In this episode, Emily interviews Meagan Landress, a Certified Student Loan Professional who works with Student Loan Planner, about how a grad student or PhD should best handle their federal student loans. Meagan outlines the financial profiles of someone who should use an income-driven repayment plan to pursue forgiveness, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, vs. someone who should consider refinancing. She answers the questions: Should a graduate student pay down their student loans while they are in deferment? How should a graduate student who needs to take out debt decide between a student loan and consumer debt? Meagan also explains how marriage affects student loan repayment under each of the income-driven repayment programs. Don’t miss this episode jam-packed with actionable information!
Link Mentioned in this Episode
- Find Meagan Landress at studentloanplanner.com
- Personal Finance for PhDs: The Wealthy PhD
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Community
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
00:00 Meagan: We are taking a non-traditional approach to debt and so I kind of backed that up with, make sure you know, that federal student loans are just not a regular debt. That’s one. That’s the biggest thing we need to remember.
01:18 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast, a higher education and personal finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts. This is season seven, episode 13 and today my guest is Meagan Landress, a certified student loan professional who works with Student Loan Planner. We’re discussing how a grad student or PhD should best handle their federal student loans. Meagan outlines the financial profiles of someone who should use an income-driven repayment plan to pursue forgiveness, including public service loan forgiveness, versus someone who should consider refinancing. She answers the questions: should a graduate student pay down their student loans while they’re in deferment? How should a graduate student who needs to take out debt decide between a student loan and consumer debt? Megan also explains how marriage affects student loan repayment under each of the income driven repayment programs. If you have federal student loans, and there is any question in your mind as to how you should handle them, you should absolutely listen through this entire episode. When you have a really high stakes student loan decision to make, such as which forgiveness program is right for you and your family, or whether to pursue PSLF versus refinancing, I highly recommend working with a certified student loan professional or a certified financial planner. Student Loan Planner can refer you to one of their partners who is a qualified professional.
01:39 Emily: On the other hand, if you’re looking for assistance with determining what your current financial goal should be, evaluating your budget, or figuring out what your financial life should look like in your next position, please consider working with me. I also serve as a financial coach and I specialize in funded graduate students and PhDs. You can sign up for a free 15 minute introductory call with me at pfforphds.com/coaching to see if one-on-one coaching with me would be a good fit for you. Alternatively, if a group coaching and accountability program is attractive to you, The Wealthy PhD might be your best option. I’m enrolling for the next round of The Wealthy PhD in January, 2021 and you can go to pfforphds.com/wealthyPhD to learn more and join the wait list. Whatever the financial decision you’re facing, it can really help to get an outside perspective. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Meagan Landress.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
02:36 Emily: I am so pleased that Meagan Landress, a certified student loan professional, has agreed to join me on the podcast today to give an interview all about federal student loans for graduate students and PhDs. Meagan has her own coaching business around student loans, and she also works with Student Loan Planner, which is a really well-known brand in the space that I respect a lot. So I was really pleased to be connected with Meagan and so pleased that she accepted the invitation to be on the podcast. So Meagan, will you please introduce yourself to my audience a little bit further?
03:05 Meagan: Definitely. I’m Meagan Landress, born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. And yes, I have my own financial coaching practice where I work with folks on the basics of financial planning. And Student Loan Planner, I consult for specifically on student loans, helping people navigate that big elephant on their chest, I would say. I’m excited for this conversation today.
03:29 Emily: Yeah. When I approached Student Loan Planner, I said, I would love to interview someone. I need someone who’s going to be able to speak to PhDs and the specifics of their situation. They said, Meagan’s going to be the perfect fit, so I’m really excited for this conversation.
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs vs. Refinancing
03:42 Emily: Let’s jump right into it. I’m imagining a person who, whether they’re in graduate school, whether they’re maybe out of graduate school, they need to know whether or not they should be pursuing a forgiveness program at the federal level. One, maybe you could just remind us briefly of a few of those acronyms that are involved with the federal level forgiveness programs, and then let us know who is the type of person, what is the financial profile of a person who really should be looking carefully at pursuing one of those forgiveness programs?
