There was no confetti. No congratulations or fanfare of any kind. No one cheered for Steve, a 36-year-old software engineer from Texas, when he woke up at 6am on March 15, 2022 and made his final student loan payment. He didn’t think this moment would be so natural, considering the huge – and sometimes painful – impact his loans had on his life.
It took Steve nearly 12 years to pay off more than $100,000 in student loan debt, just five months before the Biden administration’s announcement that it was forgiving $10,000 in loans to borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year.
Despite the financial, mental and even physical pain that carrying more than six figures in student loan debt has caused Steve, he says he’s happy for whoever gets the student loan forgiveness – he doesn’t resent anyone eligible for the $10,000. from the government (up to US$20,000). for Pell Grant holders) pardon plan.
“Forgiving all of this is my opinion,” says Steve. “$10,000 is a good start… maybe with that amount of debt on their backs, people can start building their lives.”
The Biden-Harris student debt relief plan is expected to eliminate about $300 billion in debt, according to Penn Wharton’s Budget Model. Approximately one-third of borrowers of federal student loans (myself included) will have their debts paid off completely, with benefits going disproportionately to working-class and middle-income families.
Since 1980, the cost of public and private colleges has nearly tripled. Federal support did not hold up, meaning more people had to borrow money to get degrees.
Recent data totals US student loan debt at $1.75 trillion, with the average college graduate carrying up to $40,000 in debt. The average graduate student owes up to $189,000 in federal student loan debt.
“I’m not mad, I lost”
Steve graduated in 2008 with a degree in English that he said was virtually free because of a scholarship program at the state. But after struggling to find a decent job, he went back to school to earn a master’s degree in teaching. It was a mistake, he says. He borrowed about $70,000, but interest increased the total to $118,000.
He couldn’t pay back his loans on his teacher’s salary, and by the time he turned 30, he was questioning what he was doing with his life. He had no savings, and worrying about debt took a toll on his physical and mental health. “If I had a medical emergency, I would be in ruins,” he says.
Desperate to make a change and get rid of the debt that kept him up at night, Steve taught himself to code—there was no way he was going to go back to school—and changed careers. He refinanced his loans at a lower rate and, with his higher salary, started making extra payments.
“I knew what I was getting into when I got the loans,” says Steve. “I knew teaching wasn’t a profitable career, but I thought I could keep myself afloat, you know? I definitely miscalculated.” He says he left his heart in the classroom.
It was so easy, though, to get that loan at age 22, he says.
“I had no employment history, no income. Universities know this and just raise prices,” says Steve. “I want to live in an educated society…[but] you shouldn’t have to ruin your life to get an education. The fact that you can’t even declare bankruptcy – the only way to relieve debt is to die – that’s really confusing.”
Submitting your final payment — paying off six months of debt in one go — was pretty anticlimactic, says Steve. It took a while to understand, but once he did, he says, he started to feel like anything was possible.
With the additional income, he began to think he could get his finances back on track, so he decided to meet with a financial planner: “Maybe I can retire someday.”
His friends often ask him, he says, if he would be upset about a loan forgiveness program, having just paid off so much on student loans. He’s actually really excited, he says. Although “it would be nice if I could benefit retroactively. But I’m not mad that I missed it for a few months.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com