Discussion Thread

Let's talk about student loans

  • 1.  Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-04-2019 08:48 PM
    My student loans affect my budgeting and career decisions. Loans were the only way I could get through college. I had some help from other sources, but it wasn't enough to cover everything. Now, after college, I am still struggling to stay on top of my debt and do the things I want to do with my career. I have been working a non-engineering job to stay ahead of my payments, but that means I have less time for job hunting and professional development. Some of the methods I have used to manage my debt:

    *Income based replacement plans on my federal loans. Yes it might drag things out, but it helps in the short term.
    *Focusing on paying off the smallest loan after paying minimum payments. Every loan I can pay off helps a little bit.
    *Unemployment deferment for when i was between jobs, luckily hasn't happened recently.

    I have considered refinancing, I just don't think it's a great option for me at this time. So what are everyone's thoughts on student loans and how to handle them?

    Andrew Wilson, EIT
    Winston, OR

  • 2.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-05-2019 05:11 PM
    Maybe focus on paying off the loans with the highest interest rates first, rather than the smallest.

    Tel Jensen
    Woodland WA

  • 3.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-06-2019 08:39 AM
    There are varying opinions on which loans to pay off first. From a purely financial standpoint, it makes the most sense to pay off high interest loans, but some point out that many people gain confidence in their ability to reach a debt free point when they conquer their small loans first and are therefore more successful this way.  I would say it depends on the discipline of the individual, and if you're not highly confident in yourself to stay motivated in fighting off debt, I might recommend sticking to paying off the small loans first.

    I think it's also important to be disciplined in your other spending and put as much as you can towards your loans, and when you pay off one, immediately move the money you were applying to that loan to another loan; don't take it as extra spending money. Tighten your belt on "unnecessary" expenses (but dont completely deprive your self, you can and should spend some money for the wellbeing of your mental health, but still be disciplined in this) and live a more restrictive lifestyle now so you can live a more free one sooner. Making a budget and sticking to it can be really helpful with this, and some would argue is must.

    There's a lot of factors that go into one's personal finances, and the tips you receive here are only the tips of the iceberg when it comes to good financial planning. It's probably a good idea to find a reputable resource that can help you make a good plan for you. Best of luck in paying off your debts!

    Paul Chabot P.E.,M.ASCE
    Metro Detroit Area MI

  • 4.  RE: Let's talk about student loans
    Best Answer

    Posted 05-06-2019 05:15 PM
    As a public service announcement, I saw this program listed on the ASCE site as a member benefit which may help (I have no personal knowledge of this, I think it's fairly new): https://www.asce.org/sofi/

    I will also add that at times in my career when I was focused on paying off debt, one of the things I found most helpful was to focus not just on cost cutting - because you can only cut so much - but on making more money.  That means learning how to negotiate, learning what brings the most value to your employer, and also being open to a job, perhaps even in another area of the country, where your money goes further.  But the key, which I think is lost to many, is takehome pay, not just salary.

    Since we are engineers......grab a spreadsheet and do your own math regarding what negotiating even an 1% additional raise or salary does for you 10 or 20 years down the line since that effect compounds over time. Do the math on how much more (or less) you will actually be taking home when you factor in the cost of living. For example, when I worked in Texas (no state income tax and housing is relatively inexpensive even in the large cities), I took home much more in pay than when I moved to the Northeast (we got half the house for twice the cost........and paying state and local taxes besides, in addition to higher property taxes and higher cost of services  in general).  That cost savings in Texas wasn't intentional (just went where the best job offer was), but looking back and knowing what I do now, we probably paid off debt a solid 3 years earlier because our takehome pay was that much higher.

    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 5.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-06-2019 05:50 PM
    SOFI's interest rates are higher than my current student loan rates, and I would guess most other folks' federal loans. I could get a lower monthly payment in exchange for a (significantly) higher interest rate, but that isn't particularly appealing.

    Here's a way I'm starting to save money without really skimping that is suited to a lot of civil engineering graduates: I'm designing and building rainwater collection and greywater reuse systems for my home. Water and sewer bills can be burdensome, so reducing them will make a big difference for me. I'm fortunate to have a landlord who is excited about this project, as it will save her money, too. I realize that will not be the case for everyone. but if you're able, creative ways to reduce regular costs can be rewarding and even good practice for keeping engineering skills sharp.