04:13 Meagan: Yeah, so I think the most maybe well-known is public service loan forgiveness. That is, if you’re dedicating your career to a public service opportunity, so government, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) work. But also each of the income driven plans, there are four, each of those income driven plans have a forgiveness component and it’s really more so like their maximum repayment period. The folks that should be pursuing or entertaining forgiveness, there is a rule of thumb on balance.
Meagan: For the longer term income driven plans, if your balance is much greater than your annual income, we use 1.5 times your annual income, then you should probably be entertaining that longer term forgiveness route on the income driven plans. It’s not public service work. It’s not career-driven anything like that. You just have to be making payments on that plan for either 20 or 25 years. PSLF, I think is a little more straightforward. If you find yourself in a public service position and you can foresee your career continuing to go that route. I see this a lot in education, you know, public universities, and so that’s where we want to be entertaining, maybe public service loan forgiveness, which is 120 qualifying payments on an income driven plan. And then you reap the benefit of forgiveness. So it’s much shorter. Those would be some maybe identifying factors there.
05:42 Emily: So just to put a real fine point on this, when we’re talking about a debt to income ratio, is that the income that the person has post all education or during the course of their education
05:54 Meagan: Post-education. So I would say the first couple of years of their career.
05:59 Emily: Okay. So someone coming out of their PhD, first post-PhD job within those first couple of years, if they see that their debt is more than one and a half times, their post PhD income, that’s when they should be looking pretty hard at enrolling one of these forgiveness plans and potentially seeing it through to completion. Is there any difference in that rule of thumb, around whether if the program is PSLF, which only would take 10 years, versus one of the ones that would take 20 to 25 years,
06:27 Meagan: There’s a little bit of, because that ratio is not quite right since it’s such a shorter period of time. And so folks who have about the same, or maybe even a little less than their income, could still benefit from public service loan forgiveness. We just have to do the math on it because the payments are going to be based off of your income. And we need to project that out to see, would you just pay it off in 10 years or would you reap the benefit of some kind of forgiveness? The debt to income ratio isn’t so relevant with PSLF, but it could be maybe a rule of thumb to start with, and then you have to go and do some math.
07:07 Emily: Yeah. I’m fully anticipating there being a lot of answers like, well, this is the starting position, but really we have to fine tune it through doing some more math. So I fully anticipate a lot of those answers during this interview and that’s perfectly fine. I just want to get people a starting point, because when you’re sitting, prior to getting out of graduate school and you’re wondering whether or not you should be, your loans are probably in deferment, but you’re wondering whether or not you should pursue a forgiveness plan afterwards. It’s just helpful to see whether or not you have to go further into the details of it or not. There’s another option for repaying your student loans. Well, there’s a few options. You can do the standard repayment program for the federal government. That’s going to take 10 years, and it’s just based on your debt amounts, not based on your income at all, the repayment amounts. Or you have the opportunity to potentially refinance your loans. And there’s been a lot of advertising around student loan refinancing in the last 10 years. Very, very low rates are being offered. What is the financial profile of person who should be considering refinancing rather than potentially pursuing PSLF or another forgiveness program?
08:13 Meagan: Yeah. Refinancing is a big, you’ll see these commercials on TV all the time now. But when it’s right to consider refinancing, I think that’s when your balance is lower than your annual income, and you feel comfortable walking away from the federal system. And what I mean by that is the federal system has a lot of flexibilities that private loans just don’t offer. You won’t have very generous for forebarance availability. You won’t have access to income driven plans. There’s no forgiveness opportunity with private loans. And so if you feel comfortable with your financial situation and you can commit to the term for refinancing and you weren’t a good candidate for forgiveness in any way, then that’s when I think it’s appropriate to pull the trigger on refinancing.
09:00 Emily: Yeah. And I think what concurs with that is that you have to have a fairly low debt to income ratio to even qualify for the really good refinancing options. Like it pretty much has to be below about one-to-one anyway, to do that, which for people in my audience, PhDs, oftentimes refinancing is not going to be an option during graduate school because the income is just so low. However, if your post PhD income is going to jump up quite a lot, then refinancing might make sense once you get to that point. You may wish you could have refinanced earlier, but you probably wouldn’t qualify if your debt is maybe a few multiples of your graduate student income, but less than one year’s worth of your post PhD income. Thanks for that clarification.
