Paying Off Credit Card Debt and Student Loans as a College Grad

Struggling to find employment after getting a college degree is likely a familiar scenario in this troubled economy, and my own personal situation doesn’t stray far from the mark. Graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, I knew it wasn’t going to be as straightforward to translate my major into a career as it might be for other graduates. Nevertheless, I found myself able to hold on to employment I had relied on while at school. When the economic downturn started in full force the next year, and my employer’s business fell through, I was left with an expensive degree, amounting to over $20,000 in student loans, and nearly a decade’s worth of credit card debt totaling over $15,000.

It’s hard to imagine high limit credit cards being doled out to barely-employed high schoolers or college students these days. We may roll our eyes at the notion of up to $10,000 of credit for a 21 year old, but that’s more or less the situation in which I found myself at the turn of the century. While it seems as far away as some past era, as little as ten years ago represented a time in which people had easy access to credit, students like me included.

There were no lavish spending sprees, no thoughtless expenditures or quick fixes as I starting building a credit history. I used the money to buy computer hardware, to help make ends meets meet for myself and family during emergencies, and cover any gaps in education costs that weren’t already taken care of by my student loans.

As anyone else who has experience with high-interest credit cards knows, the debt adds up unless you pay them down completely every single month. Being a student more concerned with passing exams and helping my family financially than making sure I carry no interest on my credit cards, my priorities relegated my debt to an undefined future. After all, once I graduated, I figured that I would easily be able to address my debt, student loans included. Let’s just say I was a little naïve on that front, though I hardly expected the employment difficulties America (and the world) would face soon after I got my degree.

As 2011 unfolds, I find myself in the right mindset to tackle both my credit card and student loan debt. I’ve come to accept the cold, hard realization that there are no easy ways out of debt. Instead of scouring fruitlessly for promising ways to reduce my debt overnight, I’ll continue to pursue a strategy of chipping away at the debt pile, slowly but surely. The problem is that with my limited income and even more limited prospects (at least in the short-term), paying down that debt reliably is a dicey proposition.

Luckily, being a freelance writer usually means that I can count on a source of income as long as I put in the effort rather than being subject to the whims of an employer whose own financial future may be uncertain. Also, I know I’m not the only college grad relying on his gracious parents for a roof over his head at the moment. Hunting down freelance writing opportunities allows me to work from home, a benefit considering the lack of jobs for English majors where I live in western Massachusetts. It also circumvents the frustration of being turned down when I do apply to whatever extremely limited openings are available in the first place. While freelance writing hasn’t exactly been lucrative, it will help me get through 2011 as I hunker down, live humbly, and chip away at my debts.