Americans have amassed $1.5 trillion in student loans. That’s more than they owe for auto loans or credit cards. We asked student loan borrowers on Facebook how much they still owe.
The responses flooded in. Many people described how student loan debt has taken over their lives. Krystal Collins told us, “I feel trapped. It’s never going to get paid off unless I get a third job. I am working two now.” She is a single mother of two. She cannot afford to buy a home. And she has no idea how long it will take to pay off her debt. She went to school to become a radiologic technologist. Collins took out $13,000 in loans, but was unable to keep up with the interest on her loans. Even after paying for five years now, she says her total debt has ballooned to $42,665. She adds, “That’s a lot of money. I don’t even make that annually.”
In a Facebook Live discussion, we spoke with Associate Director of Financial Aid at UT Arlington, Justin Silcox. He urged borrowers, while they’re still in school: “At the very least, pay the interest that is accruing on your loans.”
Experts also told us something Christina Barry Greene already knew. “Don’t just pick a major. Look at what the outcome is going to be when you graduate. What is the job market like? What is the salary like?”
She recently became a dentist. She makes a good living and can afford to devote more than $3,000 a month to her student loans. She owes a whopping $277,000. Her debt is low compared to some of her peers, “Most of my friends are in about $500,000 of debt after dental school.”
Wisely, Greene asked to repay her loans on an “income driven plan” when she graduated. Because she hadn’t made much money in her final year of school, her payments were based on that small amount of income, “I think the quoted me at $75 a month because last year I didn’t make any money because I was in residency.” That allowed her to put a lot of extra money toward her loans with the highest interest rates, so she could pay those off more quickly before more interest accrues.
Many people struggling with this burden advised if you must get a college loan, borrow the bare minimum. As Krystal Collins puts it, just enough “To pay for classes and books.” The truth is that lenders will often give you more than you need, but that often becomes more than you can pay back.