09:40 Emily: I know there’s a lot of anxiety going on right now about PSLF. There was a report, I think it was in 2018 or something about how 90-whatever percent of people were being rejected by PSLF. Can you shed some light on this? Should people be concerned about the health and the future of PSLF?
09:54 Meagan: I wish I could take this article down. This one, everyone references, I feel like, when we’re talking about PSLF, but it’s funny when you go back to that article and you break apart the math in that article, you’ll see that about 70% to 80% of that 99% number of denials was due to one of two reasons. One was because people applied before reaching 120 payments. I think there’s a lot of reasonings behind that. Some people truly may have just been off a couple of payments and got denied. It didn’t mean that they’re denied for the whole program, they just have to make a couple more payments to get to 120. But I think the other big reason was there was a buzz about PSLF in 2017 and 2018. That was the first year we could have applied for the forgiveness. People in public service got excited about it and they were like, “Oh, I’ll just apply to see what happens,” and they hadn’t done the due diligence to check all the boxes and they definitely didn’t do the time. And so that’s my unofficial hypothesis on what happened there.
Meagan: Then there are some other things too, like there are some specific things you need to make sure you’re checking the box for, like having the correct type of loans, only direct loans qualify for forgiveness and being on an income driven plan. Those are two that were another percentage of why people got denied. They had either the wrong type of loans or weren’t on the right repayment plan. That article, while although looked horrifying, if that was the route you were going, it was very misleading. And I wish they would have pulled out some of that bad data. But PSLF is a great program to pursue. We just have to make sure we’re doing the due diligence and keeping a pulse on our payments over time to not have any surprises, that’s really the big important part with PSLF.
11:49 Emily: I guess I’ve also heard sort of anecdotally that I believe you have to do a recertification every year to make sure that your employer is still the type of employer where you would qualify for this program and that maybe you need to stay on top of your employer and your lender to make sure that all that paperwork is going through. Sort of you as the borrower need to take on a little bit more responsibility than you might like to, just to make sure that all the I’s are being dotted and the T’s are being crossed and everything.
12:16 Meagan: Yes. There’s what’s called the employment certification form that we recommend submitting at least once a year, even if you haven’t switched employers. What that form does is yes, it does verify that the employer still has that tax-exempt status. It also verifies and certifies that you still work there full-time. That’s one of the other requirements, working full-time for that entity. Once they get that form, then they update your payments since the last time you submitted it. And what’s nice too, they just updated their portal to where it shows your PSLF payment track, which is new because he used to have to wait for that confirmation email after submitting the ECF form to know where you stood payment-wise, but now it reports real time. So I’m excited about that. It’s a great addition, I think, to the portal,
13:04 Emily: I’m sure that gives the additional peace of mind to not have to wait for that communication to come back.
Making Payments on Student Loans During Grad School
13:11 Emily: Now I’m thinking about a person in graduate school, their loans are in deferment. They’re looking ahead to their post PhD career and saying, yeah, “I think I’m going to be able to pay these loans off once I get to that point. I don’t really think I’m going to have to do an income driven repayment program. PSLF is not an attractive…That type of employment is not really my plan.” That’s what they’re saying to themselves in graduate school. In this particular scenario, this graduate student has the flexibility to be able to make some kinds of payments towards their student loans. They’re receiving a stipend. It’s enough for them to live on. They’re able to pursue some financial goals aside from just paying for basic living expenses. Is that a good idea? And how does the person determine whether they should go that route, of repaying a bit of debt during graduate school, or whether they should just kind of defer it all and wait until afterwards?
14:00 Meagan: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think, yes all of those things you mentioned before have to exist. We need to know that we’re not pursuing PSLF one way or another. And I would suggest before putting money down on the student loans, making sure your emergency savings is healthy. We never want to be in a position where we have thrown all of our money towards our debt, we can’t get it back out, and we need it for an emergency. That is a bad situation to be in. I think having a buffer and savings is important, but I think one thing being in graduate school, we can’t officially enter repayment until we have graduation status. We can, with some of our undergrad loans, if we wanted to, we can enter repayment on those specifically. We can make payments, we just can’t officially enter a repayment plan on our existing school loans, so if you wanted to make payments, you could.
