As soon as Lance Felder wakes up in the spare bedroom of his cousin’s house, he does 100 pushups and 50 situps. The professional football prospect completes the same routine before going to bed at night.
The way he sees it, remaking his body before his first professional football season offers him the best chance to tackle his debt.
Although his eyes are on the field, a $35,000 weight is on the back of his mind. He hasn’t even started repaying his student loans.
Three colleges, one dream
Loan repayment success stories are about happy endings. Half a year after receiving his college diploma, Lance’s not-yet-success story is just beginning.
He started his post-high school academic path at Kingsborough Community College, where his low-income background qualified him for close-to-free tuition. He then attended Bethany College in Kansas to play linebacker for the football team.
“My mother told me I’d have to find a way to pay for school,” he said.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t help, though. Shiretta Felton plastered the front of her Brooklyn, New York, home with posters asking for neighbors to support her son’s trek to college. Dollar raffle entries and donations helped Lance afford books and other school expenses.
Known as the “Gridiron Mom” of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Felton said she raised $7,000 to help repay friends who’d lent her money for Lance’s expenses.
Felton even negotiated additional scholarship money from one football coach during Lance’s recruitment. Lance eventually landed at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he transitioned from linebacker to tight end.
“The coach kept blowing up my phone, so I told him to talk to her,” Lance remembers. “I was going to training one day, and she said, ‘I got you $3,000!’”
Lance also exhausted every option at each of his college stops. At Lincoln, for example, he earned a $2,000 academic scholarship for maintaining a 3.0 GPA, took out one loan, and received a Pell Grant.
He currently pays $40 per month for a $1,000 school loan. But he hasn’t even begun repaying his estimated $35,000 federal loan debt.
Entering Income-Based Repayment
Lance says he called Great Lakes, his federal loan servicer, to ask about his repayment options. They advised him to switch to Income-Based Repayment (IBR), given his lack of income. He didn’t have a job right out of college and moved twice after a fire destroyed part of his mother’s Brooklyn home.
As with other income-driven repayment plans, Lance’s monthly dues are based on a percentage of his discretionary income. For IBR, it’s 10 to 15 percent.
With little-to-no income to report, however, Lance was told he wouldn’t need to make payments for now. Via a sort of extended grace period, Great Lakes granted him time to focus on increasing his income rather than worry about how to afford minimum monthly payments.
On the downside, Lance realizes IBR is putting off the inevitable and adding interest to the principal balance of his loans. IBR will also keep him in debt longer. It comes with a 25-year repayment term, compared to the standard 10-year term.
If he fails to recertify his income level with his servicer next year, the unpaid interest that grew during this year will capitalize. That would increase the loan’s principal balance well beyond the initial $35,000.
Building income beyond football
Lance says he signed with the Hampton Roads Reapers, a professional indoor football team in Hampton, Virginia. He’s hopeful his current training regimen with one-time Olympic sprinter Julien Dunkley has positioned him to eventually follow in the footsteps of a current NFL player: Cecil Shorts. Shorts is among one of the celebrities that overcame student loan debt.
But Lance also realizes his chances are small. The NCAA estimates that just 1.5 percent of college football players turn pro. His one shot might be impressing scouts at the NFL’s Regional Combine.
To generate an income beyond his day job at his local Dollar Tree, Lance has started working on a side hustle, selling health, beauty, and other products via Amway. The controversial corporation previously led by Betsy DeVos, now the U.S. Secretary of Education, enlists anyone and everyone to independently sell Amway-made products.
Lance says his health services degree gives him a leg up. His online business also fits with his desire to avoid the “nine-to-five, work-until-you-die” life that’s swallowed up those around him.
He’s more optimistic than his girlfriend, who has racked up six figures in student loan debt.
“I’m not stressing about it too much, because [my debt is] not as high as it could have been,” Lance says. “But once the monthly bills start arriving, that might change.”
Anxiously awaiting student loan repayment
Despite his unique professional dream, Lance is not far from the average college graduate. In fact, your typical 2016 college graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up 6 percent from the previous year, according to our 2017 student loan statistics.
“Hopefully, by 2019, [I’d like] to be more than halfway done,” he says, when asked about his repayment goals.
Clearly, Lance’s focus is on increasing his income, whether through football or a more traditional career. Although IBR is currently delaying his repayment, he says he looks forward to accelerating repayment. He aspires to be debt free.
How to stay on top of your student debt
If you have student loan debt and are awaiting or just entering repayment, you might count yourself in Lance’s company. Maybe you’re nearing the end of your grace period or deferment.
But it’s time to get serious about how you’ll manage your own student loan repayment.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide to navigating federal repayment programs. The 10-year Standard Repayment Plan you were assigned might or might not be best for you. Explore your options to find out which plan allows you to pay down your debt the fastest while keeping your monthly payments manageable.
Getting that first job after college could be your first step. But no matter the strategy to increase your income, it’s important to keep your student loan situation front of mind as you transition from campus life to the real world. Your happy ending is depending on it.
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