Dropping Knowledge on Paying Back Loans for College

I dropped a track about paying back my loans. Turns out, a lot of people could relate to that struggle.

01/18/2017 11:27 am ET
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What does hip-hop have to do with financial literacy and student loans? Well, they say “write what you know,” so I dropped a track about paying back my loans. Turns out, a lot of people could relate to that struggle.

Everyone knows going to school is expensive. As a student, scholarships helped me pay for college, but they were only part of the story. I knew I’d have to take out student loans to reach for the degree I wanted.

Looking back now, I realize I didn’t fully understand student loans at the time – how they worked and how important they were going to be to my financial future.  And I know there are plenty of people who feel the same way. That said, the education I received with help from those loans landed the gig I have today – an educator, motivational speaker, and hip-hop artist. And now that I’ve paid my loans back, I’m using my music to pay it forward and help others navigate their student loans as well.

There are many ways to empower students and graduates, and it starts with giving them the tools and resources available to help them succeed. In a world full of noise, music remains one of the most powerful channels to break through. Music is a medium for shaping pop culture and making a statement about meaningful issues – rap in particular has a history of this. That’s why I chose this medium, and why I think more should embrace it as a way to reach people about important issues like education and financial literacy.

I’m using my music to pay it forward and help others navigate their student loans as well.

The reality is, people out there are hungry for this information. They want to understand the facts when it comes to paying back student loans and the best way to do it. Student loans may get a bad rap, but it’s important that students and families separate the myths from the facts. That’s why my song, “Sallie Mae Back,” has resonated with so many people. Student loans are clearly a part of life for so many of us and that’s why I wanted to celebrate the journey I took in paying mine off.

My music is driven by three principles – be real, be righteous, be relevant – and applying this philosophy to student loans meant talking about the best ways to be financially responsible. For those recent graduates staring at their first student loan bill this month, I’ve got some truth for you: financial responsibility and paying back your loans doesn’t have to be something you figure out on your own. 

So you can imagine my surprise when the company that inspired “Sallie Mae Back” reached out to me about working together to help students feel that same joy I did when I paid off my loans. It’s a partnership that started with a tour visiting high school students and talking to them about being financially responsible and, in the process, handing out $95,000 in scholarships. And today, it’s about helping students get on the right track to paying back their loans.

Here’s what students and families need to know to make that happen:

Know who you owe and how much you owe.

Is your loan from Uncle Sam or a private lender like Sallie Mae? Check your statement or credit report. Be responsible and remember to check your monthly payment amounts and due dates.

Separate your wants from your needs.

Managing money effectively means managing your lifestyle. Yeah, you can go the club or buy new kicks, but that student loan will still be there. Instead, prioritize those payments you need to make every month and make sure your student loan is one of them.

Exceed your own expectations.

Pay more than the minimum amount due each month. If you get a raise, use part or all of it to increase your monthly payment. If you get a tax refund or a gift that’s cash, add it to your monthly payment. The faster you pay off your loan, the less you‘ll spend in the long run. 

Keep it real.

If you run into trouble, don’t hide from it, don’t be embarrassed by it, and don’t give up. Stay positive and look for solutions. Try calling your lender to explore your options, touching base with your cosigner, if you have one, or even talking to friends and family. Chances are they’ve been there before, too, and may have some advice.

Student loans are a reality for so many of us. They won’t disappear magically overnight, but with a plan and some discipline, paying them off is possible. And that’s something to sing about.

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