• In August, 36-year-old David O’Keefe got his remaining $20,000 student debt forgiven.
  • This gave him the financial security to quit his job and run for office five months later.
  • He told Insider that without the student loan forgiveness, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue his passion.

When Insider spoke to David O’Keefe in August, it was just days after his $20,000 student debt balance dropped to $0.

Now freed from this financial burden, the 36-year-old quits accounting and run for office as county commissioner in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida.

“Running for office would absolutely not have been a possibility if the PSLF had not processed my candidacy,” O’Keefe said, referring to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), a federal program. who canceled his debt after 10 years of work. in the public interest and make payments.

“If you look at why we don’t have young people running for office or even people in their late thirties, it’s partly because you have this burden of debt that prevents you from doing anything but hold a regular job,” he said. says Insider.

David O'Keefe

David O’Keefe.

David O’Keefe

45 million Americans collectively hold $1.7 trillion in student debt, and that can hold back home ownership, job opportunities, and even retirement.

While older Americans carry significant student debt, those of the O’Keefe generation are not immune. The average millennial has an average debt balance of $29,500, they are also the most likely to support broad debt relief, according to a Morning Consult poll.

O’Keefe is more than grateful to be freed from that burden, but he wishes more people could say the same.

“There are millions of people like me who can’t start their own business, who can’t run for office, who can’t start a family, who put off important parts of life because this debt is holding them back. “, did he declare.

‘Feeling useful and having a purpose is very important’

As a public accountant, O’Keefe qualified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The federal program was created to cancel student debt for public servants, such as government employees, after ten years of qualifying payments.

O’Keefe made those payments — and more. Because of the interest that kept piling up, he paid back $60,000 and still had $20,338.42 left a decade later, even though he had originally borrowed $61,236.

But after repeated loan cancellation denials and following the “anxiety-provoking” process with his student loan company, he was notified on August 19 that his PSLF application had been accepted and his student debt was gone.

Now he was free to pursue his dream. Three years ago, O’Keefe started thinking about running for office. Although he worked as an accountant for 15 years and earned a comfortable salary, he began to become more involved in local issues. It helped him realize that he didn’t feel satisfied with his job – but his student debt was preventing him from making significant changes in his life.

“I think for a lot of people of my generation, feeling useful and having a purpose is very important,” O’Keefe said. “But it’s very difficult to do with the realities of our financial situation.”

Once O’Keefe found out he would no longer be paying a $600 monthly bill, he and his wife decided they had the financial security to run for office “to make a bigger impact and to be more useful to more people,” he said. . He is now preparing for the primary elections in August and is a member of The Debt Collective – the nation’s leading debtors’ union advocating for the cancellation of all forms of debt.

Although O’Keefe’s decision to follow a different career path was prompted by the cancellation of student debt, it also reflects a growing trend of Americans leaving their jobs for better terms. Insider previously reported that the reasons 38 million workers joined the “big quit” in 2021 include work-related stress and better pay, and it’s raising standards for workers across the country.

Student loan forgiveness would likely help further this trend. The Ministry of Education recently announced reforms to the PSLF to facilitate debt relief for borrowers after the program recorded a 98% refusal rate for years, but when it comes to cancellation Generally, President Joe Biden has not acted.

And O’Keefe said it hindered community participation.

“These student loans got me through college and helped me become independent and support myself,” O’Keefe said. “But there’s a whole generation of people struggling with student debt who can’t participate in this important part of civic life.”

Do you have a story to share on student debt? Contact Ayelet Sheffey at asheffey@insider.com.