Since he graduated from UMass Amherst in 2013, Shane O’Brien has been focused on paying back his student loan debt. Now his nine-year effort has gotten a big boost from President Joe Biden, who last week signed off on a loan forgiveness program of $10,000 per borrower for those making under $125,000 a year. Shane is elated that he qualifies, telling me, “It’s good because it will wipe out about $2,000 of my remaining federal loans.”

However, that doesn’t mean he’s debt free. Like some of the 43 million burdened by student loan debt, his major expense “are private student loans.”

Still, Shane is currently in a much better position than a lot of student loan borrowers who, on average, carry $41,000 of debt that’s $52,000 for Black borrowers. But just four years ago, his struggle to manage his debt landed him in the Brockton Enterprise newspaper. His story made news when he attempted to persuade his employer, the city of Brockton, to allow him to waive the residential living requirement. With Excel sheets in hand, Shane explained to Brockton City Council members his plan to move in with his parents in Newport, Rhode Island, so he could live rent-free and apply the savings to pay down his debt. Three city councilors voted yes, but the six-member majority said no.

I took notice of Shane’s story back in 2018 and recently followed up with him. A year after the Council’s no vote, he left his Brockton staff planner job for a better paying and more advanced position as Everett’s land use planner. Next stop Framingham, where he moved up to senior planner. He and the woman who became his fiancée moved in together and shared expenses. And he kept making payments during the government-sanctioned payment pause which began in March 2020. A pause President Biden has announced will continue through the end of this year.

With sacrifice and career success, Shane successfully trimmed $15,000 of his $70,000 in private loans, in addition to a near payoff of his $8,000 federal loan, despite rising interest rates which he says drive "profiteering" in student loans." He had long hoped for the cap on interest rates that is part of the Biden loan forgiveness plan.

Five months ago, Shane O’Brien moved up another career rung as Bridgewater’s town planner, the top planning job in the city. He’s doing work he describes as his “calling”; he and his now wife are active citizens in Taunton where they have purchased a home. Two life passages he knows many of his debt-saddled former college classmates have been forced to delay. While he’s glad so many will get relief from the president’s loan forgiveness, he admits “this is a not a permanent solution."