Insider spoke with David O'Keefe on August 2, just days after his $20,000 student debt balance had turned to $0.
The 36-year old is now free from that financial burden and running for office in Tallahassee as a county commissioner.
O'Keefe stated, "Running for office absolutely wouldn't have been possible if PSLF hadn't processed my application," referring to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), a federal program that forgives debt after ten years of service in the public interest and making monthly payments.
Insider told him that if you look at the reasons we don't see young people running for office, or people in their 30s running for office as well, it's partly due to the debt burden that prevents you from working any other job.
45 million Americans have $1.7 trillion in student debt. This can prevent them from owning homes, pursuing employment, or even retiring.
O'Keefe's generation isn't immune to student debt. A Morning Consult poll revealed that millennials have an average debt balance $29,500. They are also most likely to support debt relief.
O'Keefe is grateful for the freedom from that burden, but he wishes there were more people who could do the same.
He stated that "millions of people like me cannot start their own businesses, cannot run for office, cannot start families and are putting off important aspects of life because of this debt."
O'Keefe was a public accountant and therefore qualified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. After ten years of qualifying payments, the federal program was established to forgive student debt for government employees.
O'Keefe made these payments, and more. O'Keefe paid $60,000 off and had $20,338.42 left a decade later. This was despite having borrowed $61,236 originally.
After repeated rejections of loan forgiveness, as well as an "anxiety-producing” process with his student-loan firm, he received notice on August 19 that the PSLF application had been approved and that his student debt was gone.
He was now free to pursue his dream. O'Keefe began to think about running for office three years ago. O'Keefe had been an accountant for 15+ years, earning a good salary. But he was becoming more involved in local issues. He realized he wasn't satisfied with his job and that his student debt was keeping him from making significant life changes.
O'Keefe stated, "I believe that for many people in my generation feeling useful and having sense of purpose are very important." It's difficult to live with the reality of our financial situation.
O'Keefe realized that he wouldn't be paying $600 per month and that he and his wife had enough financial security to run for office. O'Keefe is now preparing for August's primary election and is a member The Debt Collective, the nation's first union of debtors that promotes the cancellation of all types of debt.
O'Keefe's decision not to pursue a different career path was driven by student debt cancellation. However, it also reflects the growing trend of Americans quitting their jobs in search of better conditions. In an earlier report, Insider reported that 38 million workers joined the "Great Resignation" of 2021 due to stress and higher pay. This is raising standards for workers all across the country.
More students will likely follow this trend by asking for forgiveness of student loans. Recently, the Education Department announced reforms to PSLF that will make it easier for borrowers get rid of their debts. The program had a 98% denial rate over years. However, President Joe Biden has yet to act when it comes time to cancel broad.
O'Keefe stated that it hinders community involvement.
O'Keefe stated that student loans helped him get through college, and also allowed him to be independent and provide for his family. "But, there are a lot of people who have student loan debt and can't take part in this important aspect of civic life.
Have a story about student debt that you would like to share? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at [email protected]