On Track For Student Debt Forgiveness: How Summer Helped an AFT Member Save

We are proud to partner with the American Federation of Teachers to bring our student loan tools to their members. This blog was originally posted by the American Federation of Teachers.

By Eric Oddo

I am a high school debate teacher at Niles West High School in Skokie, Ill., where I remember tagging along with my mother — also a debate coach — when I was just a kid. I love my job, teaching at a place that meant so much to me as a young person, reaching students who remind me of myself when I was their age. My debate classes are an inspiration to me, and coaching the debate team is a bonus.

But the truth is, I never thought I’d be a teacher — I was on track to become a lawyer. I have an undergraduate degree, two master’s degrees and a law degree. And my family has a student loan debt load north of $351,000.

That’s more than I owe on my mortgage.

After years of deferring loans to improve my education and cover living expenses, I credit the Illinois Federation of Teachers for the support I needed over my 13-year career to secure good benefits and salary. Even still, my student loan payments hung over my head.

My family has a debt load north of $351,000.

By the time I was ready to start repayment, my research on loan savings and forgiveness options showed me just how complicated navigating my bills and the various repayment programs would be. I had to tap into my legal training to understand it all! There’s definitely something wrong with our system; you shouldn’t have to have a law degree to navigate all of this.

So when the Illinois Federation of Teachers invited me to join Summer — a program that helps people assess repayment options — I joined up. The AFT makes Summer available to members for free, and apparently I’m one of thousands who have signed up to reduce their debt load.

There’s definitely something wrong with our system; you shouldn’t have to have a law degree to navigate all of this.

After working with the people at Summer, I was able to enroll in a better income driven repayment plan that reduced my monthly payment by $286 a month. And I’m just over halfway through qualifying payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program set up for people like me who work in public service jobs. Under PSLF, if I keep making my payments for a total of 10 years the rest of my federal student loan debt will be forgiven.

Now I’m on the right track. I’ve worked really hard for my education, and I’ve worked multiple side jobs like tutoring, coaching, even setting up an Airbnb. But I’ve also lucked out, with a union that’s secured good pay and benefits, that encourages professional development — and that helped connect me with Summer so I could manage my student loans.

 

Eric Oddo is a teacher at Niles West High School in Skokie,, Ill., and a member of the North Suburban Teachers Union. If you’d like to join Eric in tackling your student debt, you can create an account with at www.meetsummer.org.

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