For Kellogg MBA Cacky Calderon, far more is at stake than money when it comes to paying off her staggering student debt. And staggering it is: Calderon earned an MBA and a law degree simultaneously from Northwestern University, where the Kellogg School of Management and law school are among the most highly selective schools in the country.
She was paying tuition of around $70,000 a year, and came out of school with $350,000 in student loans–more than triple the average debt burden of a Kellogg MBA. And the sooner she’s out of debt, the sooner she can launch her startup, an enterprise rooted in profound personal loss, and focused on improving the lives of cancer victims and their loved ones.
After graduating last year, Calderon has been paying down her debt with all she can save, plus her bonuses from TripAdvisor, where she’s a product manager. “I just put every penny into paying back these loans as fast as possible,” says Calderon, 31, who had spent four and one-half years at Amazon after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics and marketing at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School in 2005.
SELF-IMPOSED AUSTERITY INCLUDES NOT HAVING A CAR, PACKING HER LUNCH
In her assault on her student debt, she imposed lifestyle austerity, commuting an hour by train to work instead of buying a car, abstaining from international travel, packing her own work lunch, almost never eating out, and not drinking alcohol. “I’ve lived the most frugal life in order to get this thing paid off fast.”
Calderon had taken out federal Graduate PLUS and Stafford student loans for her Northwestern education, then refinanced with SoFi, a disruptive San Francisco firm founded in 2011 that’s approaching $2.5 billion in refinanced student loans. The refinancing gave her an interest rate of 6.4% on a fixed-rate, 15-year term, delivering significant interest savings over her federal loans, which ranged from around 5% to 7.9%, but were compounding.
And now, thanks to a contest SoFi announced to celebrate reaching $2 billion in refinancing, Calderon has a chance to have her entire loan paid off at once. The firm’s “#2BillionTogether” contest for SoFi clients required a short essay for entry, describing how refinancing affected the contestant’s life, and how the grand prize – total payoff of their SoFi student debt, by SoFi – would allow them to achieve their career and life dreams. More than 2,400 entries came in. SoFi staff and management narrowed the list down, based on the essay contents, to 20 semifinalists – including Calderon. Public voting on the SoFi site, closing at 11:59 p.m. EST on June 23, will determine the winner.
“There’s a guy with an incredible network in first place,” Calderon says 36 hours before the end of voting. “It’s a heated race – we’re all trying to catch up to him, or at least crack the top five.”
At 6 p.m. Eastern on June 22, Calderon had 2,786 votes, putting her at No. 6, while the leader, a New York University School of Law graduate, had 10,627. SoFi removed the vote count from public visibility later on June 22.