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My law school loans are below $134,000

Work has kept me extremely busy lately, but I wanted to check in with a law school debt update:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$19,481.96 $13.95 6.55% $19,495.91
$29,536.70 $24.70 7.65% $29,561.40
$20,969.12 $15.02 6.55% $20,984.14
$21,293.14 $14.66 6.30% $21,307.80
$42,298.29 $18.76 8.00% $42,317.05
TOTAL: $133,666.30

As you can see, I’ve managed to reduce the total since my last update. Of course, this has come at the expense of anything resembling a personal life. I take every paycheck I get and immediately submit it to the student loan debt gods.

But looking at things from a broader perspective, I’m glad that I’m making progress. It’s somewhat distressing and terrifying that I will have no savings and no financial security when I’m in my mid-30s, but it’s still better than having student loan debt. If only I could talk to my 22-year-old self about how student loan debt would destroy my life. This entire process has been an extremely difficult lesson.

Beyond the student debt, I’ve been confronted with another pressing issue: I find legal practice deeply unsatisfying. I seriously don’t understand how people can dedicate their lives to litigation. There must be a part of my brain missing, but I know that this is not the life for me. There’s just nothing satisfying or rewarding about it and it holds nothing for me. So, with all of my money going to student loan payments, I’ve decided to think carefully and deeply about my future.

I need to forge a new path – one that’s aligned with my interests, skills, and abilities rather than a path forged merely for the purpose of acquiring money. If I’m being honest with myself (something I’m getting better at), I went to law school because I was deeply insecure and wanted to prove myself to others. I thought law school was a solid bet that would ensure an upper middle class lifestyle, respectability, and intellectual challenge and stimulation. How wrong I was.

I’ve reached the point of professional and financial misery where I truly do not care what others think and I want to pursue a career that better suits my personality and skills. I think it’s almost impossible to excel at a pursuit unless you find some intrinsic motivation or meaning in it. And for me, I find the law and legal practice utterly devoid of meaning or motivation. You’re probably wondering why I went to law school. I wonder the same thing. I think it’s because I didn’t truly understand what I was getting into. I thought being a lawyer was more of an office job, where you dealt with important business filings, provided advice, etc. I thought it was more civilized and less tedious than I’ve found it. I was 22 when I seriously considered law school. I took the LSAT and did well and kind of got swept up from there. I had a “useless” B.A. and thought I needed more. I thought a law degree would impress my parents and other adults. I thought it would impress employers (even non-legal employers) and thought it would open all kinds of professional doors. I was also just naive, short-sighted, and more than a little bit foolish.

I didn’t really know what lawyers do for a living. I liked reading, writing, and research and thought a legal career offered me the best chance at using those skills productively and profitably. I felt like an alien after my first month of law school. I immediately felt like my classmates had different priorities and different personalities than me. I should have left then and there, but a mix of shame, pride, insecurity, and drifting kept me enrolled. And so here I am and I have a seriously mixed up life because of my lack of foresight and lack of appreciation for who I am. I’ve made a serious mess of my life, but if I can get on the right track by my late-30s, maybe things will turn out okay. Maybe.

Yes, I need to feed myself and put food on the table and that will most likely necessitate doing tasks that I find tedious and really don’t want to do. But I don’t believe my entire life should be consumed with tedium and misery, which is my gut reaction to legal practice. I don’t want to be miserable.

This is a rambling post and it’s evident from my recorded thoughts that I am only in the beginning stages of constructing a plan for the future. But I figured I would share them on this blog since this is supposed to act as a record for my escape from student loan hell.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and you are all making tremendous progress on your student loans. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive 2016!


