Cartoon image of college graduate dragging a bag of money behind him The average Nebraskan graduates from college with around $26,000 in student loan debt. That’s a lot of money! I wish I could say I independently funded my college education, but like a lot of people, I needed student loans. This is one time in my life I’m glad to say I didn’t exceed the average.

Why does repayment take so long?

It took a long time to pay back my loans – almost 20 years in fact. Why did it take so long? Well, a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t exactly start my career earning six figures. Most people don’t. My first job paid well below the median salary for my profession. I even ended up moonlighting at the local mall to make ends meet. While the job may have paid poorly, I did it because I knew it was a great opportunity to build my resume and would be incredibly beneficial to my career in the long run. Second, there were a lot of other monthly expenses I needed to cover. Rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, internet, food, car payments – bills that aren’t necessarily negotiable and add up quicker than you think. What was left every month allowed me to pay only the minimum on my loans for the majority of their life.

Should I pay interest while in school?

My student loans were unsubsidized, meaning interest began accruing on the amount I borrowed (or the principle) the day I borrowed the money. I did take my parents’ advice and paid the interest on my loans off quarterly while I was still in school. This kept interest from compounding on my principle, so I didn’t end up paying interest on my interest. Sure, it was tough at the time to come up with an extra few hundred dollars every few months, but looking back, I’m glad I made the responsible decision.

Do I have regrets about borrowing?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not mad about my loans. They are what allowed me to get an education. College wouldn’t have been possible for me any other way. I did my best to be thoughtful about how much money I actually borrowed and how I used it. I didn’t go out and use it to fund a bougie lifestyle of lattes and manicures. My loan money went to cover the basics: tuition, books, and rent. But it only went so far. I worked up to three different jobs at any given time throughout college to cover the rest of my expenses.

Would I do things differently if I could? Of course! I would love to have been a trust fund kid with limitless disposable income and a penchant for international travel. But that’s not reality. Most people have to borrow money to get an education, and that’s ok! It’s just important to do it in a smart way.

My advice?

Here are a few tips you may find helpful.

  1. Only borrow what you need. You will have to pay it back. Don’t sit around holding out hope that a new loan forgiveness program will save you. It’s unlikely.
  2. Always pay on time. Failure to do so will negatively impact your credit score, which takes a lot of time and effort to fix. Consider enrolling in autopay.
  3. Make extra payments if and when you can. Even if it’s a small amount, extra payments here and there can significantly reduce the life of your loan.
  4. Pay interest as you go. Compounding interest is bad. Don’t end up paying interest on other interest or your loans will quickly grow unmanageable.
  5. Look into your options. Student loan providers offer different programs for repayment, such as income-based repayment plans, deferment, refinancing, and more. Work with your provider to find your best option.

Once your loans are paid off, whether it takes you 5, 10, or 20 years, I guarantee you will feel a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. Best of all? You will finally own what’s in your brain outright! Paid in full. Congratulations in advance.