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How I Graduated With Two Degrees Virtually Debt Free

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Nobody likes debt (except lenders of course) and student loan debt is THE worst kind to have. Why, you ask? There are very few circumstances where it's forgiven, cancelled, or discharged. Keep reading to find out how I graduated with two degrees virtually debt free.

Graduated Debt Free

There are few circumstances resulting in loan forgiveness or discharge:

  • working in public service or educational roles (has restrictions)

  • total and permanent disability (ouch)

  • death (I'm actually surprised they're generous enough to leave your estate alone)

Bankruptcy rarely results in the discharge of the debt. How ironic - you take on student loan debt to get into a career that will keep you financially stable, you fall on hard times, but too bad so sad - you're still supposed to pay your loans even though they're probably one of the biggest reasons you're struggling! Interesting conundrum, right? Luckily, a lot of employers have moved to offering tuition reimbursement programs as a perk, some more generous and having less stipulations than others of course. I'm shedding light on the program that paid for both my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees (and then some) in this post.

I've always heard there's no such thing as free lunch and most of the time, that's true. When I was introduced to the Chicagoland Regional College Program (CRCP), their partnership with United Parcel Service (UPS), and told what the program had to offer, I was skeptical to say the least. There was no way I could see them paying my entire tuition bill, providing both $333 monthly housing and $50 monthly transportation benefits, giving me a $500 bonus EVERY semester as long as I had a 2.0 GPA, AND paying me the same rate, benefits, etc. that they do their employees who have no affiliation with the program. Oh, and there was opportunity to move up to a part time supervisor role rather than staying on as a package handler. Oh, did I mention that this wasn't a reimbursement because I never paid out of pocket for tuition, fees, books, or ANYTHING! Too good to be true, right? But indeed it was all legit.

RCP is a state funded program and as such, things have changed since I graduated nine years ago, but the program is still making a huge difference for the students who are active in it. I even stayed on taking classes after I got my Master's Degree because I hadn't found a full time job yet.. and for the free lunch ; )

Program Highlights

  • Tuition, Fees, & Books: up to $5,250 annually

  • Paycheck from UPS: minimum $13,500 annually (4 hour shift)

  • Monthly Bonus: up to $6,000 annually

The Fine Print

  • Only available at the Hodgkins, IL hub

  • Work either the night shift (10 PM - 3 AM) or sunrise shift (4 AM - 10 AM)

  • Classes must be taken at partner colleges or affiliate institutions

Notice I say I graduated "virtually" debt free. That's because the tuition, books, and fees were not included in my taxable income, but my monthly benefits and semester bonuses were. I was happy to pay taxes on only those though considering all the other incentives I received.

Want to know more about the program and ALL of its phenomenal benefits? Give them a call at (708) 387-2600 or check out I'm even still featured on their Success Stories page - known as Jennifer Wellington back in those days.

The Bottom Line

  • Student loan debt is in excess of $1.6 trillion

  • Average debt of nearly $30K/student

  • Over 10% of federal loans are in default

Layer in massive compound interest and you've got a huge obstacle to tackle on your journey to building wealth. There are plenty of ways to pay for college without taking on debt - the way I did it is merely one. If you decide that debt is the way for you to go, make sure you're educated about what that means for you when you're on the path to repayment. And as a tax person, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the student loan interest deduction is capped at $2,500/year, has phase-out limits, and is totally eliminated for taxpayers that file Married Filing Separately. All that said, choose wisely my friends!

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