My Debt as a Teenager: I Had $16,500 in Loans

It’s no surprise that college is expensive, so try to save as much cash as you can before going to college. And apply for as much free college money as you can — think scholarships and grants. Financial aid offices make it almost too easy to sign up for student loan debt, but in order to reach financial independence sooner rather than later, think before signing on the dotted line.

My Debt as a Teenager

On first impression, my life looks fantastic. Money comes in, money is saved, and financial independence isn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” I have a net worth higher than the average adult in the U.S. and I’m only 24. The fact is, my life is good. But I had to work to make it that way.

In 2008 and 2009, my money situation wasn’t so ideal. I took out approximately $16,500 in loans during my first two years of college. I couldn’t give a good reason why, just that I wanted to go to school and I quickly grew tired of filling out scholarships — so much so that I’d rather work 14 hours a day doing something else than fill them out. Stupid, I know, but it’s the way I looked at it. (The best hourly rate I’ve ever received was filling out scholarship forms.)

I opted to take out multiple student loans over the course of my first two years. I remember making various stops at the student financial aid office. Here’s how it went:

Me: Hey, my name’s Will Lipovsky. I was asked to stop by and sign some papers.

Student loan lady (I didn’t even find out her name): Here you go. Sign here and here, please.

Me: Great. There you are.

Student loan lady (she was a bottle blonde, I believe): Okay, looks great. You can access the records online.

Me: Great. *slings backpack over shoulder and heads to class*

I felt that I had to go to a four-year school. Private seemed the way to go. So once I started, I felt the only logical way to make it through school was to sign any loan papers I needed. I signed more student loans than scholarships.

How I Paid for College Without Really Using Loans

But that’s the end of the pathetic sob story. I knew in high school that college is expensive. So here’s what I did — it’s an insane idea — I saved money for college before I went to college. What a revolutionary idea!

I still went to college at the same time as my friends. Saving up cash didn’t hold me back. And it allowed me to pay back the loans in cash before any interest had accrued.

Paying the loans back hurt a lot. I kept thinking: “This stupid stupid loan debt could have instead gone to buying a turbocharged MK4 Toyota Supra.”

When I was in elementary school, I measured money by how many packets of Skittles it could buy.

When I was in In high school, I measured money by how many ATVs it could buy.

When I was in college, I measured money by how many Toyota Supras it could buy.

Today, I measure money by how many years of financial independence it can buy.

Suggested Article: How Taking Online Classes Boosted my GPA and Allowed Me to Graduate Early

In Summary

My advice: Save as much cash as you can to pay for college before going. And apply for scholarships like it’s your full-time job. Hire a virtual assistant to help if you hate doing it as much as I did.

I recommend filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form at your school’s financial aid office to ease your burden. Once you fill out this form, you will be eligible to receive grants, in addition to federal loans. These grants don’t have to be paid back, making it free money to put toward your degree. You have nothing to lose by filling out the form, but, as you can see, you have a great deal to gain.

I also worked hard to get through college as cheaply as possible. For example, I would buy used textbooks whenever possible. While it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, saving $10 to $15 per textbook over four years really adds up.

Not to mention, there are hidden charges everywhere that can really eat into your budget. For example, do you really need to eat out so much? Do you really need cable television? While these seem like small expenses, they can add to your debt quickly.

Suggested Article: How to Pay Off Debt with No Money

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  • You’re an inspiring young guy, Will. Have you ever thought about speaking to high school students? I bet you could make an impact on young people before they make major financial decisions.
    I worked and paid my way through community college, then took out loans for a state school. Unfortunately, I picked an expensive out of state school, which probably wasn’t the right move. Oh well, it’s all paid off now.

    • Expensive schools are rarely worth it. 🙁

      I’ve thought about getting into public speaking. Maybe in the future. We’ll see. It’s not one of my goals at the moment.

  • I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t graduate with any debt coming out of school. I had some money saved and my parents helped me my first year. I did the work/study program, so working full-time helped pay for the rest of my years.

    If I was to ever go back to school, it would be part-time, because I wouldn’t be able to afford to go back to school full-time. I wouldn’t want to take a loan for it either.

