Millennial who paid off $100,000 in student loans months before Biden announced pardon says president should ‘forgive everything’

There was no confetti. No congratulations or fanfare of any kind. No one was cheering for Steve, a 36-year-old software engineer in Texas, when he woke up at 6 a.m. on March 15, 2022, and made his last student loan payment. He didn’t think this moment would be so important, considering the huge – and sometimes painful – impact his loans had on his life.

It took Steve nearly 12 years to pay off more than $100,000 in student loan debt, just five months before the Biden administration announced it was forgiving $10,000 in loans for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year.

Despite the financial, mental and even physical pain carrying more than six figures in student loan debt has caused Steve, he says he’s happy for anyone who gets student loan forgiveness—he doesn’t begrudge anyone who qualifies for the government’s $10,000 (up to $20,000 for Pell Grant holders) forgiveness plan.

“Sorry it’s all my opinion,” says Steve. “$10,000 is a nice start…maybe with that amount of debt off their backs, people can start building their lives.”

The Biden-Harris student debt relief plan is expected to wipe out about $300 billion in debt, according to the Penn Wharton budget model. About a third of federal student loan borrowers (myself included) will have their debt completely eliminated, with the benefits going disproportionately to working-class and middle-income households.

Since 1980, the cost of public and private colleges has nearly tripled. Federal support didn’t continue, meaning more people had to borrow money to get degrees.

Recent figures put total student loan debt in the US at $1.75 trillion, with the average college graduate carrying up to $40,000 in debt. The average graduate student owes up to $189,000 in federal student loans.

“I’m not mad that I lost”

Steve graduated from undergrad in 2008 with a degree in English that he says was almost free because of an in-state scholarship program. But after struggling to find a decent job, she went back to school to get a master’s degree in teaching. It was a mistake, he says. He borrowed about $70,000, but the interest brought the total to $118,000.

He couldn’t pay off his loans on his teaching salary, and by the time he was 30, he was questioning what he was doing with his life. He had no savings and worry about debt affected his physical and mental health. “If I had a medical emergency, I’d be devastated,” she says.

Desperate to make a change and dig himself out of the debt that was keeping him awake at night, Steve taught himself to code—there was no way he was going back to school—and switched careers. He refinanced his loans for a lower interest rate and, with his higher salary, began making extra payments.

“I kind of knew what I was getting into when I took out the loans,” says Steve. “I knew teaching wasn’t a lucrative career, but I thought I could stick around, you know? I sure miscalculated.” He says he left his heart in the classroom.

It was so easy, though, to get that loan at 22, he says.

“I had no employment history, no income. The universities know this and just jack up the prices,” says Steve. “I want to live in an educated society…[but] you don’t have to ruin your life to get educated. The fact that you can’t even declare bankruptcy – the only way to get debt relief is to die – is really confusing.”

Submitting his final payment – paying off six months’ worth of debt with one foul – was rather anticlimactic, says Steve. It took a while for it to sink in, but once it did, she says, it started to feel like anything was possible.

With the extra income, he began to think he could get his finances on track, so he decided to meet with a financial planner: “Just maybe I can retire someday.”

Friends often ask him, he says, if he would be upset about a loan forgiveness program after he had just paid off so much in student loans. He’s really excited, he says. Although it would be “nice if I could benefit retroactively. But I’m not mad that I lost a few months.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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