So I Paid Off My Student Loans- Part 1

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few years, you may know that I’ve been on a quest to pay off my student loans since… basically forever. Actually, for the first few years after I graduated, as my debt amount surged while interest piled up, I simply lived in hopeless despair. I wondered what magical miracle would occur that would enable me to pay off more than $100,000 (yes that 6th zero belongs) worth of debt – and for undergrad only! I’m not even a doctor or a lawyer or even a prosperous business person- I have a DRAMA degree, for god’s sake! And that $100,000 total is with ONE YEAR PAID OFF ALREADY by mom and grandma! So even with a whole year of school paid off, plus some financial aid, my loans were STILL that much!

And the loan kept growing, even after college ended, because in the first few years after graduation I’d decided that since my interest was high on the smaller of the two loans (one was for around $86,000 and the other was $14,000), I’d put the smaller loan on forbearance (effectively deferring it) and not pay it for awhile.

I know now that this is BACKWARDS thinking- it’s a really bad idea to put loans on forbearance unless you’re absolutely desperate and have no other choice. To be fair, most people put loans on forbearance because they have no other choice- I myself was the definition of desperate- so the warning is probably unnecessary. But forbearance is a horrible sneaky trap that only punishes your future self while your current self breathes a very temporary sigh of relief. I got the 14k loan down to 11k with a lot of blood sweat and tears, and then put that loan on forbearance for a year. When I started paying it again, after only one year of deferment, the loan had GONE BACK UP to 14K! As if I had never made a dent! The experience was both sickening and horrifying.

NYU is even more expensive now- disgustingly expensive. Somewhere around 70K a year expensive. It’s wayyyy overpriced, and pricing seems to only be only going up. The thing is, many colleges are following that same path of being completely out of line overpriced- the problem is not just NYU. To be fair, I really enjoyed my NYU program- I had private conservatory training in all aspects of acting, directing, and theater, and the 4 years were pretty amazing. It’s not a bad school. But the loans afterwards all but buried me- and I don’t recommend anyone ever taking on that kind of student loan debt. Ever. Even if  you’re going to medical school or something that should fast track to a lucrative career, I’d still advise you to think your finances through very carefully.

In a blaze of glory I finally completed my last student loan payment this February, 2018. I still can’t believe it. I remember the day I hit ‘send’ on that last payment- I cried. My body shook in front of my computer and nothing made sense. The student debt that had hung over my head for so many years of my early adult life was finally gone. It felt like a miracle- but it wasn’t. It was the result of an incredible amount of work and very carefully calculated planning. Even making very little money per year, I finally did it. I did it.

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I did it! In the next post I’ll tell you how…

 

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Budgeting in Your 30’s When You Hate Budgeting

For all the writing I do about finance and money goals, I really hate to budget. I just can’t stand it.

Perhaps this is because I’m already a big saver, so when I want something, I usually REALLY want it, and not much is going to stand in my way. I hate not listening to my own written budget, but I wouldn’t listen if I really wanted something badly, so I feel like I’d probably go over budget lot of the time, and then I’d kick myself. Ok, so this is actually a self-control issue. :/

I walked around forever with budget hatred burning a hole in the pit of my stomach until recently, when I read an article and realized I’d been kind of following an unofficial budget strategy all along. I googled the info in that article and came upon even more articles that outlined alternative budgeting strategies. Turns out, I naturally follow a common budget strategy called the 80/20 budget, though my version is actually a 70/30 budget.

The 80/20 budget is basically the simplest and least detailed way to budget ever. And I love it, because the details of budgeting make me nuts. Here’s how it works: when you get a paycheck, 20 percent goes to savings. The rest is fair game to divide between needs and wants. That’s it.