Meagan: Your un-subsidized loans do accrue interest while you’re in school. So that’s anything that says un-subsidized from undergrad and from grad school, and also grad school loans are considered un-subsidized. Those loans specifically accrue interest. Subsidized loans do not. If you wanted to prioritize which loans you’re applying payments to, subsidized loans aren’t going to be growing while you’re in school. So you can maybe prioritize the unsub and I think you can apply it straight to that interest. Again, it’s going to accrue on a monthly basis, so maybe you can find out how much that is and make those payments so it doesn’t grow while you’re in school. Those are some thoughts there. Post-graduation you can immediately enter repayment if you wanted to, by consolidating. You typically have a six month grace period where you can decide what plan you’re going on, get established. But if you wanted to enter repayment officially sooner, you can consolidate and kind of force yourself into repayment.
16:03 Emily: I see. How big of a factor should the interest rate on the unsubsidized student loans play in this decision, about whether to pay them down a bit or pursue other financial goals? We already covered the emergency fund, but if a graduate student is looking at “well, I can start investing for retirement, for example, versus paying down the student loans,” what are your thoughts about how the interest rate should factor into that decision?
16:28 Meagan: Yeah, so the interest rates on student loans do a lot of times fall in a gray area where, I mean, between 5% to 7% — I’m not sure, I’m not confident that you might get a longer term return if you were to invest that extra money instead. It really just depends and it kind of depends on your risk tolerance there. But any interest rates that are below 5%, we can kind of put those lower on the totem pole because if we took that extra money and we put it into our IRA or putting it towards our financial independence, long-term investing tells us on average, we can get close to 7% to 10%. I know that’s a big range, but it just depends. So if our debt is charging us 4%, or 5% even, there is that that net value that we’re missing out on. So I would say lower interest rates, I wouldn’t prioritize necessarily. If you have extra dollars, put that towards savings or put that towards your IRA or have a split approach — put some towards the loans and some towards retirement. When interest rates are higher though, when they’re in the 7% range, which is normal for graduate students, that’s where they’re a little iffy and we might want to prioritize them a little more. Those would be ones that you’d want to prioritize and you can kind of take a avalanche approach where we tackle the highest interest rate loans first, if you wanted to do it that way.
18:01 Emily: Yeah. What if we flip the scenario a little bit and say, okay, well instead this graduate student is someone who is going to pursue an income driven repayment plan and potentially forgiveness, maybe PSLF, but they still have that disposable or discretionary income during graduate school, then I guess the weight would tilt towards starting to invest. If you know that you’re going to be enrolling in one of those plans later, my understanding is, hey, never make an extra payment, never pay more than the minimum, if that is your plan and all that extra money should be going towards your other financial goals.
18:35 Meagan: You said it. Yeah. And we can’t have a qualifying payment while we’re still in school. Sometimes that’s a misconception. People feel like they can enter repayment and start having payments count towards forgiveness. We can’t necessarily with our existing degree loans, we have to wait until post-graduation for those payments to count. So, yes, we don’t want to pay a dollar extra. So throw that towards something that’s going to serve you in the future, and that would be retirement or savings.
19:04 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. If you are a fan of this podcast, I invite you to check out the Personal Finance for PhDs Community at pfforphds.community. The community is for PhDs and people pursuing PhDs who want to take charge of their personal finances by opening and funding an IRA, starting to budget, aggressively paying off debt, financially navigating a life or career transition, maximizing the income from a side hustle, preparing an accurate tax return, and much more. Inside the community, you’ll have access to a library of financial education products, which I add to every month. There is also a discussion forum, monthly live calls with me, book club and progress journaling for financial goals. Basically, the community exists to help you reach your financial goals, whatever they are go to pfforphds.community to find out more. I can’t wait to help propel you to financial success. Now back to the interview.
