Let me quote something from Liz Pulliam Weston's Deal with Your Debt
Imagine my surprise... the first time I heard a financial planner tell a client that debt wasn't necessarily bad....
The planner suggested our ... subject invest in her retirement plan rather than rushing to pay off her low-rate student debt. The idea that debt repayment needn't always be a top priority was news to me....
This is from Chapter 1 of her book that I've read a couple of times over the years. In this chapter, she described the difference between good debt and bad debt, and she explained how debt-free is the way to be eventually.
According to her, student loans fall into good debt; they're not toxic like credit card debt and payday loans.
I graduated in 2001 with a very
low rate, and the loan amount was close to what you have. In fact, because of the rate, I would happily keep that loan for the rest of my life if I could since I'll probably never get a loan with a rate like that again.
I didn't like the idea of money going to rent either, and I wanted to build equity, so I bought a house right away. It's had a decent rate, and I only paid the mortage for a couple years before we moved out; now the tenants are essentially paying the mortage for me. Another two years and it'll be completely paid off!
Debt gave us an opportunity to seize an opportunity that might otherwise have passed us by.
You're right that there's no right answer. You're going to have to decide yourself which way to go depending on your situation, your budget, and your loan rates. If you can afford the long-term commitment, you might want to consider whether you want to take on some good debt.
Reading Weston's book was definitely eye-opening for me because I stopped worrying about all the "good" debt I had at the time. Instead of worrying about how large the mortgage loan was, I decided I'm happy with it because it's allowing me to get rich slowly.