This is kind of amazing if you’re never sure how much you’re going to spend in any given month- no matter what, you’ll still be saving. I do a 70/30 budget, or actually a 70/10/10/10 budget, which is only slightly different than the 80/20. The way it works is:

  1. I get a paycheck
  2. I put 10 percent in my retirement account immediately
  3. I put 10 percent in my savings account immediately
  4. I put 10 percent towards my student loan immediately (this is always in addition to the minimum monthly fee I pay)
  5. Then the other 70 percent is divided as best I can among EVERYTHING else without making a budget.
  6. Within the 70 percent, my NEEDS include: Rent, utilities, and student loan minimums (definite needs), as well as food, metrocards (transit), laundry money, and toiletries.
  7. Also within the 70 percent are WANTS including: eating out and or/drinking with friends, food and coffee and green juice splurges, new shoes or clothes, tickets to theater, subscriptions to Spotify and Hulu.

Don’t get me wrong- it’s probably best to actually budget everything out little by little with a food budget, a clothing budget, and an eating out with friends budget. But I’ve never done this, and I don’t know if I’d stick to it if I did. So I think it’s better to at least have SOME sort of budget! And with the 80/20 (or 70/30, or even 60/40) budget, you’re at least still saving. If you don’t have students loans, I’d recommend putting at least 10-15 percent of your paycheck immediately into your retirement account, and then 10-15 percent immediately into a savings account.

What’s funny about taking a certain percentage out of your paycheck right away and paying down a debt and/or putting it into savings is how little you notice that the money is gone. It’s a strange phenomenon! Try it if you don’t believe me. Take 10 percent out of your paycheck immediately each month and put it into savings…you probably won’t even miss it! And if you do, you can always take it back. I wouldn’t recommend it…but the whole point is that your savings account belongs to you! 🙂

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Am I Liable if I Marry Into Debt?

The other day a friend of mine and I were having dinner and she was discussing buying a house with her boyfriend. They’d been together for some time and were hoping to get married within the next few years.

“I’m wondering though,” she said, “if I’ll take on his debt when I marry him. ”

For the last two or three years, the number of people I know who are engaged, about to be engaged, or married has skyrocketed. This definitely corresponds with the thirties- many people hitting their thirties are (possibly) beginning to settle down and find others they want to be with for the rest of their lives. Not everyone, of course, but it’s definitely been a trend.

Which is why I was surprised that I didn’t know the answer- I felt like I’d researched this before, and the answer was no, but I couldn’t be positive. I actually forgot to look up the answer that night and then today Suze Orman just happened to bring it up on her podcast.

For anyone about to be married and wondering about it, the answer is:  NO, YOU WILL NOT LEGALLY INCUR ANY OF YOUR SPOUSE’S DEBT FROM BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED. (Big sigh of relief!!) If your spouse incurred debt BEFORE you got married, it’s his or her debt ALONE. Of course, you can help with the debt, and some would say that once you’re married you share everything, including debt. But LEGALLY, debt incurred by one spouse before a marriage doesn’t touch the other one. No one is going to come after you for your spouse’s debt, and if they do they are JUST TRYING TO SCARE YOU. 

To avoid all the clarification questions Suze Orman (and all the finance websites I’ve been to) get all the time, I will clarify up front: the debt you’re NOT liable for includes EVERYTHING before marriage. It includes student loan debt, credit card debt, auto loan debt, tax debt, bank loans, EVERYTHING. You’re legally liable for NONE OF IT.

HOWEVER, debt incurred AFTER you get married is totally different. If you get married and your spouse suddenly gets into a lot of debt, that debt will be legally yours too IF you live in what are known as “Community Property States.”

Community-property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and the territory of Puerto Rico. Alaska also allows married couples to opt in to community-property status. Most people do not :p

If you’re NOT in any of these states, you’re in what’s known as a Common Law state. This means that in general if your spouse gets into debt, you’re not legally responsible. There are exceptions here such as if you open a joint account together and that account goes into collections (obviously, because now BOTH your names are on the account.)

Hope this solves things for any of you newly marrieds or almost-newlyweds! If any of our Canadian, UK, and other international readers would like to weigh in on the policy in your country, I’d love to learn about that (and I’m sure others would too!)