I’m still alive and, alas, so is my law school debt

Ohhhh IIIIII errrrr III’mmmm still al-i-i-i-i-i-ve. Ohhhh IIIII ohhhhhh I’m still alive. That’s my Eddie Vedder impression. The textual form does it no justice. For those unfamiliar with the (rather turgid in my opinion) Pearl Jam song that mysteriously continues to clog up the airwaves of America’s ad-supported terrestrial radio:

So yes, I’m still alive. I’m still throwing most of my paychecks at my law school debt. I’m still getting paid in the $50,000 range. But my debt to income ratio has creeped slightly below 3:1, which is a positive trend. Here’s my latest Debt Damage(tm) report:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$21,520.64 $7.72 6.55% $21,528.36
$33,972.59 $14.24 7.65% $33,986.83
$22,801.66 $8.19 6.55% $22,809.85
$42,298.29 $18.76 8.00% $42,317.05
$15,665.01 $5.48 6.30% $15,670.49
$8,519.06 $2.98 6.30% $8,522.04
$144,777.25 $57.37 TOTAL: $144,834.62

So, things have improved a bit, albeit slowly but surely (emphasis on the former).

My car recently decided to up and die on me, so I’ll begin using purely public transportation to get to work, which should help reduce expenses. It cost me $5 per day (translation: $100 a month) to park my old beater at the train station. Unfortunately, it decided to kick the bucket immediately after I forked over $580 for a repair bill. Oh. Well. I think I’ll be better in the long run without having to pay for gas and the maintenance expenses that pile up for old cars.

I’ve been trying to keep a close eye on my expenses and do what I can to eliminate any needless costs. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook around with me and recording each and every expense. Eccentric? Yes. But effective? Unquestionably. Just this small little act of recording my expenses has made me aware and conscious of every dollar leaving my pocket. I no longer spend mindlessly (not that I was a profligate spender previously) and I’ve begun to exercise more self-discipline and restraint when pondering whether to make a purchase. I don’t think I’ve visited Starbucks once since keeping a track of my expenses.

I also sold on eBay all the old electronics and devices I had laying around that I never use. I really didn’t need the old laptop, old printer, etc. that were just taking up space. Of course, I took the proceeds (minus the outrageous eBay listing fees) and applied them toward my student loans.

I’ve been trying to learn some computer skills that I’m hoping will enable me to earn some side income. It can get exhausting to study databases after working at a law firm all day, but I console myself with the thought of being debt free in my late 30s. Having a vision and an end goal makes the present so much more tolerable. I sometimes have an internal debate that I could just earn money by doing manual labor or retail for $10-15/hour rather than spend time studying computer topics, but I justify the time investment of studying with the thought that the tech skills will be more useful in the long run and that the pay rate for technology gigs will be high enough to justify the forgone income of more menial tasks. There’s probably an economics concept like sunk cost fallacy that describes this thought process (and no, this isn’t pure opportunity cost – at least I don’t believe it is), but unfortunately, I’m much too ignorant in the ways of economics (but I’ve still come a long way from the 23-year-old me who thought paying full freight for a law degree was a smart plan!).

I’ve read a lot of financial planning and debt pay-off advice, books, blogs, etc. but I think it always comes down to the simple concept of spend less and earn more. It’s like exercise (calories in, calories out). Going forward, I’m going to try to eliminate the little indulgences that I engaged in from time time, such as picking up a 6-pack on the weekends, buying beef jerky, renting movies on Amazon Prime, needlessly going to restaurants, buying books that I could get from the library, paying full price for clothes without carefully planning purchases, and buying snacks from overpriced places like 7-Eleven or Walgreen’s. I’m already living a fairly spartan existence, but there is always excess financial fat that could sliced away.

I’ve got a copy of You Need a Budget (YNAB), which I’ve heard is excellent for budgeting and tracking expenses. I bought it a few years ago when it was on sale, but I think I’m going to finally learn how to use it to aid in my cost cutting mission.

Hope everyone out there in DebtLand is kicking butt and pissing off lenders by paying off their loans quickly. If you have huge student loans but a decidedly average salary, I feel your pain. Keep on trucking!

Whittled my law school debt down to $147k

Howdy, I will not receive the award for world’s most consistent blogger, but you already knew that if you’ve kept up with my sparse posting habits. In any case, I thought I’d check in and let you guys know how I’m doing.

