“I honestly don't remember signing the notes,” Janise Cookston admits now. “It's really difficult as a kid fresh out of high school to figure out what you're signing and what it means.”
Janise isn’t alone in having to deal with school debt. According to USA Today, in 2010 student borrowing topped the $100 billion mark for the first time, and in 2011 the total of student loans outstanding exceeded $1 trillion, also for the first time.
The College Board reports “full-time undergraduate students borrowed an average $4,963 in 2010, up 63% from a decade earlier.” And astoundingly, Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards.
In one respect Janise was more fortunate than most. “From the beginning, the plan was for my parents to repay the loans in my name. I never really gave them a second thought.”
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Even so, she wasn’t cavalier about her education expenses. “I wanted to be a licensed commercial interior designer. I worked nearly full time my entire four years of school. Believe me, I waited tables a whole lot!”
Taking on the Student Loan Debt
When her loans went into repayment mode in 2007, her parents came through and began writing checks like they said they would. But in April 2009, something happened that changed everything.
“We began working Dave’s plan,” Janise said. “When we started facing reality, my husband Chris’ student loans stood out. Then and there we decided that even though my parents were committed to paying mine off, my loans were in my name, and they, too, should be part of our debt snowball. It was just the right thing to do.”
Gazelle intensity became the order of the day. They paid off $61,000 in student loan debt in just three years. “Our income was only $38,000 a year,” Janise notes. “Chris was still in school and delivering pizzas. I was the only one working full time.”
Chris credits his wife with getting them on the right path. “Janise had been listening to Dave on a Focus on the Family podcast. When we got married, we didn’t know anything about money, so we decided to follow this guy [Dave Ramsey], and it worked out really well.”
Saying Goodbye to the Debt
Chris and Janise recently drove from Houston to Nashville to make their debt-free call from the lobby at Financial Peace Plaza. Their unbelievably passionate debt-free scream could almost be heard in the parking lot! “That may be one of the best screams we’ve ever had,” Dave declared. “It was world-class!” Listen to their call.
Now debt free and still in their 20s, Chris and Janise are excited about sharing what they have learned with others. “To succeed, you have to work toward the same goal and be on the same page financially,” Chris said. “We’re communicating better on other issues too,” Janise added. “And learning self-discipline has been really amazing.”
Chris and Janise are learning to give like no one else. As Chris puts it, “Now that we no longer have the burden of debt pressing down on us, we can freely give out of the surplus God has blessed us with.”
Now that is what financial peace is all about.
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