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I am one of many that signed on that fateful dotted line years ago to finance my education. I was in my early 20s and took out several small loans to finish my two-year degree when Pell grants were no longer enough, and I even managed to get my mother to co-sign a loan to help foot the bill for my first semester at a private university.
Once my path to higher education halted for several years, I took advantage of the ever-so-helpful deferment options that my lender provided, not realizing that a deferment was just a fancy name for putting off payment so that interest could pile on. Now here I am, nearly a decade later, and I have only made a few sporadic payments on the two student loans with the highest interest rates. The original amount on the first loan was $11,000 and is now over $16,000, and the second loan is around $8,000 when the initial amount was $5,000. These loans, plus the smaller ones, total approximately $42,000.
In spite of the ever-growing balances on my loans, for some reason, I still have yet to come up with a solid strategy to get rid of them once and for all. After paying my car off earlier this year, I felt a short burst of motivation that prompted me to roll over the $300 that I normally put on my car loan to my student loan. I was super proud of myself for being proactive, until I checked my account to see that about $250 of my payment had been applied to interest, barely making a dent in the total balance.
Even though I get how interest works, it was a major blow to my ego. $300 might be chump change for some, but I can think of a million other ways that money could have been spent that would be much more helpful to me (and much less depressing). This was a few months ago, and sadly, I have yet to make another payment.
I don’t know what it is about my student loans that has such a hold over me. I’ve paid off several debts in the past, including credit cards, furniture installments, and my car loan, so why is it so damn hard to get the ball rolling on these loans? Maybe it’s because credit cards and auto loans don’t have variable interest rates and are not exempt from being included in a bankruptcy. Maybe it’s the fact that no matter how many lump sums you throw at it, the balance stubbornly sits there for months and years and laughs at you for being so determined. Maybe it’s the bitterness I feel to still be paying for a year at a university that was hardly worth $42k. It seems clear that student loans were designed to provide little to no relief for borrowers, and that alone can make you want to ball up in a corner and close your eyes, hoping that it just goes away.
The student loan crisis has gotten so bad that there is a growing correlation between student debt and suicide. It has my generation so spooked that some of us don’t even want to have kids or buy a home because of how much we owe. Student loans have grown to be the adult version of the Boogeyman, only now there’s no security blanket or favorite stuffed teddy bear for comfort. I wish I had a nice, reflective ending where I talk about my plans to tackle my loans, but I still have yet to muster up the courage.
Have you avoided paying on your student loans? How did you get past the intimidation?