Here’s the latest damage:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total Interest Per Day
$21,672.54 $98.60 6.55% $21,771.14 $4.58
$34,412.11 $210.12 7.65% $34,622.23 $8.49
$22,976.11 $109.59 6.55% $23,085.70 $4.85
$0.00 $0.00 8.25% 0 0
$42,932.49 $274.07 8.00% $43,206.56 $11.08
$8,543.60 $29.04 6.30% $8,572.64 $1.74
$15,688.64 $78.96 6.30% $15,767.60 $3.19
$800.38 TOTAL: $147,025.87 $33.93

Thanks to my tax refund, I’ve scheduled a nice, fat $1,500 payment toward these loans next week. So, I’m making some progress, albeit not to the level I’d like but I’m moving in the right direction.

I dealt with a bit of drama regarding my Income-Based Repayment (IBR) application earlier this year. The re-certification process for IBR seems meaningless to me. If one’s circumstances haven’t changed, why should I have to waste my time to send in paperwork? I hate paperwork (yet another reason it was a bad idea for me to choose law school, but that’s another story).

kccd8 (1)In any case, my IBR certification got canceled even though I sent in my re-certification two weeks before it was scheduled to expire. It took my loan servicer more than three weeks to “process” my paperwork. I’m not sure what processing entails, but it certainly doesn’t take three weeks to glance at my pay stub and immediately realize my circumstances have not materially changed from the prior year. So moral of the story here: send in your IBR re-certification months before the deadline set by the models of efficiency at your loan servicer. Don’t say you never learn anything by reading my blog!

In terms of reducing avoidable expenses, I’ve become very good at packing my lunch. This is a huge money saver. In a large metro area, lunch can easily run you $12-15 each day, which adds up to $240-300 every month! I’ve shifted my perspective a bit on expenses though. My current attitude is that I will avoid any and all expenses that are pointless and don’t positively contribute to my life. However, I’ve become okay with spending on items that contribute to my physical and mental health. There’s a gym in my work building. I resisted joining it because it cost $45 per month. Instead, I joined a cheaper gym closer to home, but I found I was often missing the gym because I couldn’t make it there in the morning. With the new gym, it’s much easier to go every day and I’ve rarely missed a workout since going, which has contributed positively to my physical and mental health (seriously – it’s huge).

So, I think with things like lunch, where it doesn’t really contribute much to your life if you eat out or pack it at home, I will avoid these expenses at all costs and do all I can to minimize them. But with something like a gym in my work building, where there’s no adequate substitute good (to draw upon my mediocre economics knowledge), I will pay for this as long as the price is reasonable. I haven’t completely solidified my thinking on this and I will track my loan progress to see if this is the right long-term strategy, but that’s where I’m at right now.

So there you have it. I’m down to $147k. I’m spending lavishly on totally optional gym memberships. I’m still striving to improve my career and pay down my debt. I still worry that I’ll live the rest of my life single and never own a home due to my disastrous financial and career condition. But somehow, I’ve managed to stay calm about things (I’ve been experimenting with meditation over the last few months and it’s helped).

Forging ahead in 2015

Hello, my fellow debt slaves. Contrary to extensive and prominent media reports, I am still very much alive and still very much in debt. It was difficult to maintain my thrifty habits during the holidays and New Year and I’ve fallen into the ridiculously wasteful habit of buying my lunch. I have resolved to return to my monkish habits in February. The H.M.S. Mr. LawSchoolDebt has already sprung enough fiscal leaks over the year and I can’t tolerate further punctures to my checking account if I am to avoid a Titanic-esque situation.

Without further adieu, here is where the law school damage stands:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$21,907.62 $78.63 6.55% $21,986.25
$35,442.37 $236.03 7.65% $35,678.40
$23,204.23 $83.28 6.55% $23,287.51
$43,843.44 $192.19 8.00% $44,035.63
$24,241.18 $83.68 6.30% $24,324.86
TOTAL: $149,312.65

killingmeIn other words, I’ve made almost no progress on my debt over the last couple months. Even though I’ve made several not-insignificant payments over the last 60 days, the interest rate is KILLING me! I’m in the beginning stages of examining some refinance options. The 8% and 7.65% interest rates on a couple of my loans are criminally usurious in my biased opinion.

