As I was earning my master’s in environmental management from Duke University, I knew that a large student loan bill loomed ahead. After all, I had borrowed a lot of money to cover tuition and other costs in graduate school, plus I still had undergraduate loans to pay off.
But I’d always been told that I should try to get the best education possible—even if it came at a hefty price tag—to set myself up for the future. I wanted to pursue a career in a highly specialized field, and Duke offered one of the best programs for it.
To me, it seemed worth the cost. So by the time I graduated in May 2011, I had accumulated about $160,000 in undergraduate and graduate student loans.
It was a lot of money, but I knew a lot of people who were in the same boat, including my now wife, Kelly, who was in the same grad program and left Duke with about $108,000 in student loans.
We knew that paying those amounts back would be a challenge, but neither one of us carried much “bad” debt—I graduated with only about $1,000 in credit card debt, and Kelly had none—so it wouldn’t prevent us from meeting our future goals, right?
Wrong. And I didn’t realize just how much of an impact that debt would have until we attempted to buy our first home.
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