I have spent the past week wrestling with how to tell this story — and whether or not I should tell this story. It’s certainly related to personal finance, especially my own personal finances. But if I tell it wrong, it comes across as overly political and a plea for money. Awesome! Two things that I’ve attempted to avoid for the entirety of this blog! (Two birds with one stone?)
But I do want to tell this story, because I think it brings up some interesting questions about loans, campaign financing, and even gambling. And because I’m not sure what the best way is to tell it, I’ll do it the only way I know how: starting from the beginning.
As of the last time I checked (at the end of August), I owe $42,526 in student loans to the US government. I’m on the 25 year repayment plan. Due to underemployment and my high loan balance, I’m currently on the graduated repayment plan (my payments get bigger every two years) and I’m paying my loans… but just about nothing else. I can’t afford much else, and I’m draining my savings. None of this is news — it’s just the way it is right now.
Krystal Ball for Congress, 2010
Since moving to Virginia, I’ve made a point to begin investigating local politics. I had done a lot of research on local candidates in New York during the last election, and it felt really good to be that involved. But I didn’t actually find out about Krystal Ball (yes, that’s really her name) through research, I actually first started seeing her in ads on Facebook. That’s a common thing to do, since you can target Facebook ads to certain regions.
Krystal Ball is running for the House of Representatives in Virginia’s First District, which isn’t actually my district, but it certainly is my state. To be honest, I didn’t notice the strangeness of her name until weeks later — at the time, I got very much wrapped up in reading about her and learning about her ideas on the issues. In a lot of ways, Krystal reminds me of myself and we share many of the same views. Personal finance nerds will get a kick of the fact that Krystal is a Certified Public Accountant!
I wrote Krystal an email, telling her that I supported her campaign, despite not being a resident of her district. I made myself a “fan” of her page on Facebook and continued to keep an eye on her over the next couple of weeks. I even sent her a few emails to get her views on campaign finance reform (only to find out, again, that we are very much on the same page about that issue, as well).
The Student Loan Challenge
On Krystal Ball’s website and Facebook page, there were references to something called the “Student Loan Challenge.” Just like I failed to notice that her name was strange, I didn’t pay much attention to this either. (I have a one-track mind when it comes to the issues.) But eventually I did look into it, and became fascinated with the idea. Basically, her campaign is offering to pay off the student loans (up to $50,000) of the person who raises the most money for her by the end of the day on September 30th.
Gambling With an Emergency Fund
As of the last update, the leader in the Student Loan Challenge has raised $1,450 for the campaign. If I dumped all of the money I have in all of my savings accounts into her campaign, I would be the new leader. And if I won, that would pay off between $10,000 and $42,526 of my student loans* (depending on the overall amount raised by the Student Loan Challenge). But that’s a big gamble — I don’t know how many other people are sitting around, waiting until the last day to pump a bunch of money in and get their student loans paid off. (*I’d owe taxes on the prize.)
It’s a gamble that I’m ultimately not willing to take. I adore Krystal Ball as a candidate, but I’m not in a position to give up my emergency fund, my car fund, my charity fund (well, maybe that), my travel fund, etc. etc.. Especially when I’ve barely got my head above water as it is. Yes, if it worked, it would take care of a big problem in my life. But if it didn’t, if someone beat me… I’d have trouble even making next month’s student loan payments. It would ruin me.
So I made a decision, and agreement with myself. If I reach my fundraising goal of $3,000 in donations from other people, by Wednesday afternoon, I’ll kick in $500 myself – if it looks like that will make me win. Because I support Krystal Ball’s campaign a lot — at least $500 worth. So even if that didn’t make me the winner, I wouldn’t feel bad. I’d be responsible for $3,500 in donations to a candidate I truly believe in. And that would be enough for me.
So what do you guys think? Am I making the right choices regarding this whole Student Loan Challenge? Would you give $25 to a political candidate if it might mean the end of student loans for the poorest personal finance blogger? Is this all nuts, or awesome? And who names their kid Krystal Ball, anyway?
Update: the winner of the Student Loan Challenge (who was most certainly not me!) ended up raising $3,500. I ultimately did not contribute any money during the challenge, because I didn’t reach my $3,000 fundraising goal. I plan to donate later on in her campaign. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but what do you guys think of the whole thing in light of that?