Power Players

Elon Musk says he had about $100,000 in student debt after college: 'I couldn't even afford a 2nd PC'

Elon Musk
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, said he ended up with six figures in student debt after college, in a series of tweets about his education and backstory.

He opened up about these years of living in debt, in response to a few Twitter users claiming Musk's father owned an "emerald mine" to pay for his "privileged upbringing and education." That is not true, Musk said.

"This is a pretty awful lie," Musk tweeted on Dec. 28. "He didn't own an emerald mine & I worked my way through college, ending up ~$100k in student debt. I couldn't even afford a 2nd PC at Zip2, so programmed at night & website only worked during day. Where is this bs coming from?"

"I left South Africa by myself when I was 17 with just a backpack & suitcase of books. Worked on my Mom's cousin's farm in Saskatchewan & a lumber mill in Vancouver. Went to Queens Univ with scholarship & debt, then same to UPenn/Wharton & Stanford."

Soon after Musk left for Canada, his mother, Maye, moved to Canada too, along with Musk's brother, Kimbal, and sister, Tosca, according to the book "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," by Ashlee Vance. (Maye was born in Canada and already had citizenship, which she passed on to Musk and his siblings.)

Musk's parents were divorced for most of his life. Musk's father, Errol, an engineer, married Maye when she was 22, and Musk was born shortly after. Errol and Maye divorced about nine years later. Errol owned one of the largest homes in Pretoria, South Africa, and took his children on many trips overseas, according to the book. Musk and Kimbal lived with Errol for a while, but their relationship is complicated.

Musk enrolled at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, in 1989. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania on scholarship in 1992 and graduated in 1997. After graduating, he founded his first start-up, a city guide software company called Zip2.

"We started Zip2 with ~$2k from me plus my overclocked home-built PC, ~$5k from my bro & ~$8k from Greg Kouri (such a good guy — he is greatly missed)," Musk also tweeted, breaking down the financing of Zip2. "My Dad provided 10% of a ~$200k angel funding round much later, but by then risk was reduced & round would've happened anyway."

In 1999, Musk sold Zip2 to Compaq for roughly $300 million. Musk used the money from that sale to found X.com, an online financial services platform that merged with Confinity in 2000, and later became PayPal. In 2002, eBay purchased PayPal for $1.5 billion.

Maye also responded to the claims via Twitter on Saturday, defending Musk's rebuttal.

"To add to the truth, we went to Boston Chicken in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving because we couldn't afford a turkey. And we spent three weeks making our rent-controlled apartment livable in Toronto."

Maye added, "We lived at 4000 Yonge St. Over the holidays, my nephew reminded me that he, Elon and Kimbal took turns sleeping on the bed, couch and carpet. A friend said our apartment was very small. I didn't think so. We still managed to have a lot of fun."

In the past, Maye discussed her struggles as a single mom.

"We could not afford to dine out. I had a client with a butcher. Once a month he would give me a beef roast. I would cut it up in four pieces, freeze three and cook one so we could have meat once a week," Maye told The Huffington Post in 2015.

At one point, she had to work five jobs to make ends meet, including working as a model, as she told Forbes in 2018.

Musk went on to start SpaceX in 2002, followed by Tesla Motors in 2003. In 2016, he founded Neuralink, and a year later, he created The Boring Company. Today, Elon Musk is worth $26.5 billion, according to Forbes.

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