Despite taking on student loans to get him through college, Justin McCurry — who runs financial independence blog Root of Good — graduated college with a positive net worth.
From undergrad, McCurry went straight on to law school. In 2004, he landed his first job out of law school, working at an engineering consulting firm for $48,000 a year. Frugal by nature, he and his wife began saving diligently and maxing out their retirement accounts each year.
By 2013, the couple had saved up over $1 million — enough for Justin to retire at 33.
McCurry and his wife never won the lottery or played the stock market — and their combined annual household income never topped $150,000. But the choices that helped him save up to retire in his 30s were the same ones that helped him finish college with a positive net worth, even though he took out several loans going in.
"Part of that was luck, and part of that was being smart and working hard during college and taking the right steps to get to that point," he told the Mad Fientist on an episode of his "Financial Independence Podcast."
While paying off loans entirely before graduation might not be feasible for everyone — McCurry actually kept some of his college debt because it was at such a favorable interest rate (more below) — here are a few strategies McCurry used that are worth considering for any student:
He strategically took on loans with favorable interest rates. Yes, McCurry and his wife had to take on loans, but they shopped around for the best rates, and ended up taking on debt at a 0.75% interest rate. "We still actually have some of that debt today at 0.75% interest rate," he explained. "I will take as much debt as anyone will give me at 0.75% interest rate. ... You can invest it in treasuries and double that yield or triple it."
He bought a house instead of renting. Going to school in North Carolina, McCurry realised it would be cheaper to buy a house than rent a place for multiple years. While he understands that this isn't true everywhere, by putting in the research to find out what was the best deal in his area, he was able to optimise his housing situation. And as a bonus, he and his wife were able to sell the house for a profit post-college.
He worked jobs that doubled as hands-on experience in his field. While this isn't possible in all industries, McCurry sought out paid teaching assistant positions and research grants that related to his engineering degree, which helped him pay the bills and pad his résumé at the same time. "Once we got to graduation, all those career-oriented jobs that I took on ended up helping me get a good job right out of college," he said. "I think it’s a lot of thinking about where you want to be in a few years."
McCurry's situation certainly isn't the norm for the millions of students facing mounting student loan debt. But his underlying mantra can be applied universally: Being intentional and strategic from the start can set you up on the path to financial freedom.
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