Sorry if this wasn’t the most fun topic ever, but it’s an important one as we head through the thirties. Here’s some funny photos of a flash mob I did once to lighten the mood, haha:

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called "The Big Wedding." ;)

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called “The Big Wedding.” 😉

 

Below are some links for even more details about marriage and debt:

The Simple Dollar: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/financial-infidelity-4-steps-for-healing-marriages-torn-by-finances/

Bankrate- http://www.bankrate.com/finance/debt/wife-not-married-to-spouse-s-old-debts-1.aspx#ixzz3Nzez1PNj

Nolo- http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/debt-marriage-owe-spouse-debts-29572.html

Lifehacker- http://twocents.lifehacker.com/how-to-protect-your-credit-when-you-marry-into-debt-1576458795

 

 

 

How to Set Goals for Finances- New Years Resolutions Series

The countdown to 2015 continues…though hopefully no one’s standing outside in Times Square yet waiting for the ball to drop. You never know, though. I wouldn’t put it past people.

Anyway, I thought I’d kick off some New Years resolution money talk for thirty-somethings.

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Last year, I made a resolution to put 30 percent of every paycheck I received towards savings, student loan debt and retirement. I actually started doing this slightly before New Years so I cheated a bit.

I split up the 30 percent this way- 10 percent went into my Roth IRA, 10 percent towards my savings, and 10 percent towards my smallest student loan. (My largest student loan already had a crazy amount of money going towards it because its minimum was so high. But I digress.)

And I followed my financial resolutions through thick and thin for the whole year and am continuing with them. There was a moment where I even tried to up my payout percentage to 40%, but that was way too much. Other than that- the 30% resolution was actually quite simple: whenever I received a paycheck I’d log onto Chase.com and make my transfers. There was something extremely satisfying about the whole thing.

If you’re making financial resolutions for the New Year, my advice is much like Jane’s in her last post: break down the goal into easy steps. My financial resolutions last year were simply:

1. Put money into savings

2. Pay down student loan

3. Put money into Roth IRA

A lot less would have gotten done if I’d stopped there instead of making the simple breakdown of 10% from every paycheck towards each category.

So, if you have savings goals, save yourself a headache and break them down into steps that seem so easy as to be almost automatic. In fact, you can even automate the savings process by having your bank automatically put a certain amount of money into your Roth IRA and savings account every month. Just about all banks will do this for you.

Since I’m self-employed and am paid a different amount every month, I kept my process manual. Also, I get a gleeful joy out of manually saving money, but I’m weird like that.

Anyway, this year my financial goals are:

1) Pay extra $$ towards my BIG student loan

-This is broken down into the easy steps of

a) Finish paying down the little student loan the same way I was before. Just about done!

b) Put the 10% (plus the monthly minimum) I was putting into the small loan towards the big loan instead.

Tada!

2) Find a savings account that pays way more interest than my bank. 

– Done! I guess once more I cheated on this one…I did it last week before New Years. But don’t worry if you hate your savings account, I’ll talk about better ones in another post soon and help you set that up too if you like. For now, if you’re interested in how much you should be saving, I wrote about it here.

3) Switch my Retirement Plan from a Vanguard Target Date fund to a different Vanguard account now that I have more money in my Roth IRA. 

– This involves a couple of breakdown steps including investigating Vanguard’s other options and figuring out more about how to manually choose funds. I’ll explain why I’m doing this in another post as well. And if you’re interested in retirement plans in general (or if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about), I talk all about why retirement accounts are important here and here and here.

Of course, there’s my fourth financial resolution which I haven’t yet broken down, and that’s:

4) Discover additional sources of income. 

I lied about not having this goal last year. I have this goal every year, and I’m always messing with the breakdown. There’s quite a bit of work ahead. Sometimes breaking down resolutions can be as tough as keeping them 😉

What are some of your financial resolutions for the new year?

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