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I Got Laid Off Twice. Here’s How I Paid Off My $30K Student Loan Debt

I'm squeezing every ounce of goodness out of 2021. As we all experienced, 2020 was nonstop madness.

Finance

I'm squeezing every ounce of goodness out of 2021. As we all experienced, 2020 was nonstop madness. While there has been extreme loss, anxiety on a galactic level, deep loneliness, and every emotion in the dictionary, I managed to achieve one huge life goal before my 27th birthday in December. I paid Sallie Mae back! (Yes, please imagine me dancing.) While it's uncomfortable to share about this journey because finances are so personal, I believe the one thing we all need right now is good news. It was through watching other people who I related to that made me see that paying off my debt was possible.

Like most things in America, the current student-debt crisis is out of this world. This year the student-debt crisis hit an ultimate high.

"There are 45 million borrowers who collectively owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. In the U.S. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category - behind only mortgage debt - and higher than both credit cards and auto loans," according to Forbes.

Even with these staggering numbers, the student-debt crisis disproportionately impacts Black families. On average, a Black graduate has $7,400 more in student debt than his or her white peer, according to Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

When I first decided to pay off my student loans, I was freshly laid-off from my "dream job" as a breaking news reporter and living in my childhood bedroom in Columbus, Ohio, as a 20-something, feeling like a complete failure. Even though navigating this season was difficult, I kept one quote on the forefront of my mind by Dave Ramsey: "Live like no one else so that you can live like no one else."

I celebrated paying off my debt with an uplifting photoshoot to showcase that women are worthy of celebration outside of the traditional norms such as marriage and having babies. All which I desire in time, but until then I'm focused on blooming.

There are plenty of factors that impact our financial health, most of which are out of our control. If you're looking to take the next step so you can stop being a slave to your money and break free from the bondage of debt, here are some of the actions I implemented to pay off my $30,000 student loan debt.

1. Make a Plan.

black-woman-writing

Make a plan to approach payding down debt from a strategic level.

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It may sound simple, but making a solid plan is not as easy as it looks. When paying down debt, I think it's best to approach it from a strategic level. I never really knew how much debt I had. It was some elusive number; I believed I'd never pay off.

I went to a private art-school out of state and graduated in 2016. I had a ballpark idea of how much debt I was in but brushed it off. I ignored, deferred, ignored again, deferred again. Rinse and repeat. I was confused about the process since I had transferred schools. It felt like I had student loans coming from everywhere.

I was paying off both my unsubsidized and subsidized loans from college, which totaled to nearly $30,000. One way I was able to decrease the debt I took out was by applying for grants, scholarships and becoming a resident advisor for two years.

Before I got serious about paying off my debt, I made the minimum payments. One of the main tools that help me develop a straightforward and easy to understand debt strategy is Undebt.it. This site populated a free debt payoff plan after I imput my information. I also recommend using tools like Snowball Wealth, which helps organize all your debt in one place, and provides resources to help you pay it down.

The avalanche debt payment method worked best for my situation, but many people also use the snowball method. These are common terms, but here's a breakdown of what each one is according to CNBC:

"Snowball method: Prioritizes paying your debt from the smallest balance to largest, regardless of interest rate.
"Avalanche: you pay off the balance with the highest APR first, then work your way through all your debt from highest to lowest APR. Some financial experts prefer this method because you end up paying less overall in interest."

Once I had my plan ready to go, it was time to secure the bag.

2. Secure the Bag—All of It. 

I paid above the minimum balance each month. I attacked my debt. I was able to do this by decreasing my expenses. At the time, I lived at home for roughly six months. Living in my childhood bedroom was a huge help, and I could save and knock out so much debt. I hear millennials complaining all the time about moving back in with their parents. If you're fortunate enough to live back home for a season, then I would highly suggest it and be grateful for the opportunity. But after living at home, I moved into a studio apartment and then decided to get a roommate. Figuring out housing can be tricky, but anyway you can decrease this expense, the better.

Anytime during my debt-free journey, I had about two to three jobs. I mainly did freelance work, including writing, social media managing, and website design. As 2020 has shown, no job is ever guaranteed. I learned that hard lesson early after being laid-off from two jobs before I turned 25.

I did freelance gigs in addition to my full-time job as a weekend social media editor. Negotiating my salary was vital and made a difference in my budget each month, which allowed me to make larger payments. It's an old and true saying, but closed mouths don't get fed. Here are more tips on how to negotiate your salary. It's a must!

3. Find Community.

While your debt is solely your responsibility, you don't have to walk this journey alone! One source of encouragement I had to kick-start my journey was watching my coworker pay off over $100,000 in student loan debt. What?! Don't be afraid to ask questions. I asked my colleague a million questions about debt, and I didn't care if I looked crazy in the process.

There's a vast debt-free community online of people sharing resources, tips, and advice. Join them! Two of my favorites financial educators to follow are Tiffany the Budgetnista and Leo Jean-Louis.

Also, talk to your trusted friends about money. Throughout this journey, I would have money talks with a close girlfriend of mine. We would get transparent about our money goals, downfalls, and everything in between! Normalizing talking about money is something we should all strive to do.

4. Practice Discipline

black-woman-smiling-laptop

Practice discipline by starting a budget and sticking to it.

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Yes, you need a budget. But even more so, you need the discipline to execute and stick to that budget.

I started having weekly money meetings with myself. Was I perfect at it? Of course not. But I was consistent. I created a debt-free journal to help me stay sane during the process and to track my progress. In this journal, I wrote down prayers, wrote encouragement notes to myself, congratulated myself for the small wins, and reminded myself of my "why" behind paying off my student loans.

And what's my why? For me, it's being able to do what God has called me to do freely, designing a life of my dreams, building generational wealth for my family, and investing in my travel business, Girl Around The Globe, plus so many other things.

Being free of my student loans is one step towards my financial wholeness goals. Now, I'm looking to start investing actively (send help!), and I plan on knocking out the remainder of my credit card debt by Q1 or Q2 of 2021.

It doesn't matter how much you have in debt or how long it takes for you to pay it off. Life is not a race. All that matters is that you're trying and being consistent.

I believe in you, sis!

Are you a member of our insiders squad? Join us in the xoTribe Members Community today!

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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