Student Debt
What did you do when you didn't have to pay off student loan debt?

For The First Time Since Signing Their Loan Agreements, Former Students Feel Free

“This time gave me the freedom to not have everything figured out.”

James Porter, Peter Dazeley/Getty Images, Garage Island Crew, Eloisa Ramos/Stocks

What would you do if you won the Mega Millions Jackpot? OK, let’s take that dream down a few notches: Imagine you had an additional $400 back in your bank account every month — how would your everyday life improve? Over the past few years, many 20-somethings struggling with student loan debt have had their dreams become reality, thanks to a pause on student debt repayment. But it won’t last forever.

In April, the White House announced the student loan moratorium previously set to expire on May 1, 2022 would be extended until Aug. 31, 2022, further lengthening a pause of more than two years. Debt payments were first suspended in March 2020 due to the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences. Recent (and not-so-recent) students could not be happier about the extension: This additional time includes a pause on repayments, interest, and collections, giving debtors more time to put their money toward immediate needs or long-term goals that never would have been otherwise achievable. President Joe Biden has extended the moratorium four times since taking office, a decision that’s been life-changing for many borrowers.

So, what have those two years of role-playing being debt-free done for former students? Elite Daily spoke to 18 people about what they’ve been able to accomplish since student loan payments were paused. Based on their responses, it’s clear that without the pressure of hundreds of dollars in monthly payments, many people were able to achieve life-changing goals. And some borrowers have wondered — is this pause a taste of what real student debt cancellation could do? Here’s what they told Elite Daily about saving for the future, giving back to those who helped them, and what they hope is next.

The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Ananda, 23, New York

Monthly Loan Payment: $200

As a Black woman who doesn’t come from generational wealth, I knew early that loans would be my only way to pay for college. It’s always given me so much anxiety to think about how I will pay off my student debt. As an aspiring filmmaker, during a time when productions were shut down, it’s been challenging securing full-time employment. Using my saved money, in April 2022, I moved to Harlem, began working part-time, and started applying for jobs in the New York City film industry. This pause has been life-changing because it’s given me time to pursue my dreams.

Candace, 27, Minnesota

Monthly Loan Payment: $200

Courtesy of Candace B.

I have so much less anxiety about prioritizing myself for once. I pay everything on my own with no help. Not having that monthly bill of $200 weighing on me gave me the chance to actually work towards my life goals, like purchasing my first home. I am a kindergarten teacher in Minneapolis, and before this, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to afford buying a house by myself. But when I finally had additional cash in my pocket, I had the money to pay off other bills like my car loan/bill and my credit cards.

Tyler, 24, New York

Monthly Loan Payment: $600

When I graduated from college in spring of 2020, I didn’t have a job lined up. But when student loan payments were paused, three of my friends and I decided to pack up everything and move to Philadelphia. This time gave me the freedom to not have everything figured out. I was able to be young, set off on a new adventure, pay my rent, and just live. As a recent grad working odd jobs, I think it was important for me to find my way without the burden of another bill. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have discovered a career in journalism that I’m truly passionate about. Instead, my sole priority would have been to just find employment that pays well.

Christian, 23, Washington, D.C.

Monthly Loan Payment: $500

Before the pandemic, I wasn’t the best at saving money. But when I began working remotely and my social life came to a halt, I moved back in with my mom and saved 90% of my paycheck. Without the burden of interest on my loans, in 2021, I was able to pay off the $45,000 I took out to finance my undergraduate studies. In addition, my sister and I purchased a house, renovated it, and resold it. I will be finishing graduate school this summer, and because of this pause, I felt comfortable enough to take out another loan for grad school.

Abdullah, 24, Pennsylvania

Monthly Loan Payment: $250

Due to my financial circumstances, I dropped out of college right before COVID hit us. After almost six months, I was informed that I was going to have to start making payments to my student loans. I was worried because I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have anything. We were in the middle of a pandemic and nothing was really going on. Luckily, the student loan payments paused and I was able to develop my clothing business, save money, and in August 2020 I re-enrolled in school. I’ll graduate in May.

Lauryn, 22, Texas

Monthly Loan Payment: $220

When you graduate from college, you don’t realize how fast that initial six-month deferment period will speed by. Having COVID relief was a blessing that allowed me the opportunity to focus on paying off other bills: During the student loan payment pause, I was able to double up on car payments. February 2022, I paid off my car loan two years early. Without the burden of paying these two bills post-graduation, I was able to fund my move to Dallas and start paying off my private loans without stress.

Kateri, 24, Wisconsin

Monthly Loan Payment: $260

Courtesy of Kateri H.

Initially, I thought pausing student loan payments was a good thing. But now I think it’s gone on too long. While I’ve had this extra money, I’ve prioritized paying off my high-interest private loans, and used the money that would usually pay my federal loans for retirement savings like a Roth IRA or mutual fund. I think it’s important that people don’t get used to payments being pushed back, or create bad financial habits that they may regret in the long run. Without interest accruing, my goal is to pay bills off more quickly, not to prolong them.

Courtney, 25, Washington, D.C.

