What’s the Problem Here?

Why are student loans such a big problem? Why are loan balances skyrocketing? If we can figure that out, we can solve the problem, right? But part of the problem is that no one can agree what the cause is.

Here’s what we know: 1. College is expensive, and it’s gotten more expensive at a faster rate than it should have in the past two decades; 2. Higher education is necessary for social mobility; 3. Student loans are usually necessary to pay for tuition and the other costs associated with college. So, why is tuition rising? That might be the right question.

I read an article the other day that explores a possible reason: student loans themselves are the answer to why tuition is increasing. Or, more specifically, how easy it is to get student loans is the problem. Some may also blame colleges’ silly spending habits. Colleges are spending a lot of money on buildings and amenities that have nothing to do with academics to attract more students, which has to be funded by tuition. But maybe the two theories are linked. Because colleges need to fund the buildings, and student loans are so easy for students to get, they simply charge the students more in tuition.

When I went to college, I needed student loans, and even back then it was super easy to get them. And then, after I graduated, I had trouble paying them off, just like so many people are experiencing today. Thankfully, today there are a host of repayment plans that make it easier to stay in the black on your student loans — those weren’t available when I needed them. I had to fight my servicer to get in a repayment plan that fit my needs. But I did, and now I’m happy to be helping others do the same.

When Student Loans Meet Military Service

When I was fresh out of high school I had a choice to make, and my life almost looked a lot different than it does now. I was weighing my options between following one brother through college or following the other through the military. I had decided to enlist when my brother who was going to college convinced me to visit him at his university, where I changed my mind to see if college was for me, and started on the course that led me to where I am today.

Not everyone chooses between a military or college future. A lot of people do both, and they experience unique challenges. I admire anyone who chooses to go both routes and who face the challenges each path presents. However, I’m upset by the fact that the people who serve for their country end up struggling with student loans when they should get more help in return for their service. Each of them have made sacrifices in their lives to serve — whether that’s spending so much time away from their loved ones, relocating their families frequently, passing up more lucrative career options, or even physical sacrifices in the form of injuries (both mental, physical, and emotional), and I feel they deserve a higher level of student debt relief.

Of course, they do have a lot of options depending on where they are in their careers. Active duty members can take advantage of interest rate cuts while they’re serving and each branch has its own programs, including some for forgiveness. The only barrier to getting that relief is getting the right information.

Qualifying veterans have access to the Forever GI Bill, but for-profit colleges have a track record of taking advantage of those benefits, misleading veterans, and leaving them with high student loan balances and a worthless education. It’s disgusting that those schools are allowed to do that. But even when they close down, like Corinthian College and ITT Tech, students many of them vets, are still not seeing the relief they deserve through borrower defense discharge.

I don’t think we’re doing things right if a vet’s student loans are preventing them from paying their bills and providing a life for their family. We should be doing better by our service members, especially considering what they’ve given to us.


Work Your Entrepreneurial Muscles

I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship. As a kid, I was always trying to find a way to make money for myself, friends, and family. From the age of six, I had a way of inventing little enterprises and finding odd jobs so that I could buy the things I wanted—all by myself. I’ve carried those habits into adulthood and I’m constantly thinking of new innovations that can help my business, other people, and my life. I believe in an entrepreneurial mindset, and encourage everyone to develop their own.

Usually when people talk about entrepreneurship they talk about people who start businesses. But there’s more to it than that. The truth is that not all entrepreneurs build successful businesses. Sure, they might be successfully employed for themselves, but a successful business grows and eventually the workforce can run it without you. That leaves you to be able to take an “outsider’s” view and build the business even more by fine tuning the systems, processes, and procedures that make it run. The best way to do that is through innovation, creativity, and listening that voice inside you that is showing you the way.

I’m always telling people around me to innovate. I do that because that’s at the heart of entrepreneurship and success. The trick is to reevaluate what you have with “new” eyes. If you’re constantly looking at your work and life with “new” eyes, you can get a fresh perspective on strengths and weaknesses and you’ll be able to come up with creative ways to improve. It’s hard to do that, but the more you try the greater success you’ll have. Innovation is a muscle you have to strengthen, and that takes regular exercise. The drive to innovate and keep building on success embodies what it means to be an entrepreneur.


A Start-Up Kind of Life

I love the start-up mentality. I love it because I love the idea of building something from the ground up. Laying the foundation, the frame, the walls, and filling in all the details. I used to build houses for a living, but now I build my business. But as my company grows, I always aim to keep a start-up mentality because innovation, fresh ideas, and collaboration are what makes a company. While some markets remain stable for years, things can change at the drop of a hat, and innovation is needed.

That’s why I encourage those who are just starting out in the workforce—or, actually, anybody in the workforce—to find a company where they can be an active participant. Obviously sometimes you have to take a job you don’t like to pay the bills. But if you are making a choice on where to look, think about companies that are start-ups or have that start-up mentality. Seek out companies where you can contribute with your own creativity. Where you can build practices and systems that shape the company.

You don’t need to be a CEO or VP to do these kinds of things. You don’t even have to be a manager. If you’re at the right company, you will be doing this all the time regardless of your status. Now this doesn’t mean you will have the freedom to go rogue. Each company has its own standards, vision, and style. But within those parameters, you can create, suggest, and persuade your company into better and best practices. And if you keep getting shot down or ignored, maybe you should start looking for a place that’s a better fit for you, that is willing to see your ideas as valid and even valuable. That place may even be a company you start yourself.

Forging Ahead

I’m a huge proponent of personal growth, in both myself and those around me. It’s been my mission to help everyone around me to meet and exceed their expectations. I encourage people to seek help when they need it — much better to ask for help than to get stuck in life. Life offers too much for anyone to get stuck.

I created my companies to provide help in a confusing industry: student loans. I’m extremely proud of everything my employees do for student loan borrowers every day. My greatest wish is to help everyone get what they want out of life. For my colleagues that could be a successful and fulfilling career; for my clients that could be financial security despite an awful student loan situation.

I usually try to stay out of the spotlight, but I decided it’s time to embrace the spotlight to reach my goals. So here I am. If you can believe it, the pictures here are the first I’ve ever posted online. Crazy, right? But it’s time to step up and connect with all of you here.

Something you’ll see me do a lot is draw from my experiences. Thankfully, I have a lot of material and hope to keep adding to it. I value travel and hard work and living life to the fullest. I’ll be talking about all those good things in the future, but for now I’ll leave you to think about one thing that helps me in my growth: keep moving. Whatever you do in life, keep moving; even if it feels like you’re going backward, you’re bound to learn something from that, and that’s much better than staying in one place.