I’m concerned that if I leave the government repayment programs, I won’t have the protection of IBR, which establishes a very low base monthly payment – a feature that would come in handy were I to get canned at work. I’m not concerned that would happen, but you never know and I’ve experienced extended periods of questionable employment after law school, so I feel that it’s prudent to prepare for worst case scenarios. Law school and my post-law school experience has absolutely bashed the naive optimism (some might say delusions of grandeur) I previously had as a late 20-something.

I got a little bump in pay at work, but I’m still making in the $50,000 range, which needless to say, is nowhere near enough to pay off my law school loans. People hear law grads complain about $40-60k salary ranges, which probably sounds ridiculous to the average person, but when you take into account huge law school loans, these salaries really aren’t enough to pay rent, food, car payments, and God forbid, live a life in most American cities.

I’m still exploring other employment options, but I don’t want to jump into something new without having a thorough understanding of a career and its opportunities. I did that once with law and I don’t plan on making the same mistake again.

In January, I addressed a couple small money issues that can add up by canceling my LinkedIn premium account and downgrading my gym membership. I’ve also stopped my bad habit of buying books on impulse.

So there you have it, folks. I promise to update more often going forward. I hope everyone else in Debt Land has been staying the course and doing their best to hack away at their personal debt monster. Here’s to a fiscally responsible 2015!

Law school loans: draining my savings edition

I, Mr. LawSchoolDebt, now have zero savings after siphoning everything into my law school debt.


I still have $1,000 in a 401k from an old job and I’m planning to liquidate that. And yes, I’m well aware that taking the tax penalty for withdrawing a 401k early is the Lloyd Christmas approach to financial planning, but we’re only talking about a $1,000 401k and paying off my law school debt is my #1 goal in life. The little Mr. LawSchoolDebt who wanted to be a dot-com CEO wouldn’t be impressed that paying off student loans is my life’s dream, but little Mr. LawSchoolDebt grew into medium Mr. LawSchoolDebt, who thought law school was a good idea, so little Mr. LawSchoolDebt has zero credibility.

Here’s the current damage report as of today:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$22,084.34 $16.74 6.55% $22,101.08
$35,533.53 $37.24 7.65% $35,570.77
$23,437.53 $1,007.08 6.55% $24,444.61
$0.00 $0.00 8.25% 0
$44,345.54 $33.31 8.00% $44,378.85
$24,307.85 $33.31 6.30% $24,341.16
TOTAL: $150,836.47

It’s a breathtaking thing of beauty to see the loan with the ghastly 8.25% interest rate reduced to nothingness. I hope some banker is crestfallen that I paid off the loan quickly and he will be unable to enjoy his fourth gold-plated LEED-certified hot tub that he planned to finance with compounding interest from my law school loans.

There will be few days when I will be able to enjoy a steep drop in my loan balance like today, so I will do my best to savor this experience and fondly look back on the day I slayed the 8.25% Death Monster. Of course, this could all change if I landed a job that paid significantly more or I won the lottery/Jeopardy/Survivor. However, my life experience has taught me to assume the worst possible outcome is more likely to happen to me than an unlikely fantastic outcome, so I’m going to continue to operate on the assumption that my present life situation in terms of debt and salary won’t be materially altered in the near term.

What would it take to pay off your law school loans in three years?

