Student Loans

I’ve been miserably sick all weekend. Out of nowhere I was hit with this dreadful cold, so I’ve been a sniffling, snotty, coughing mess since Thursday. I booked Friday off months ago because I was going to give myself an awesome long weekend to cap November off. So it would make perfect sense for my mutinous immune system to jump ship right before my glorious plans could even get out of the harbour, right? I wasn’t even planning on posting this week because my mood has been so foul. Best laid plans have been foiled, so fuck it. Instead of scampering through the streets with gleeful inhibition, I’m a hostage in my own apartment until I can pay the hefty ransom of 10,000 sullied kleenexes to my captor, this bitch of a cold.

Pretty grim stuff, I know. How could I possibly put a positive spin on anything right now? I can’t even remember what it feels like to breathe normally, unhindered by the shroud of nasal congestion draped around me.

Then I remembered something while looking at the calendar on the fridge. Friday November 30th was the last day of the month. My student loan payments are due on the last day of each month, and I started making payments on the debt exactly two years ago as of November 30th. I have been making regular payments on my student loans every month for the last 2 years. Wow, I know this is cliché, but time really does fly when you’re dutifully living the dream, responsible adult styles.

I remember feeling so confused and overwhelmed in the fall of 2005 while I waited in the seemingly endless line at the student loan office with Marion. The office opened at 8:00am, but we got up at 6:00 so that we could get a “good spot in line”. Turns out a “good spot in line” meant that we’d only have to spend half of our day waiting. We packed a deck of cards to pass the time, and snacks so we wouldn’t be tempted to leave the line when hungry. There were so many other students. Hundreds of kids, all waiting in line to sign the forms that would put them in debt with the government for the next decade of their lives.

One by one we would take our turn handing over our void cheques and signing on the dotted line. The curmudgeonly women reviewing the details on our forms not offering the slightest encouragement. They were magnificently robotic in every action, and had zero tolerance for questions. “Sign here, date here, initial here, you’re done. Next in line!”

I was glad that Marion was with me. She was orderly and organized, she knew what needed to happen, and was able to answer all of my questions. When we were finally finished, I felt so disheartened. Just days before when I’d moved into my dorm, I was excited. My life was just beginning and I was on the brink of something spectacular. But the stark realization that I was taking on a tremendous amount of debt, without a career guaranteed upon graduation, made me feel so insecure and anxious.

How would I ever pay this loan off? For every semester of education earned, I had to shoulder more and more debt. Was it really going to be worth it in the end? I come from a modest family, I’m one of five kids. I knew that pursuing this education meant I’d have minimal help from my parents. They were supportive in other ways, sure. But they couldn’t afford to put Marion and I through school at the same time. If I wanted to get a degree, I’d have to find a way to foot the bill myself.

I wrestled with those niggling feelings of insecurity and anxiety for months after getting my loan. I was only able to subdue those worries by telling myself that graduation was really too far ahead in the future to fret about. It would be ages before I needed to seriously think about a repayment plan. I was just a kid. Kids don’t worry about budgets and debt. Adults do. And I would have plenty of time for those things in adulthood.

Plus, if I couldn’t find a way to pay off the debt I had a Plan B in mind. I would run from it!

No job? No problem! Take what little clothing and money you do have and hop a bus, train, or plane out of the country. You’ll sever ties with everything and everyone you’ve ever loved and vanish into thin air. You’ll become an insanely brilliant ex-patriot writer, putting extensive volumes of your genius to press under an intriguing and beguiling pseudonym. You’ll have torrid affairs with handsome foreign men, and never tire of roving the globe. You will have a remarkable life of hedonistic adventure, free of any debt or obligation. Then after many years have passed, when it’s finally safe, you’ll return home. All prior debts having been miraculously expunged during your absence.

Plan B is not for the timid. But I was still hopeful that it wouldn’t have to come to that. And thankfully, it hasn’t yet.

I just kept working away. I’d go to classes, write exams, pay my bills, and head down to the student loan office to sign for my loans every semester. Time passed, and I graduated. Sure, I still had heaps of debt to my name. But I had grown leaps and bounds since that first semester. The confused teenager overwhelmed with the stress of supporting herself had gradually transformed into a mature, self-sufficient adult woman. I had gone through so much in my time at school. I tackled any and all challenges with gusto. Sometimes I succeeded in my ventures, sometimes I failed. When I failed, I learned. When I learned, I grew. I didn’t need to run away from my problems, because I was more than capable of tackling them head on. The ill-conceived Plan B need not come to fruition after all. And I had a six month window between graduation and my repayment due date to find a job.

Needless to say, I accomplished that goal. I’ve been going to work every day since September 2010, making my way in the world. When the day of loan repayment finally arrived, I wasn’t scared. I confidently dialled up the National Student Loan Service Centre and made arrangements for my monthly payments. I worked out an amount that was good for me, and I’ve been making payments every month since. Every payment I’ve made has been with money that I’ve earned entirely on my own.

While it would have been a great blessing to have a wealthy family taking care of all my financial needs, I consider it an even greater blessing that I’ve been given the opportunity and ability to provide for myself. I used to envy the kids that had everything in life handed to them. I don’t envy them anymore, I really don’t even give them much consideration at all. What we’re born into is merely chance. How we carry ourselves and what we make of ourselves is choice. All I know is that everything worth having in my life, I’ve earned. And I’m allowed to be proud of that.

I’ve been paying this loan off for the past two years, and I’m not even close to being done. I’ve made a hell of a dent so far though. It’s going to take a lot of time, and a lot of effort on my part. But it’s cool, because I know I can handle it. I’m not some superhuman overachiever spreading myself too thin, and stressing myself to the point of a nervous breakdown.  I’m also not an apathetic slacker. I’m just a regular kid, who needed help financially so I could earn my degree. If I can do it, anyone can.

Was it worth it to sign away a significant chunk of my earnings for the first decade of my career? Would I do it all over again if I had to? Fuckin’ A!

I gained so much more than I ever hoped to in my time at school. The friendships, the memories, the life experiences, the freedom; it’s all so invaluable. In the larger scheme of things, that loan of mine is peanuts and it’ll be paid off in no time.

I may not have had a very good weekend, but I can at least smile about that.

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