The email notification flashed across my phone, a reminder that my monthly student loan payment would be auto-debited from my account tomorrow. Mint.com shows that for the last three months my monthly cashflow has been in the red, as my spending outpaces my income. I’m not alarmed. That is as it should be since I became unemployed in mid November and the last of my paychecks from my former employer hit my account at the end of that month. Since then I have been living off of my emergency fund, stocked with more than six months of living expenses.
To ensure that my savings makes it to the six months for which it was intended, and maybe even stretch it several months beyond, I have made a concerted effort to decrease my monthly expenses. I upped the deductible on my 2005 Pontiac to reduce my monthly premium by 25%. I cancelled my gym membership, choosing instead to
not bother working out at all run outside and use free workout videos on YouTube. I ditched cable, kept my heat at 65 through the winter, and got my BMW on to get around town. As I embark on the road of entrepreneurship with a business that is unlikely to pay me a salary for a long while, I’m in conservationist mode. Cash is king and keeping as much of it as possible is imperative. Yet every month since the severance check I have not only faithfully maintained my student loan payment, I’ve paid nearly 50% more than the minimum due.
I would likely qualify for forbearance because my monthly payment is more than 20% of my income at this time. Excluding housing my student loan overpayment is my largest monthly expense. So if money in the bank is more precious than unicorn tears, why am I not exercising the option to pause my payments until I am at least bringing in some income?
It’s Not That Bad
Although I abhor the fact that I still have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, compared to many of my peers from grad school my burden is light. I graduated owing a fraction of what most of them did. Because of this, my monthly payments have never been oppressive. Once I refinanced and cut my interest rate in half the picture only got better. While it would always be nice to have it paid off and keep that cash, the outlay itself was never a hardship.
In fact prior to my layoff I was paying more than three times the monthly minimum. When I was saving for living expenses I factored this aggressive repayment amount into my goal. Cutting that amount in half is conserving more cash compared to the original earmarked reason why I saved it.
Racing the Clock
The interest rate on my loan is low, currently under 4%. When the loan was disbursed the rate was under 3%. Ahhh, the bane of variable rates. Over the last year my APY has slowly increased and I know that that will continue. Staying current on my loan and continuing to knock out principal counteracts the rising interest with a lower balance to which to apply it.
Even if I put my loan payments into forbearance my lender won’t be putting the interest charges there too. While I won’t be penalized for not making a payment, all of the interest that loan accumulates during that time will be added up and tacked onto my loan as principal, ready to be subject to what is guaranteed to be a higher rate months later when I’m ready to resume a payment schedule. Even if I just paid the interest during that time period those payments would just steadily increase because the principal would remain untouched.
Although it is no fun to see my emergency fund is dwindling, I feel as though the reason I even built up that much savings was to prepare for such a time as this. The money was saved with the intention of not only servicing the loan, but to continue to aggressively attack it. I have already cooled some of that aggression and even left myself additional wiggle room to pull it back more if I need to do so before income becomes a part of my life again.
When I graduated from business school I promised myself that my student loans would be paid off within five years. This June marks four years since I walked across that stage. With 15 months to go before my goal date, I’m not going to allow a few months of funemployment to deter me. Besides, if worse comes to worse I have every confidence that my current skill set can earn me enough to cover the monthly debit.
Anyone else still slogging through student loans? Did you give yourself a timeline to pay them off? Are you including student debt repayment in your emergency fund? What are you doing to get them paid off faster? Hit the comments and share your thoughts.
This post is part of the College Investor’s Student Debt Movement, an effort to inspire and encourage people to tackle their student loan debt. Join the movement and check out the College Investor’s site to get loads of resources and advice on paying off those pesky student loans.
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