Tommy LeSage, Jr. is a public servant.
At 28, LeSage is a police officer in Massachusetts and a First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard.
LeSage is also one of 44 million Americans who collectively owe $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.
We discussed his path toward student loan repayment for his degree in sociology, with a focus on crime and justice, from Suffolk Univeristy in Boston.
While LeSage has not repaid his debt in full, LeSage has repaid $62,000 of student loan debt in two years, and has about $1,300 remaining. Separately, he owes his father approximately $36,000 for an additional educational loan.
Zack Friedman: You had a real wake up call when you checked your credit score and student loan balance for the first time. What did you discover?
Tommy LeSage: I never checked my credit score before, and never even looked at my loans or what I owed.
My best friend Andrew shamed me into checking my credit score and to analyze the numbers I owed.
I had a cold sweat dripping down my back when I saw that I was $120,000 in debt and had a 435 credit score.
My life was over financially before I even knew it, or so I thought.
Zack Friedman: How did you then turn around your financial life?
Tommy LeSage: Andrew recommended that I needed to start paying every cent I had into my loans in order to make an attempt to get out of debt as fast as possible.
First, we looked at my income, expenses and spending. Then, we established a strict four-year payment plan in order to get out of debt.
I bought all my food in bulk at BJ’s Wholesale. I planned my meals and basically ate the same meals everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I lived with my parents, which was a huge leg up and allowed me to save at least $1,000+ on rent. I still had a modest car loan, gym membership, cell phone, health insurance, car insurance and Netflix.
I realized that this was a time to sacrifice. I cut down on coffees, going out and buying any lavish gifts.
I thought that if I buckled down hard now, I could reward myself in the future.
Zack Friedman: In addition to cost-cutting, you also had a savings plan.
Tommy LeSage: That’s right. Every paycheck that I received, I would put in an average of $2,000/month into my loans, and attacked them one at a time.
I picked one loan at a time and started knocking them off one by one. I became obsessed with seeing the numbers significantly go down.
Loan service providers want to give you the “lowest payments” in order to make the monthly payments less of a burden for you.
In reality, they’re making it more of a burden for you because they are just adding to your interest, making it longer for you to pay them off.
Zack Friedman: What advice would you offer to someone who wants to develop an action plan for student loan repayment?
Tommy LeSage: Utilize your resources, self educate, read books and find something you want and go get it.
You control your destiny. Every question unasked is another stone unturned.
Zack Friedman: What advice can you give to a student loan borrower who was in your situation and wants to get out of debt?
Tommy LeSage: Get organized, face your fears and look at the numbers.
The numbers tell a story, and it is up to you to make your own ending.
Do you want to live your life having to pay someone else all of your hard earned money?
Or do you want to make your own rules as you go along?
Zack Friedman: What inspired you to work in public service as a member of law enforcement and serve in the National Guard?
Tommy LeSage: Ever since I was a child, I had a passion for law enforcement and the military.
I knew that public service was my calling and it was something that I believed in.
I had a strong ability to lead others and I was tenacious, which allowed me to be quite disciplined and goal-oriented.
Zack Friedman: Did you ever consider Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Tommy LeSage: Yes, I was very interested in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. However, it did not fit within my timeline.
Since I had only been out of college for three years, I would have needed to make 120 payments over 10 years. I would’ve been 36 years old.
[Public Service Loan Forgiveness] didn’t offer me what I needed in time.
Zack Friedman: What did you learn from your financial journey?
Tommy LeSage: I learned through failure. Failure to some people can drag you down in the dumps and suffocate you.
Had I not found the passion for learning about money, investments and real estate by reading some great books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, then I wouldn’t have ever found the drive to be where I am today.
And it helps to have a friend who is brutally honest with you.
My favorite quote that I live by is from Franklin D. Roosevelt: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Zack Friedman: What will it feel like to have financial freedom?
I feel like a massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
I feel like I am able to determine my own destiny and not have banks or loan collectors tell me where my money goes.
I suppose I tell myself that I have obtained financial freedom, but that is more of a self-coaching technique to stay positive and keep myself motivated.
But I know that I defiantly took the first step.