    Tel Jensen
    Woodland WA

  • 6.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-07-2019 01:07 PM

    My best recommendation is that if you have loans serviced by Fedloan is to get a city, state or federal job and apply for both the income driven repayment plan and the public service loan forgiveness program.  After making 120 qualifying payments the rest is forgiven as paid in full.  More details on the website and by calling and taking to the courteous agents.  They will help you and let you know if some or all your loans qualify.



  • 7.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-07-2019 07:44 AM
    ​As a Federal Government employee, there are programs to reduce/eliminate your student debt. Might be worth looking into to see if it meets your needs.

    Michael Avery P.E.,M.ASCE
    Associate Division Administrator
    San Juan PR

  • 8.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-07-2019 10:44 AM

    This is interesting to read as I am always curious how others handle this. I have seen it a few ways. I have two friends who essentially lived like college students (broke) for nearly two years and put all their money towards their loans and paid them off. To them, being debt free was worth it. I had the luxury of having an employer who helped me pay for a masters and I was able to defer my loans while taking classes but I made payments anyways which helped. When I left that employer I had to pay for the last half of the program on my own but they remained deferred and I was able to tackle the larger interest rates and those accruing daily, little bits at a time. For a little while I was making small payment each week (like $40)  to unsubsidized loans just trying to bring them down. I thought about how I can save $40 and realized it would be easy with groceries so I cut back, cooked at home and bought in bulk or cheap. (Take a look at sub and unsub loans you may have and hit up those unsubsidized ones first!!!)

    It really depends on lifestyle, your cost of living, where you are living etc. I will say it has taken me longer than my two friends who lived on Ramen to pay back my loans but I have also enjoyed my life much more than they have and bought things, gone on trips etc..  Both of them are now looking at marriage and kids and again are saving money and not enjoying life as much. You have to decide what balance is right for you.
    The small loans are nice to pay off, I understand that. What helped me was looking at the actually monthly interest I paid on each one and then I decided to tackle larger ones when I could (chunks of extra payments to specific loans here and there). 

    Lastly, unlike my friends, I do not stress about student loans. They are great for my credit and show long term payments being made over time which I am ok with. It is not ideal but i see it as a marathon and I have a larger prize at the end (better credit).
    Don't forget, many of us are all suffering in this together you are not alone :)

    Angella Mickowski A.M.ASCE
    Environmental Engineer


  • 9.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 05-08-2019 10:04 AM
    Hey Wilson,

    Student loans definitely affected how I approached my lifestyle and professional career. I left college with a sizable chunk and was intimidated by the prospect of paying off debt for 10 years. Since then I've learned how to better manage my budget and how I approached my loans. I originally had the mentality of aggressively paying off all my loans as fast as possible. I've since adjusted this approach by budgeting a more realistic payment plan based on a livable lifestyle. I also paid off my high-interest loans first. I now pay the minimum on my subsidized government loans because those interest rates are near the inflation rate and I can better use my money towards higher rate investments. 

    There's not one way to approach student debt but the best thing to do is what you're doing and starting a discussion.

    Paul Lee EIT,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineering Associate
    Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
    Los Angeles CA

  • 10.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 06-14-2019 08:30 AM
    I am currently repaying my loans only being about a year and a half removed from university. I choose my payment plan to be the lowest minimum payment available ($300), but I still pay what a regular repayment plan would ask ($700). I also changed the due date of my payment such that my two biggest bills rent & loans will never be in the same pay period. I find this gives me flexibility in the amounts I have to pay per month. Currently, I am ahead of my scheduled payments and can opt not to send a payment if the circumstances call for it.

    Gabriel Amaya EIT,A.M.ASCE
    NK Bhandari Archit. and Engg.
    Syracuse NY

  • 11.  RE: Let's talk about student loans

    Posted 08-08-2019 08:07 AM
    Interesting. I have always found the Concept of being saddled with loans at the onset of one's career very interesting. Instead of one concentrating on kicking off on their future path and saving, you get saddled with paying off loans. I find myself in a similar scenario where I am struggling to pay off student loans instead of making any meaningful saving....

    Japheth Osumo Aff.M.ASCE
    Graduate Engineer