For the past ten years I have been dutifully, by auto-pay from my credit union account, making an almost $400 monthly payment to my student loan debt from seminary. And yesterday I made the final payment, of about $125. It's going to be a welcome boost to my bottom line.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, there is a conversation going on about the financial aspects of studying for the ministry. The cost is steep and it takes a long time to work off the debt, if you borrow, as I did.
I was lucky to have retired from a 25 year position as a public school employee, so I had a small pension when I started seminary, but it wasn't enough to pay tuition and books as well, so I had to supplement that income with student loans. I also eagerly took any preaching or workshop gigs I could line up and at about $150 apiece, that helped pay the bills as well. I was so fortunate to have a member of my home congregation offer to buy my books each quarter. That dear family spent about a $1000 paying for my books over the three academic years I was at Iliff. Thank you, Wiley and Bev!
But it was hard times, as I had been a single parent for several years and the FS was barely launched, meaning that I had some credit card debt to deal with as well as a mortgage and sundry other stuff. My pension was far less than my salary had been and I needed every penny. Hence the loans.
At the end of seminary in May of 99, I had acquired over $36,000 in student debt and six months later, in December of 1999, as I began my first ministry, the monthly payment kicked in. When I decided to go into parttime ministry in 2003, it was a consideration---I needed enough income to be able to pay that monthly debt, rent, car payment, and health insurance. So I took two quarter-time positions, Vashon Island and Whidbey Island UUs, and managed pretty well, but without my pension, I would have had to go back into my former line of work. Or starve, possibly. And there were moments in the night when I pondered those very choices.
But I've managed to stay afloat financially and even prosper, though my standard of living has never been particularly inflated; I have a comfortable home, car, wardrobe, furnishings, and Medicare. And I eat well, perhaps too well sometimes. The cats are cared for and I can even afford an occasional antibiotic shot for Max, who occasionally needs one.
My situation is good because I'm older, have had time to raise my family, get my financial status solid if not affluent, and have learned what's really valuable to me. If I were a lot younger, hoping to someday have a church of my own while raising children, even with the help of a mate, seminary would have been a huge challenge.
I admire so much those younger seminarians and other students who have taken on that huge challenge out of their sense of call and are working steadily toward their goal. It isn't easy to be a student in mid-life, with family responsibilities and other volunteer activities to maintain. But you are doing it and doing it well. Congratulations!