Taking Out Student Loans During Grad School
20:08 Emily: Yeah, I think another point that might be helpful for the listeners is to understand, if you want to take out federal, and if you have any conception in your mind that there might be a possibility you want to take out a federal student loan during graduate school, what are the steps you need to do in advance to have that be an option for you versus what you just said: well, maybe at the given time that you need money, maybe you can’t take out a loan right at that moment. What steps should a person do in advance? If they’re thinking, yeah, this might be a possibility for me down the road.
20:34 Meagan: You’d want to complete FASFA each year. As a graduate student, your parents information, does it factor in anymore so it is solely on your financial situation. That’s going to help you with the un-subsidized funding, which you can get up to $20,500 for. You’ll also might want to consider looking at signing the graduate plus promissory note, which your financial aid office will tell you to do if you need that additional funding. But it is a separate promissory note. If we need above and beyond that $20,500, then you can spill over into the graduate plus loans. That’s what I would, I would do each year: FASFA and then for the first time you borrow, graduate plus, or if you don’t have graduate plus now, maybe go ahead and sign that promissory note. Either way you have to accept the aid that you’re being awarded. It’s not like you’re just willy-nilly applying for a loan. You have to intentionally accept it, but that gears you up to be able to accept it without having to do all that paperwork in a rush or being too late.
21:41 Emily: Yeah, I guess I’m just thinking financial planning wise for graduate student, going into or in a graduate program where they just know this program is not paying me well, I can barely make ends meet, that might be a thing to do in advance. It’s actually a little bit like having an emergency fund. If you know you can’t build up your own emergency fund right now, where it’s not going to be very big because they just aren’t paying you enough to make that happen, then maybe this is a good sort of backup plan to have. Do all the paperwork in advance, if anything adverse ever happens this is another step that you could take. I don’t love that idea because of course it’s better to just have your own emergency funds and go and you go forward and of course that’s, most of the strategies that I talk about through the podcast is how to overall be building up your savings during graduate school, but just as like a backup plan, it seems like it could be prudent to take these steps so that money, the loans could be available to you if you came upon a situation where you needed it. You do need to take some steps in advance to make that happen, so thank you for clarifying that.
The Intricacies of Student Loan Repayment
How Marriage May Affect Your Repayment
22:40 Emily: Okay, now we’re getting to a couple, maybe more niche kinds of questions. I get a question sometimes from people who are either married or they’re considering getting married, but they want to know how their status as being legally married or not is going to affect things like their tax returns and therefore their student loan repayment amounts. Can you just explain how that works? I’m thinking especially for someone who is maybe considering getting married, but wondering about the timing of it and wondering if they’re going to have to do married filing separately and these kinds of questions. So with taxes and student loans, what happens when you get married and you have student loans or your spouse has student loans?
23:25 Meagan: Yeah. When you get legally married, your tax filing status, when it comes to being on an income driven repayment plan matters. If we’re filing taxes joint with our spouse, and we’re on an income driven plan, it is going to factor in our spouse’s income. We not want that to happen. We may keep our finances separately. We may be trying to keep our payment as low as possible to pursue forgiveness. One strategy we talk about is considering filing separately and what this does, depending on the plan, if we file our taxes separate and we’re on an income driven plan, either pay as you earn income based repayment or income contingent repayment, then we’re allowed to exclude our spouse’s income and keep our payment off of just our own, which can be hugely beneficial.
24:18 Meagan: There are downsides to filing separate that need to be weighed, so you want to do an analysis of what is the cost difference between filing separate and joint? Because you’re missing out on some tax discounts and maybe some benefits. And how does that compare to how much it saves us over the course of the year in our payment? I never want someone to be scared to get married because of their student loans. We can always pivot. It’s just in the year of marriage. You need to know that being married will impact the income driven plan that you’re on and you might want to take a closer look at how you file before you file.
24:57 Meagan: Then the last thing I’ll mention on that is revised pay as you earn, which is 10% of discretionary income, that plan does not care if you file separate. It’s going to count spousal income or all household income regardless. If you’re on that plan and you don’t want your spouse’s income factored in, you might need to switch to either PAYE or IBR and that can kind of solve that problem to where if you don’t want income factored in.