Excellent question to ask yourself, Mr. LawSchoolDebt! Also, stop talking to yourself because other people think it’s weird and this is #WhyImSingle. Although it takes three years to pile up an enormous, jaw-dropping sum of debt that dismantles your quality of life, reshapes your future, and drenches your life in cynicism and despair, three years is actually not a very long time in the greater scheme of things. So, I thought I’d run an experiment using Credit Karma’s online debt calculator to see what it would take to pay off the balance of my law school loans in three years. Here are the results of my scientific study:

Monthly payment Interest paid Total paid
Loan #1 $22,084.34 $677.00 $2,302.00 $24,386.34
Loan #2 $35,533.53 $1,108.00 $4,435.00 $39,968.53
Loan #3 $23,437.53 $719.00 $2,441.00 $25,878.53
Loan #4 $44,345.54 $1,390.00 $5,679.00 $50,024.54
Loan #5 $24,307.85 $743.00 $2,432.00 $26,739.85
Monthly payment: $4,637.00 Total: $166,997.79

Seeing as I’m only making about $3,000 a month post-taxes, I don’t think this is feasible. There’s currently no way I can make a $4,637 monthly payment unless a sugar momma were to magically come into my life and I don’t have the abs for that to happen, so it looks like the three-year plan is out. C’est la vie.

What would it take to pay off your law school loans in six years?

Let’s stop talking foolish and aim for a more realistic goal of six years. Six years is longer than I’d like to take and certainly longer than my parents want me to live at home and, by my calculation, exactly six full years longer than a single woman will accept a 30-something prospective suitor to live with his parents, but $150,836.47 in debt is more than I’d like to have, so them’s the facts. Here’s how the six-year timeline looks:

Monthly payment Interest paid Total paid
Loan #1 $22,084.34 $372.00 $4,679.00 $26,763.34
Loan #2 $35,533.53 $617.00 $8,887.00 $44,420.53
Loan #3 $23,437.53 $395.00 $4,962.00 $28,399.53
Loan #4 $44,345.54 $778.00 $11,626.00 $55,971.54
Loan #5 $24,307.85 $406.00 $4,951.00 $29,258.85
Monthly payment: $2,568.00 Total: $184,813.79

Now this is looking better. If I could get some side gigs, I think paying $2,568 per month is within striking distance of encroaching upon the outer limits of the universe that just may intersect the mystical realm of feasibility. I’d prefer not to live with my progenitors for another 1/2 decade + 1, but if that’s the hand life has dealt me then so be it. The thing that irritates me under the six-year plan is the amount of interest I’m forking over to the greedy, evil, unloved-by-their-mothers bankers – $17,816 more in interest. For your convenience, I’ve included this handy graphic that not only reenacts each EvilBanker’s reaction to receiving your law school loan payment, but also conveniently and uncannily offers you,  dear reader, with a militarily precise representation of each and every EvilBanker’s physical appearance and manner of dress:


I would rather pay off my law school loans faster than the Evil Banker can exclaim, “Curses! Foiled again!” If you’re a banker and offended by this factual depiction, I am more than willing to portray bankers in a sympathetic and attractive light in exchange for a hefty and morals-shifting gift to the Money For Mr. LawSchoolDebt’s Debt Charity. My 501(c)(3) status and Charity Navigator rating are pending, but don’t worry, it all goes to good cause.

So there we have it. $4,637 a month if Mr. LawSchoolDebt wants to unshackle himself in three years. $2,568 if Mr. LawSchoolDebt wishes to dig through a 500-foot financial sewage pipe for six years and escape into a ferocious rainstorm of freedom that will physically and metaphorically cleanse Mr. LawSchoolDebt’s soul à la Shawshank Redemption.





Where things stand


Call me Mr. LawSchoolDebt. I graduated from law school in 2011. I went to a law school that ranks pretty highly (usually in the 15 to 20-ish range, so not a vaunted T14 member but not too shabby by any means). Prior to attending, I had heard about some poor law school outcomes but I thought they were limited to graduates of third tier and lower law schools. I got average grades and ended up in the middle of the class, which translates to being barred from working in BigLaw firms and prestigious government agencies that pay well. My law school debt when I graduated was approximately $190,000.

The published starting salaries for my law school were substantial and strong six-figure incomes, so I reasoned that taking on six figures in debt was not crazy and I could pay it off within a 3-5 year period of time. Wrong. I graduated without a job and had to spend quite a while finding one. I worked for a year at a law firm that paid peanuts. My law school debt meanwhile ballooned to more than $200,000. I eventually found a job that pays a little more than $40,000. It’s not perfect, but it has benefits and I feel that it adds more value to my future than doing temporary document review gigs.