    • But with part-time you won’t get the financial aid you could otherwise. I wonder if the federal government plans that. Being full-time, you can get federal aid but you are pressured into taking on debt. Or with part-time school you must forget about aid but you can avoid debt. Hmm.

  • I’m liking your taste in cars Will. The Supra is… sexy, to say the least. I used to debate whether the Supra or the Skyline would be on the top of my list (I grew up in a mechanic shop).

    I probably should have applied for scholarships like it was my full-time job. I’ve filled out several applications, but between being a dual-citizen and graduating from a Japanese high school and having a Japanese name on my diploma, it was difficult to convince folks that I actually graduated high school. It did not help that there were numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes on my official translated transcript. Have at it with any jokes that come to mind lol.

    I just wound up paying a good chunk of tuition out of pocket. Fortunately, I’ll be graduating without any debt. But I definitely could have put myself in a better position had I maneuvered through the obstacles and did what you are recommending. Solid advice!

    Any work trips to Dallas coming up?

    • Grade in AP Chemistry: “404 Not Found” ROFL

      No trips to Dallas as far as I know. Will reach out when I get there again!

    • Also, skyline and supra… we should watch F&F together sometime lol.

      My favorite cars growing up (still are my favorite): Supra, Skyline, Evo, DSMs, WRX STi, and 3kgt.

  • I love the evolution of how you measured money (and identify with the skittles one). I went to community college my first year, which was paid for in cash as my parents managed to save a few thousand for me. I have no one to blame but myself for not realizing how expensive college truly was, but I made the best decisions I could.

    Now, I’m watching my cousin make the decision of what to do about college. She refuses to go to community college (even though a local one has a great 2-year program for her), and wants to go away. It’s killing me to know she’ll probably graduate with way more debt than she knows.

    • Oooh, the community college route is a smart one. Maybe what you can do is take a pile of cash (doesn’t have to really be the proper amount) and set it in front of her. Make it the amount of $$$$ she will save by going to the community college her first 2 years. Ask her, “Would you rather move away for 2 years or have $$$$?!?!?!

      IDK, could work.

  • “Life isn’t easy. But it’s definitely manageable.” <— YES. Remembering this is key to success because it allows you work through tough times and prepare for your future… Re your question: yes! I sure did take out student loans. A whopping $206,000 to go to a private undergrad followed by a top-tier law school. After 3 years, I'm down to $158,000, but it's not enough. I'm now creating a plan to pay an additional $1,000 / month on top of my $1,600 I already pay to help speed this up. I do NOT recommend taking out student loans to anyone. Period.

    • *ding, ding, ding, we have a winner*

      Mighty large number, Natalie. But I think paying down $200k is better than ignoring $100k like most people. Plus, I bet since getting that $206k in student loan debt you’ve helped other people avoid more than $206k in new debt. You’re paying the price and now you’re now helping others avoid it.

  • I never had a scholarship or took out student loans. I started working for a few years before going to university and continued to work to put myself through school. It was not easy but in the end it was worth it as I have had many former school mates who took out student loans lament on how hard it has been doing other things while paying off the said loans.

    I would encourage anyone thinking about university to apply for as many scholarships as possible and do everything they can to keep borrowing to a minimum. Student loans can turn out to be the proverbial ball and chain in your life.

    • I know someone getting married who can barely stay ahead on his student loans. Now he’ll have two balls and chains… 🙂

  • I was really fortunate to have scholarships and help from my parents to get me through undergrad without any loans. Then, I worked full-time at the university where I got my master’s in order to get free tuition. But, I fully recognize that my situation is lucky and I think your advice is spot on.

  • I paid for my first two and a half years with cash……then I got really stupid and not only took out student loans, I took out the maximum I could. Then grad school came along and well…..8 years later they are still part of my life.

  • No loans, I saved and my parents saved $25 a month from the day I was born and had it invested for 18 years. I lived at home and went year around, bought my own books used and after two years finished with a four year degree and even more importantly no debt! Best way to start off life.

  • Great points! It’s definitely important to save up to pay for such a massive investment rather than thinking about it after the event which seems to be a lot of people’s attitude. It’s especially scary when compound interest sends that debt skyrocketing.