‘Anticlimactic’: A Minnesota grad’s feeling upon becoming debt-free

A man stands near a body of water
Sam Toberman, a University of St. Thomas graduate, has worked for over a decade to pay off nearly $90,000 in student debt.
Courtesy of Sam Toberman

Editor’s note: Minnesotans who attend college have some of the highest student loan debt in the country. This story is part of an occasional series about individuals whose lives have been altered by their student debt. Share your story with MPR News at this link.

Sam Toberman spent over a decade paying off the nearly $90,000 in student loans he took out to attend the University of St. Thomas.

When he made one final lump-sum payment in 2017, the feeling of being loan-free was “anticlimactic.”

In some ways, Toberman, who’s now 35, had been working toward that point since he was a teenager.

Toberman grew up “very poor” in Minnetonka, he said. His mom had a disability, he said, and the family relied on welfare and food stamps to get by.

He started working at a grocery store at age 14 and worked between 20 and 24 hours per week while finishing high school. He said working so much meant his grades slipped and he didn’t get scholarships to school. But Toberman was determined to go to college.

“The one thing I always knew was that education was important, and that’s something that my mom always told me,” he said.

He chose St. Thomas because his sister went there. It was also the only school to which he applied.

Toberman said he took out Pell Grants and loans through the school, but most of his loan amount — about $70,000 — was in the form of private loans. That money went to his room, board, tuition and books.

He also worked about 25 hours a week while attending school, splitting time between on-campus jobs and a weekend gig at Radioshack in Ridgedale Center.

Toberman graduated in 2006 with an environmental studies degree and “literally no idea” what to do for a job, he said. But the loan payments of $880 per month pushed him to find something.

He landed at a small consulting firm that paid him $17 an hour plus benefits. He eventually worked his way up to make about $45,000 annually.

In 2011, he took a higher paying job as a commodities trader. But Toberman said he “hated” that job and quit the following year.

Throughout his postgraduation life, Toberman said he was frugal. He’d drive old cars he fixed himself and lived with roommates. He’d skip big vacations and outings with friends sometimes.

“I always prioritized paying off my student loan debt,” Toberman said.

Toberman started a job at Target’s corporate office in 2012, making $19 an hour. Today, he makes around $90,000, plus bonuses.

He’s two years past having any student debt, and he’s glad to have worked to pay off his loans as quickly as he could.

“Now I’m in my mid-30s and I don’t have any debt whatsoever,” Toberman said. “It feels good to live a cleaner life like that, so like if the economy does end up in a recession, it’s one less thing I have to worry about.”

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