Monthly Loan Payment: $300

For the first time since I graduated in 2019, I’ve actually been able to save enough money to support myself on my own. I moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Washington, D.C., and I’ve been able to focus on the reason I went to college in the first place: my career in political communications. I’ve also been able to save money and plan my next career move to the south of France. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the repayment pause. However, I’m on pins and needles because I know that when it does finally resume, I’ll be forced to make major adjustments to my current comfortable lifestyle.

Josué, 22, Florida

Monthly Loan Payment: $300

In the beginning, I was fortunate to be in the position to help my parents move into a more comfortable apartment. Without the burden of paying student loans every month, I was able to take out a mortgage and buy them a new house in Florida. This unexpected deferral period has also allowed me to save money for when I begin graduate school at Harvard Business School this fall. It gives me so much relief knowing that when I’m in school, I won’t be burdened by the thought of making more payments. This mental freedom allows me to really focus on my studies.

Sheri, 22, Iowa

Monthly Loan Payment: $500

When I found out that the pause on student loan payments was being extended again, I cried tears of joy. Because of this freedom, my boyfriend and I were able to move away from our parents’ homes in Florida to our own apartment in Iowa. When we first moved into our apartment, we were eating eggs and frozen peas while sleeping on an air mattress that deflated every night. But now that we have a little extra cash, we’ve been able to save up enough money to buy real adult furniture. With the extra time that we’ve had without this bill, we’re going to continue saving for a down payment on our first house.

Skylar, 22, Illinois

Monthly Loan Payment: $300

Not only was I able to establish my credit, I was able to increase it by 100 points in less than a year because I haven’t had to pay student loans. When I was in college, I don’t think I truly grasped the importance of credit. But now, I have several credit cards which I pay off in full and never carry a balance. Achieving this while also financially supporting my grandmother — doing simple things like buying masks and groceries during the pandemic — wouldn’t have been feasible on top of making monthly payments to the government. To top it all off, I bought myself a brand new car.

Marquise, 26, California

Monthly Loan Payment: $500

Before the pandemic, it never really felt like my monthly loan payments were actually making a dent in the total amount that I owed. But when the mandatory payments were paused and the interest stopped growing, I knew that there would probably never be another time in my life like this. So, I made a choice to pay off my $30,000 student loans in lump sums rather than making monthly payments. This gave me the freedom and flexibility to finance my move to Los Angeles in August 2021, and to live my life a little easier and stress free.

Jelani, 24, And Tyshaia, 23, New York

Combined Monthly Loan Payments: $330

Courtesy Tyshaia E. and Jelani T.

As recent graduates sharing a household and finances, the most understated benefit of loan payments being paused is the peace of mind that comes with optional payments. Our goal is to never be stuck doing something that we’re not passionate about. So, we’ve continued to pay our loans during the pause, with the goal of becoming financially free as soon as possible. When we achieved our goal of moving to New York City during the pandemic, we also began to save money for a rainy day. After saving a comfortable amount, we both quit our jobs to focus on our passions. During this time that student loan payments have been paused, we’ve been able to go for what we want versus what we have to do. During this additional deferment period, we plan to continue saving for a few big purchases… including an engagement ring!

Malik, 24, Louisiana

Monthly Loan Payment: $100

When I played college football, my dad bought me a car to get to and from practice and class every day. While I was appreciative, I knew that it was financially hard on him to make those monthly car payments. So, when I graduated in the spring of 2020 with a well-paid full-time job, I decided to give him the car and take over the bill/loan. Eventually that car broke down, and with the money I saved while student loan payments have been paused, I purchased my dad a brand new Kia. In the next few months, I plan to purchase my mom a car as well.

Lateef, 30, New York

Monthly Loan Payment: $300

Besides the pause on student loan payments, factors like remote work helped me achieve my financial goals. Without the responsibility of making debt payments, and with so much more time to reflect on my goals, I was able to make major life changes — like paying off $15,000 in credit card debt and saving enough money to live on my own without roommates. While my goal is to ultimately pay all of my loans off, it feels freeing to know that after years of hard work, there is a way out of debt.

Kwame, 23, Illinois

Monthly Loan Payment: $500

Knowing that I have $130,000 in student debt has had an incredible impact on my career and my mental health. When I graduated in the spring of 2020, I was able to handle 10 months of unemployment thanks to the pause on loan payments. It gave me the freedom and flexibility to explore my career options without feeling pressured to stay at one job. It also gave me the time to study for the LSAT so that I can apply to law school this coming year, as opposed to putting it off. This pause has given me a shot at a career with the potential to pay off my debt in the next 10 years without it ballooning.

Tyler, 22, Georgia

Monthly Loan Payment: $300

When I graduated in the spring of 2021, I felt grateful to get a job. Even though it wasn’t a high-paying one, it’s been able to get me through. My mother gave me the best advice and that was to pay as much as I can while loan payments are paused right now so that I’m not in debt later. I took that advice and I’ve been paying $100 a month. Plus, I’ve paid $500 of my total $1,000 interest fee while it’s been frozen. I plan to pay all of my interest off by August so that when we have to start paying again, I won’t have that interest built up.