WATCH: Drowning in student loan debt? This journalist has a solution

An ABC journalist shares his debt saga and some ways out. Hint: Being nice to your parents can pay off


Carrie Sheffield
June 13, 2017 11:59AM (UTC)

For many people, college graduation day is a time of reckoning with a heavy student loan burden.

ABC News' John Kapetaneas joined a recent episode of "Salon Talks" to discuss the perplexing issue of mounting student debt — and how he personally managed to pay off about $111,000 of debt in just two years.

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In 2013 after receiving his master's degree in journalism from New York University, Kapetaneas stared at his bill in disbelief. “How can a human person owe so much money?” he recalled thinking. “I honestly thought when I first graduated, 'I’m like never going to pay this off.'”

Then he stumbled upon a blog No More Harvard Debt, maintained by Joe Mihalic, who documented his journey to pay off $90,000 in student loans in the shortest amount of time possible.

"It was kind of a new perspective for me,” Kapetaneas said. “It was a case of finding this motivation from somebody else’s story." Calling such stories "student loan porn,” he likened them to the "before" and "after" pictures in self-improvement sagas.

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Ultimately Kapetaneous called his process — which was very much a "day-to day" affair — "embrac[ing] the suck,"  he said. “The biggest takeaway from what I learned is that how quickly you pay off your student loans, directly relates to the level of discomfort you’re willing to endure,” he said. His level of discomfort? It was quite high; “it was a grind,” he said.

Personal finance expert Beth Kobliner, author of "Get a Financial Life," called Kapetaneas’ achievement remarkable at a time when U.S. student debt on average is $37,000.

She found it noteworthy that Kapetaneas could move home to live with his parents to save money on rent since a lot of people can’t for various reasons. “That’s why I always told college seniors to be really nice to your parents, because you never know,” Kobliner said.

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Federal Reserve research has shown how student loans can negatively affect the incidence of home ownership for young people.

“When I talk to young people about getting a financial life and beginning to save a little money and maybe saving up for a down payment," Kobliner said, "they’re like, ‘Whoa what are you talking about?  I have student loans. I can’t attempt to even begin to think about that until I figure out how to deal with my student loans.’ I think John’s approach is like 'No, you just do it.'”

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Watch more of this conversation about tackling student debt and starting to plan a financial future.


Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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