I’ve been through the Kübler-Ross model, more popularly known as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

  • Denial: at first I pretended that Income-Based Repayment (IBR) was going to save me and that I’d eventually find a high-salary job with my oh-so-prestigious law degree. As the months turned into years, I’ve accepted that I most likely will never land a high-paying law job and I’d be better off paying off the debt as soon as possible. Under the IBR plan, you make small payments based on your income and your law school debt is “forgiven” after 25 years. But there must be a catch, right? Correctamundo. The amount of debt that’s forgiven is treated as taxable income. With some of my loans at 8%+ interest rates, it’s entirely possible that my debt could explode to $400k+ in 25 years if I just made the minimum payments under the IBR plan. So in 25 years, I could face a HUGE bankruptcy-inducing tax bill when I’m in my 50s and past my prime earning years. Needless to say, this would be a catastrophe. I’ve since stopped living in denial that IBR isn’t a good plan for my future.
  • Anger: I will admit that I was very angry for a time – angry at the law school for sending me all those seductive marketing materials, angry at my law professors for not giving me the A grades I thought I deserved, angry at other law students for “taking” the jobs I thought I wanted, angry at the ABA for failing to regulate the legal industry and legal education, angry for feeling tricked and having my finances destroyed, etc. I was definitely angry for a while. I still am slightly angry, but I’m more angry at myself for letting my life get off the rails and being as naive as I was in my early 20s.
  • Bargaining: I thought if I went to a ton of networking events, CLEs, MeetUps, and emailed lots of people, I’d be able to rise like the phoenix from my grave of law school debt. Nope. The debt just continued to grow and my efforts at career networking produced rejection after rejection.
  • Depression: I’m not proud to admit that I’ve suffered some severe depression after law school. I’ve had to move back with my parents. I hate complaining but my salary isn’t paying the bills. I drive a 17-year-old car. I don’t have money to partake in social activities, take trips, or pursue my interests. If it even needs to be said, this translates to zero dating life. I’ve realized I’ll be broke for a very, very long time. I was also depressed that I would never be able to find a wife or start a family due to my financial and career condition. All of this caused some pretty severe depression and during the depths of my depression, I often had thoughts about self-harm. When you’re turning the corner on 30 and you have no savings, your career is going nowhere, you have HUGE student debt, you have no dating life, you live like a hermit with your parents, and you spend your time fruitlessly searching for better job options, it’s not good for the psyche.
  • Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I signed up for the debt. No one forced me to get a law degree. It’s my responsibility to pay back the money I borrowed. I also started focusing on exercising, nutrition, and making time to socialize with friends and family, which was good for my mental health. Reading more books and engaging in cheap or free activities has also been good for my outlook. I’ve accepted that this law school debt is the challenge life has handed me and I think I’m up for the task. I’ve also begun building other skills that may provide me the opportunity to change careers into an industry with more jobs and better salaries.

So enough Tony Robbins psychobabble. Here’s the damage I’m looking at as of today:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$22,159.66 $11.93 6.55% $22,171.59
$35,583.53 $3,887.10 7.65% $39,470.63
$23,437.53 $1,065.11 6.55% $24,502.64
$6,621.76 $4.49 8.25% $6,626.25
$44,515.47 $3,224.48 8.00% $47,739.95
$24,371.95 $3,224.48 6.30% $27,596.43
TOTAL $168,107.48


That’s the number standing between me and some semblance of freedom. It’s a lot of money. I’m throwing most of my paycheck at the debt and working side jobs to throw even more money at it. It’s going to take more than a minor miracle to pay these loans off in the near future.

This blog is going to detail my progress paying off my law school debt and hopefully it can serve as a resource for others with similar debt troubles. I’ll share any tips I have for paying off debt and hope to commiserate with others working hard to pay off their student loans. There is strength in numbers.