Choosing a Repayment Program
25:25 Emily: Gotcha. Thank you so much for clarifying that. You said earlier there are four different programs plus PSLF you mentioned a few of them just now — for someone who’s looking at this landscape and wondering how in the world do I choose which one of these programs I should enroll in. How can they do that?
25:43 Meagan: A really simplified way to think about it is if you’re going the forgiveness route, you want to choose the lowest income driven plan available. So that would be revised pay as you earn or pay as you earn. If you don’t want spousal income factored in, that would be pay as you earn or IBR, if you don’t have access to pay as you earn. From an income driven plan perspective, that’s how I would think. If our plan is to pay off the loans, then we might want to be choosing one of those amateurized options like the standard 10 year until we can commit to refinancing, or, and this might dive into one of your other topics I know we had mentioned, but if our income is really low now, and we want to take advantage of an income driven plan, but we are not ready to throw a lot towards it, then starting out on REPAYE could be really advantageous because of its interest subsidies. What that means is it has discounts on how much interest accrues when you’re in repayment, but the payment itself might not be as much as it needs to be to cover interest and principle. So it keeps that balance from ballooning and instead of being in forbearance or pausing loans during that timeframe, interests won’t continue to grow in that way. I know we were going to touch on that. I might’ve skipped ahead, but let me know if you want me to slow down on that one again.
27:11 Emily: No, I think it just gives a flavor for how complex this decision is, and how your individual career path and income path will affect the decision that you make, plus what you’re doing in your personal life, whether you want to get married or not. Who should be working with someone like you? What’s the kind of person who should be working with someone like you to figure out what the best decision is? And who’s the kind of person who, well, it’s simple enough, you can figure it out on your own?
When to Consult a Professional
27:38 Meagan: Yeah, I think if you have any anxiety or stress about making this decision, and it’s overwhelming doing this research for yourself, in a one hour consult, we will have your plan put together. If you want to save the time, save the energy and the stress, that’s somebody who would be a good candidate to work with us. For someone who might not be such a great candidate, I think if you are already very familiar with all of these repayment options if for sure that you’re going to be refinancing or just paying it off really aggressively, then I think that would be more so like a quick, “Hey, yup, I think you’ve got the right idea.” And again, that would be if your balance is lower than your income and you’re ready to walk away from those federal flexibilities. I think we won’t be able to provide as much value there, but for folks who have balance is much greater than income, and they’re a little nervous about that decision or navigating that, we would be helpful in that situation.
28:40 Emily: Yeah. I guess the way I’m thinking about it is like how high are the stakes here. If they’re pretty high, if that loan balance is pretty high compared to your income, that’s the time when you need to be sure you’re making the right decision and it helps to get some professional guidance at that point. And like you said, if you can have a one hour session and get a firm answer, that’s going to do well for you for the next 10 years, or unless and until your situation drastically changes, then that is awesome peace of mind to pay for in just an hour. That sounds wonderful.
29:09 Meagan: Yeah, and just the strategy too. There’s a lot of technicalities that go into when to file, like when to certify income, how to reduce income. There’s a lot of things that go into it, so if you wanted to get really sexy with your planning, that’s where we could come into.
The Emotional Aspect of Repayment
29:24 Emily: Okay. Yeah. Great recommendation on that front. Another question occurred to me, pulling together some of the threads that we’ve mentioned so far in the interview, if you are deciding to go in an income driven repayment plan and your intention is eventually to have a lot of that balance forgiven. We mentioned earlier never make more than the minimum payment you’re required to. Don’t make payments during deferment. Don’t make more than the minimum once you’re in repayment. Emotionally, how does a person deal with potentially seeing their balance, plus the interest increase and increase and increase, which is the situation that some people would be in pursuing that route over those 10 years, or even 20 or 25 years, while they’re in those types of programs? How do they emotionally deal with looking at that until they do get to the forgiveness at the end?
