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How a young Black woman in Chicago is quickly paying off her student debt

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Black women, on average, hold more student debt than any other group and often have a harder time paying it off. We have the story now of a borrower who is doing everything she can to avoid becoming part of that statistic. WBEZ's Lisa Kurian Philip joined her for lunch outside her office in the Chicago suburbs.

LISA PHILIP, BYLINE: Thirty-year-old Brianna Kidd is chowing down on some delicious-looking homemade pasta.

BRIANNA KIDD: It's like a spinach linguine. And then I took a bunch of multicolored peppers.

PHILIP: I asked if she's always known how to cook.

KIDD: No, but that's why you have the internet.

PHILIP: Now she cooks most days - an effort to save money. Brianna graduated college in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and $42,000 in student debt. She started working and making loan payments right away, but after three years, she realized...

KIDD: Most of it goes to interest and then barely goes to principal.

PHILIP: She'd barely made a dent in her overall debt.

KIDD: Panic ensued. I'm saying it like I'm reading a novel.

PHILIP: A year after finishing college, Black women owe nearly $39,000, on average, in student debt. That's more than any other demographic, according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for education equity. And because of gender and racial pay gaps, college-educated Black women like Brianna often earn much less than their peers. The racial wealth gap they face is even bigger. All of this means they have a harder time paying back their loans.

KIDD: When it comes to this aspect of my life with these student loans, I refuse to be the statistic. I want to be the outlier, and I will be that.

PHILIP: Five years ago, in a little notebook, Brianna wrote down how much she needed to earn to pay off her loans as quickly as possible.

KIDD: I started working two jobs to try to make these ends meet and also to be able to save.

PHILIP: She moved in with her dad.

KIDD: I don't have my own house. I don't have my own apartment, but I don't have to pay for rent and utilities all by myself.

PHILIP: She cut back on eating out, even at Potbelly’s, her absolute favorite spot. Then, when the pandemic started, Brianna saw an opportunity. Interest was paused. Most people stopped making payments. But Brianna doubled down.

KIDD: Pay a lump sum of, like, two grand on another one. Just knock another one out. Knock another one out.

PHILIP: All that money went directly toward her loan principles. She brought her balance from $37,000 at the start of the pandemic to $10,000 as of early October, when the payment pause ended. Brianna recognizes not many are in the position to do what she did, no matter how badly they may want to.

KIDD: My story isn't a one-size-fits-all for everyone.

PHILIP: She still works two jobs as a claims adjuster and an insurance agent. So when she's finished working her 9-to-5, she'll go home and work some more. And she still lives with her dad. But she's so close to being debt free. With some help from local WBEZ listeners, she's now on track to pay off all her student loans in 12 months or less.

KIDD: I can't wait! I'm so excited to be done with this 'cause then I get to start my life. I get to have my life back.

PHILIP: Brianna dreams of buying a house with enough kitchen counter space to cook meals with her favorite spices - smoked paprika and cumin. And she wants two bathrooms.

KIDD: 'Cause I'm tired of waiting for someone who's already in the one bathroom, and I'm talking about full - well, I guess I could have a half. No. Give me two full bathrooms.

PHILIP: And she wants a two-car garage and a grassy yard. Brianna thinks she can start saving up for a down payment after her debt is gone.

For NPR News, I'm Lisa Kurian Philip in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF L.DRE'S "GRAVITY FALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lisa Philip