Student loans are an unfortunate fact of life for many young Americans, they pile up quickly and hang on like a leech for years and years. After I dropped out of college, I had amassed a little over $10,000 in student loans. That's a relatively small amount, but having that debt hanging over my head was entirely unpleasant and I sought out a way to get out of debt quickly. Problem was, I hadn't finished my degree and I couldn't find a job that paid well, so I swallowed my pride and moved home with my parents while I worked construction. My goal was to save every penny I could and pay off the debt in less than a year, and for about a month I stuck to my plan very well. With very few expenses, I managed to save $1500 and I made a large payment towards the principal.
But then I got bored. When a 22 year old gets bored, he starts going out more, eating at nice restaurants, and buying expensive junk. Soon I was back to making the $150 minimum payments, and the debt was as insurmountable as ever.
One day, as I was sitting in a coffee shop drinking a $5 mocha, I glanced at a news report about troops in Iraq and it hit me: the Army. I went to talk to the recruiter about enlistment and what kind of benefits I was eligible for, and it turns out that the Army is perfect for anyone who wants to get college paid for. If you have a mountain of student loan debt, the Army will pay up to $65,000 for well-qualified recruits, or if you want to go to school during or after your military service, you can actually make money just by going to college using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I had a choice to make: have the Army pay the remaining $8000 of my student loans, or elect to get the GI Bill after I completed my term of service. Considering that the GI Bill can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, I made the only reasonable choice and took the GI Bill, and entered the Army with about $8000 in debt.
Most people know that the Army doesn't pay extremely well, but having room and board covered saves a lot of money every month, and I was soon on stable financial ground. To be honest, I pretty much forgot about my student loan debt because I was so busy with "soldier stuff." The $150 payments were taken out of my paycheck automatically, and it didn't occur to me to make larger payments.
A little more than a year after joining the Army, I found myself in Afghanistan and I discovered the single best thing about military service: combat pay. Not only are soldiers in a combat zone exempt from paying taxes, but we also get several bonuses every month, and there aren't many places to spend those fatter paychecks. Thankfully, I made it through my 9 month deployment safe and sound, and the time away had been great for the health of my checking account. My wife and I made some nice purchases with our new found wealth, but the first thing we did was to pay the $7000 that remained on my student loan in one lump sum.
Today, I have a little more than a year remaining on my service contract and I'm totally free from student loan debt. When I go back to school, I expect to finish my degree without any additional loans, and I won't have to worry about student loans again until my son goes to college. The Army is certainly not for everyone, in fact less than 10% of the US population even qualifies for military service, but if you can manage the abrupt shift in lifestyle, the Army provides the financial security you need to pay your student loans off in a hurry.
*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.
- Personal Finance - Career & Education
- Investing Education
- student loan