No More Student Loans!

Chris Kuban Public Relations ConsultantToday is the day I finally paid off my Graduate School student loans!  Wahoo! What a relief! While I hear myself enthusiastically exclaiming “No more student loans!,” I’m led to ponder what I would tell my 20-year old self if I had to do it over again.  Here’s a little glimpse of what that conversation might look like…

“The thought of spending 20 years paying off nearly $42,000 in student loan debt hasn’t entered your mind, younger self. You are in Grad School, and your studies are all consuming, I understand that. In fact, money seems like it is easily disbursed, like candy, with just the signature and no explanation as to the possible long-term consequences. You are only 24 and have no idea what this would mean to you your career, or your ability to save for retirement. Yes, retirement! It will happen, trust me younger self, sooner than you can fathom.”

Back to the present – I guess I have to make some clarifications here.  I was the first in my family to graduate college, and the first in my family to get a graduate degree. I was truly driven by the intellectual stimulation formal academics provided, and the experience became a quest to be the best in my field.  I was determined to reach my goals of both getting the post graduate education, and to build a tech empire. 

The timing – Yes, it was 1999 and the dot com industry was new and absolutely booming. At the same time I was going to school, I had an amazing dot-com ecommerce idea that led to me building a company called Blazing Trail Technologies. Our primary focus was selling American Made, Union-Made products. I built a board of directors, brought on investors and had a plan.   Since I possessed the seemingly unlimited energy supply most young people possess, I built the company while simultaneously earning my degree. 

I took on the maximum allowable student loans to help pay for computers, rent and employees, as well as tuition.  Although I thought it was a great way to help finance my dream, I had no idea how dearly I would pay for this bright idea.   

In 2002, the booming dot-com market crashed.  Everything went up in smoke almost overnight.  Our committed $6 million investor decided to pull the plug on funding which led to the company’s abrupt downfall and my subsequent decision to file bankruptcy.

I lost everything… my company, my computers, my car, my self-respect, my dignity and my drive. I also learned, the hard way, that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcies. So, I was stuck with my $42,000 loans. Later in life I’d find that my student loan payment was equal to my monthly mortgage payment. How depressing is that? As if that were not enough, I was subpoenaed to appear by the IRS on Christmas Eve 2003.  Yes, after the crash of my dream, I lost it all.

The bright side – What’s great about America is the opportunity to dream big, work hard and rebound! With a strong personal drive and determination to succeed, you can do anything!

Debt FreeToday, I stand tall in a moment of pride. I am relieved. I am happy! I have completely finished paying my last student loan! Except for a mortgage and car payments I am debt free! Since my bankruptcy days, fifteen years ago, I have never missed a payment or carried a balance on a credit card for longer than 2 weeks. I hope to continue this positive approach in business and in my personal life! It is a great feeling!