How I Got Stuck With $500k in Student Debt
Five hundred thousand dollars. Half a million. The number is so ridiculous that it loses its meaning – like saying a word over and over again until it has no frame of reference. But the number is likely a little bigger than that now, with all the continually compounding interest on my student loans. Half of that amount is in “private” loans not guaranteed by the federal government. Half is in subsidized and unsubsidized federally-backed loans. All of it is unfathomable and seemingly insurmountable. At this point, more than half of my student debt is compounded interest. This is the story of how I took on too much student loan debt.
Too Much Student Loan Debt
Even having lowered my overhead dramatically by moving onto my boat, I am unable to afford the approximately $4,000 per month in payments that will last for another 30 years.
While there are purportedly programs to help with federal loans, Sallie Mae continually misprocessed or denied applications for income-based relief and is intransigent when it comes to offering alternative payment options for private loans. Even with income-based relief, I would be left with no money for food, healthcare, transportation, or other such luxuries.
The real salt in the wound is that people like me – borrowers who are in default and who most need relief from their debt burden – are not eligible for any help.
How Did This Happen?
How did I end up in such a predicament? I’ve asked myself that question countless times. I didn’t even want to go to college. I wanted to be a hairdresser – or perhaps go into fashion design. But my parents had both gone to college, as had my older siblings. There was a strong sense of pressure and expectation for me to attend a good four-year university, and there was a clear prejudice against taking a service job or going into any field that involved working with one’s hands.
I was young and didn’t have the confidence to say no to all those pressures from family and society. So off to college I went.
At a small, well-respected liberal arts university, I double-majored in what turned out to be doubly-useless fields: philosophy and history. Learning for the sake of learning is wonderful. I have a bottomless sense of intellectual curiosity. I would never discourage anyone from learning. But that sort of personal intellectual journey is no longer what college is about.
College has become a means to a piece of paper that allegedly entitles a person to a job.
Grad School Just Made It Worse
Personal growth, expansion of one’s mind and beliefs no longer have any place in higher education. We all thought our one friend’s parents were heartless dictators. They insisted that if he wanted to major in studio art (which they clearly thought was a useless career pursuit), he should also major in business.
Looking back, I see that they did it to save their son from a life of poverty. Which left options open for him in life. Four years after not wanting to go to college, there I was, a magna cum laude, double-major in philosophy and history, with but a few options before me: become a high school history teacher, wait tables, or go to graduate school.
Off to graduate school I went.
Stay tuned for what happened next.
*Name changed to protect privacy