30:13 Meagan: It is something I feel like you need to compartmentalize because we are taking a non-traditional approach to debt. I back that up with make sure you know that federal student loans are just not a regular debt. That’s one, that’s the biggest thing we need to remember that if we were going by traditional debt advice, and if this was a traditional debt, we would have the opposite mindset. It would be, let’s pay this off like our hair’s on fire. But the federal system has some really unique opportunities like income driven plans and forgiveness that we can take advantage of that really help us prioritize other financial obligations. Maybe instead of getting anxiety about the loan balance increasing, maybe focus more on your savings increasing. So you have a lot more cashflow to be able to throw towards your financial independence and as long as we’re working towards that forgiveness timeline the balance will grow, but there is an end in sight. That’s something that I think can bring some peace of mind and just knowing and remembering that federal loans are not a normal debt.
31:18 Emily: Yeah. Thank you for that insight. I think I’ll add to it. The real danger here is going into one of these forgiveness plans, one of these income-driven repayment plans, and taking advantage of the lower payment and then not having any movement in the rest of your financial life — not doing the investing, not doing the saving. That’s the real danger when you get to the end of the 10 years or the 20 or the 25. And yes, hopefully everything goes smoothly and the rest of the balance is forgiven, but you kind of have nothing on the other side of it because the whole time you’re thinking, “well, I still have my student loans, so I’m not going to be investing.” If you’re making the intentional decision to pursue an income driven repayment plan and pursue forgiveness, then your high priority needs to be, “yep I’m taking advantage of this, but at the same time, I’m going to be working on my finances over here. I’m going to be building up my portfolio, building my net worth.” And who knows what might happen in the future. If it turns out that the forgiveness was taken away or didn’t happen or something went wrong or something happened in your life, I don’t know, at least you have some net worth on the other side of the equation to potentially deal with the debt or whatever might be going on. It’s really just shoring up your finances in one spot rather than paying off the debt. Thank you so much for that insight.
What is Your Best Financial Advice for an Early Career PhD?
32:31 Emily: Meagan, I like to end all my interviews by asking for your best financial advice for an early career PhD, a graduate student or a PhD. That could be something that’s related to what we’ve talked about in this interview, or it could be something completely else, but would you please share that with us?
32:46 Meagan: I would say, I think my best coin of advice would just be to have a plan. And I know that sounds like so blah, but I think looking at your student loan situation or your financial situation head on is not as scary as it may seem. I think people avoid a lot of financial things because they’re not sure how to tackle it or they’re overwhelmed by it. I promise you, you will feel so much better if we just have a plan from the beginning. Because if you ignore it for three years, which sometimes I see, then we’re three years behind when we finally do pick up and start focusing on it. Having a plan is important for your peace of mind for your future self. It’s self-care to have a plan now. I think that would be what I’d part on there.
33:33 Emily: Yeah. I absolutely totally, totally concur about having a plan. I know looking back at myself when I was in graduate school, not having a financial plan. When you have so little income, so little wiggle room, you know you can never do everything you want to do with your money. You know that you can’t pay off your student loan debt and invest and do all the saving and all the lifestyle. You just have to prioritize and then triage the situation. So that’s what a plan helps you do and thank you so much for that advice.
Where to Find Meagan Online
Emily: Meagan, if people have enjoyed this interview and they’ve learned a lot from you and they want to potentially work with you, how can they get in touch with you? Or where can they learn more?
34:08 Meagan: Yeah. So studentloanplanner.com is a wealth of information. We write a lot of blog posts about anything student loan related. We have a podcast. And if you wanted one-on-one help, you can schedule a consult through our website, studentloanplanner.com.
34:22 Emily: Yeah. Wonderful. There are so many free resources available and it’s really nice to know that there also professionals like Meagan backing that up and there for you, if you need those consultations. Meagan, thank you so much for giving me this interview and joining me today.
34:35 Meagan: Thank you. It was fun nerding out with you.
34:38 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. PFforPhDs.com/podcast is the hub for the personal finance for PhDs podcast. There you can find links to all the episode show notes, and a form to volunteer to be interviewed. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, please consider joining my mailing list for my behind the scenes commentary about each episode. Register at PFforPhDs.com/subscribe. See you in the next episode, and remember, you don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance, but it helps. The music is stages of awakening by Poddington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing and show notes creation by Lourdes Bobbio.