Jessica Elberfeld dreamed of breaking into the music scene and launching her career as a country music star. But after graduating from school with $113,000 in student loans, she had to reevaluate her goals.
She made big changes in her life and made difficult sacrifices, but is now debt-free.
Below, find out how Jessica tackled her debt and how she made peace with her decision.
Pursuing a dream
Jessica always wanted to be a country singer. She even moved to Nashville to be part of the city’s vibrant music scene and build her career.
She attended Belmont University, majoring in music business and taking out $68,459 in student loans, including federal and private loans. She interned for an artist management firm while still in school, and they hired her after graduation.
“I was a contractor and paid hourly. And because I wasn’t salaried, I also didn’t get benefits. That’s common in the music industry,” says Jessica.
Even though it was thrilling that she landed a role in her chosen field right after school, the job paid just $30,000. The salary meant her budget was tight for her loan payments.
Because of high interest rates, her loan balance ballooned. Over the length of her repayment period, she paid back over $113,000.
Reevaluating her life
Jessica still intended to pursue her dream, but the idea of making large monthly student loan payments for years scared her.
“I knew I had to be aggressive,” says Jessica. “But I couldn’t stomach paying over $1,000 a month for years.”
She took a hard look at her finances and goals. She knew she had to increase her income, but the money just wasn’t there in the music industry.
“If I wanted to get rid of the debt, I realized I needed to do something different,” says Jessica. “It was difficult, but I had moved to Nashville to become a singer. While I was working in music, I wasn’t doing what I really wanted anyway.”
She reevaluated her situation and ultimately decided to leave the industry. “I was working around the clock to further someone else’s career. So I quit my job with the firm and worked part-time at a restaurant while I looked to break into corporate America.”
Eventually, she found a job as a sales representative with a technology company. While she found the transition difficult at first, the change proved to be worth it. And now, she works for an apparel manufacturing company.
“The atmosphere is very different; it’s much more stern. But I work on commission and average about $55,000 a year,” says Jessica.
She also kept her part-time job at the restaurant so she could throw more money at her loans. With her increased income, she had more room in her budget for her loans.
Paying off her loans
Between her new job and her side gig, Jessica was able to accelerate her repayment. When she first graduated and had a lower-paying salary, Jessica struggled to keep up with the minimum payments of about $500. But with her new job, she was able to put over $2,000 a month towards her loans.
Through her hard work and sacrifice, Jessica was able to pay off her loans in seven years instead of 20. And because she had a high interest rate on some of the loans — as high as 10.75% — she saved thousands of dollars by paying them down ahead of schedule.
Now that she’s paid off her loans, Jessica looks forward to the future — she plans to quit her server job and go back to just one full-time position.
With the money she used to put towards her loans, she’s now saving up an emergency fund. She also started contributing about $450 a month to a Roth IRA to boost her retirement nest egg.
Making tough choices
Jessica acknowledges that giving up on a dream is a hard choice for anyone to make.
“It all comes down to priorities. For me, I didn’t want to have to move back with my parents to make ends meet. I can still be involved in the music industry, just in a different capacity. It’s a tradeoff,” she says.
Jessica follows the industry closely and stays in contact with professionals she met during her time at the artist management firm. Though her decision was a necessity because of her debt, she says she doesn’t regret her choice.
“For people who want to break into a competitive industry like music or fashion, you need help to survive. Many need help from their family because the gigs are so low-paying. If you want to make it on your own, you may need a second job or another roommate. Otherwise, you may do what I did and leave to pursue a higher-paying field,” says Jessica.
For more information about accelerating your debt repayment like Jessica, check out this ultimate guide to paying off your student loans faster.
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