaking them down into manageable increments, setting a time limit, and tracking my progress. I’ve also seen that setting goals work, as I’ve paid off close to half of what I owed already.
4. My debt helped me to value my education more
When I was going to class and doing work, I was acutely aware of how much each credit hour was costing me. I knew I had no time to waste and I also knew that I better do well in school so I could get real value out of all of the money that I borrowed. Additionally, I knew that I better graduate in four years because an additional year would just mean additional debt.
I don’t know that I would have valued the educational experience as much if I’d had all my bills paid for and hadn’t had to borrow.
5. My debt prompted me to start my company
When in college, I started looking for ways to handle the massive debt I had acquired – which eventually led me to refinance my student loans not once but twice in order to save on interest.
During this process, I realized that other young people would also need help managing their own debt and navigating the student loan repayment process. This prompted me to start LendEDU to help those who graduated in a similar position as I did.
My debt thus directly led to the job I have today as LendEDU’s Co-founder/CEO. It’s a position I’m very proud of, as I really believe in my company’s mission of empowering people to make smart financial choices when borrowing, saving, and spending.
Turning student loan debt into a positive
For some people, there’s no bright side to student loans because it makes pursuing work goals or thriving financially impossible. But, if you are burdened with debt like I was when graduating and you can find the positive side of it, it does make repaying what you owe a whole lot less painful.
Nate is the Co-Founder & CEO of LendEdu. He enjoys personal finance, running, horses, and news. He launched LendEDU with his co-founder in August 2014. LendEDU is a website that helps consumers learn about and compare financial products, including student loans, personal loans, credit cards, insurance products, banking products, and more.